An interview with Jerome Kitzke
PRESTON WRIGHT: The old Desert Island disk question. If you were going to be stranded on an island by yourself, what three pieces of music would you like take with you?
JEROME KITZKE: Oh, boy, hmm. Umm, that's a hard question. Probably…ah. I have to answer, you'd like an answer, right?
Well, it would be nice.
Let's see, three pieces. Let's see, Messiaen, the Turangalilia Symphony , and probably some select Beatles tunes.
Can you say why Messiaen, for instance?
I don't know. Whenever I hear that piece I get all hot and bothered. I really like it, you know. It's just…has a…instinctively it activates something in my heart that has nothing to do with my brain, and to me that's always a good sign that a piece of music you're listening to has a certain quality that appeals to you. One more, hmm. Probably some Irish music. Fiddle stuff. I couldn't tell you what, but any of that stuff. I never get tired of that music, even though it sounds the same. I just can listen to it over and over. Oh, I have to add a fourth one. Probably some Northern Plains drum group, a good one.
Now, you have a strong connection to the Northern Plains Native Americans. Could you explain that or describe that?
Well, it's a long story. It's about 15 years old now, the story. Fifteen years ago I wanted to write a piece to commemorate the Centennial of the Wounded Knee Massacre. It was about 1988, and I knew the centennial year was 1990, and I wanted to write a large work for voices and small ensemble. I knew I just couldn't do it without going there, actually getting permission, and making an introduction of myself into that culture to let them know what I was doing. So, as things often happen, I was in New York in the office of the Association of American Indian Affairs, and I was talking to someone at the desk about my idea when a man to my right overheard me. His name was Jerry Flute , who I have since gotten to know and he said, "Well, I can't help you directly, but I know these people. Here's this phone number, call them." It turned out that it the number for Charlotte Black Elk and her husband at the time, Gerald Clifford. Charlotte is the great granddaughter of Black Elk of Black Elk Spiegs Fame . So I called her, and I wrote to her, and a lot of time passed which is not unusual. I thought I'd make a phone call again to see if they had actually gotten the letter. If you ever talk to Charlotte , she's a lovely, warm person, but at first she has got a certain wariness of people, especially non-Indian people. The phone conversation was like, "Hi, I'm Jerome Kitzke. I sent this letter, blah, blah, blah, blah," and there was this silence and she said, "Yeah?" And I said, "Well, what do you think?" And then a long silence. And all she said was, "Come on out." So, I arranged to go visit, and I spent a few weeks there and got permission to do the piece essentially.
I spent 3½ months on an NEA residency grant with Present Music in Milwaukee in November of 1990. The centennial was actually December 29, 1990 ; I was there from September to November. We worked on the piece. I did work in the Indian community in Milwaukee , which was very rewarding but very difficult in a lot of ways because I encountered a lot of skepticism, understandable skepticism from the Indian community. It turned out well in the end. You know, people that said they couldn't possibly come to hear this came and thanked me later. It's a hard road to go down, but it is very rewarding, and for me it just became part of what I did. I had some questions at that time from the Indian community like, "Well, yeah, you're going to do your Wounded Knee piece, and then you won't even care about us anymore," which was an understandable feeling on their part, because that's what happened to them over and over again. But I said, "No, I don't think so." And since then I've done 3 or 4 other pieces that involve mostly the Black Hills issues--land return legislation issues--every 2 or 3 pieces, I seem to need to make another statement about that, since it's an issue that probably won't be resolved in my lifetime to anyone's satisfaction, I'll probably be doing that for a long time.
That brings us into something else: that you do speak about politics or issues or strong ideas at least in your music. Why is that and, you know, what motivates you to do that?
I think it's because if I were writing just music without any content attached to it other than the fact that I needed to write or had a commission to write a string quartet, I don't think I'd be interested in doing that. I'd rather read a book or go on a hike or something. I think very strongly about issues in our culture, and in our world, and in my life. I'm a composer, so it feels natural to try and express the feelings through concert music. It's totally accepted in the Pop World, Bob Dylan, etc., etc., to state your views, and I don't understand why there seems to be a little bit of a ill feeling toward that being done in the new music concert world--like somehow that's too pure a place to state your views about our impending war, let's say. I don't see why people would feel that way. To me it's a valid ground to express those views. I'm a person just like anybody else, and I have views, and they're strong feelings, and to me that will help produce a strong piece of music.
Can you give a perspective on maybe other composers or pieces that you admire or know about that have to do with Native themes? I mean, there's a history of Indianist composers or political pieces, political composers in this country
Yeah. I'm sure there's a lot that I don't know about the Indianists. I know a little bit about someone like Shjevski ; I think he's someone who expresses his views in a way in his pieces that isn't taking a hammer and bashing your skull in with it, but still in a strong way of making a point of view known. There is a lot of subtlety to it as well as a lot of very "in your face" kind of stuff. Someone like that, I think, is very successful at creating music that states a point of view about something that's totally unrelated to music.
It seems like a lot of your music has to do with being American, or the land, the people, the politics. Can you say something about what it means to be American for you?
Yeah. I think if my music ends up sounding that way to some people, it's because I am such an American. I think it's hard to answer as to what that really means; even at this date of almost 2003 , I think it's still a confusing question to answer. I still think we're still formulating as a nation and as a culture; we're only 220 some years old formally speaking. Still to this day, of course, people always ask, "Well what's your ethnic background? Where are your people from?" And mine is, "I'm a quarter Persian. My mother's father was born in the 1880's in Tehran when it was still Persia , and my father is pure Polish, so I have 50% Polish." All that's very interesting to me, but it's not something that I was showed or encouraged to explore. I'm an American in the sense that I did not delve into that aspect of my background, even though it's there, but I grew up in the streets, and in the parks, and in the land, and on the dirt of America , and it has a profound influence on me. The physical space of America and the physical space of America has changed over the years and continues to change as people try to control it and change it and use it for their own purposes. So, I guess I'm just…I've never been to Europe . I've been into Canada , over the border. I've been into Mexico , over the border in Nogales which is not very far into Mexico . I'm going to Europe for the first time next fall to spend five weeks in Italy in Umbria to work on a string quartet for Kronos, and that will be my first introduction to Europe . I'm 48, so I think that my music tends to spring out the way I feel about walking around on the physical ground of America .
Yeah. There's a kind of landscape about your music. I know you were born in Milwaukee and you live in New York City . So a rural sense about it because you also write about desert spaces and natural landscapes and… Can you talk a bit about how those are represented in your life and your music?
Well, as you say, I grew up in Milwaukee and have been in New York for almost 19 years, but I've spent a lot of time each year away from the urban environment in Wyoming and South Dakota . I try and go for at least 10 days somewhere out in the wilderness to just sleep under the stars, so I feel like that really has a major effect on how my music ends up sounding. Perhaps some of the open spaces that people say they hear in my music come from that. I'm always trying to tell what it means; a story about what it means to be a human being out in that wilderness. I love the animal kingdom and the animal world a lot. Most of my music, though, is about what it means to be human, walking around in America . So if anything springs out of the music that sounds like that, I can't explain why or how, but I do feel very strongly that what you do, everything you do as a person is in there. It's in your brain, it's in your body, it's in your blood, and if you're a creative person, how can it not somehow come out and show itself if you're willing to open you're heart and soul to it?
I hear those kinds of things in your music, too. You seem to have some kind of a ritual almost going on, and I'm wondering if that's half influenced by the Native American experiences, or if it's influenced by just your love of nature or… You tell us.
Yeah, I think in part it's influenced by the experiences I have in Indian country, because those experiences are very intense and profound. There were things I can't really talk about very much, but there are things I do every year that are so intense that they cannot help but then affect my music. My music often does feel like a ritual to me, and I like the sense of that word that has to do with people coming together for a common purpose. Whether it's to pray or to dance, the sacred, the secular, it's all in there. It's all the same to me essentially. I think that, you know, my music can't help but be affected by the experiences in Indian country, but it's also affected by the ritual of, let's say life on the lower east side of New York, or life in Milwaukee, or life in between, or life on the road, the ritual of day-to-day life. I mean, day life, sun up to sun down, is a ritual of sorts, if you let it be. You know, I think it is.
And how do you convey that in your compositions to performers whose only ritual is, perhaps, practicing the scales and looking at the notes and doing what it says. There seems to be a more profound connection between the corporeality. What's going on in their mind and their body that you are trying to bring out?
Yeah. It sometimes is very difficult and sometimes blessedly simple, because you sometimes work with musicians who perhaps you've never met before, but who somehow get it or feel similarly enough about life that they get excited about the idea of being able to do something other than display their clarinet that they've been practicing for 25 years. And other times you run into, let's say a quartet of musicians who are great players, who are looking at you like they're orchestral musicians who have, of course, a bad reputation about being grumpy about doing anything extracurricular. Then that becomes quite a chore sometimes to pull and yank out of them a little more than just having them play their instruments. However, when you do get it, though, when they do get it and they want to open up and they finally feel comfortable, it's really cool what happens. When you're doing something with musicians, instrumentalists who are asked to sing or stomp their feet or clap their hands or even get up and move around the space, when they get into it then you can't stop them sometimes and they really love it, so that's gratifying. And then there are other times where you just never make it, and the performance is, you know, so-so, because the people just couldn't find that place in themselves. Sometimes I've stepped in those places and done a lot of the vocalizing that you find in my work along with those people, and then it's okay. I'd rather not do that, it's more fun to be able to sit in the audience and watch people try something for the first time and watch it blossom. It's just cool when it happens.
Is there something in your own experience that brought you to that point where you like to see other people do something like that for the first time, break out?
Well, I don't know for sure, but it's probably related to my own life experience of all the things that a human being goes through in their life, the first time of this and the first time of that. Usually the first time for certain things in a person's life make a big impression, whether it's about music or sex or growing up or adolescence, breaking through adolescence, your first paycheck, I don't know, stuff like that. I think that those kinds of events, you know, are a part of my music and a part of how I think about the joy I get from watching other musicians who are perhaps younger than me in a musical setting break through the ranks of their emotional walls that they may have had set up.
The things you list are the same things that Harry Partch lists. He talked about the time of the writing of The Bewitched where he wanted players who are half naked, and stomping and whistling and shouting, "bah" as well as playing their instruments, as well as telling a story and moving and dancing; it's like recognizing a whole human is there.
Yeah, I don't know, I mean I know some of Harry Partch's music and certainly know who he is and of him. Kyle Gann wrote a thing about me recently and he made a comparison, not about our musics, but about our outlooks on the kind of musicians that we want to work with and that are best suited to carry off our music, and I think it's absolutely true. I get those people willing to howl and sing and stand naked and do it.
Does it frustrate you as all the education doesn't provide for the whole human?
Oh sure, and that's not, of course, just in the realm of music, it's in just about all over the human spectrum. You know, people are growing up and becoming fine people, but are actually closed off emotionally, and that's why, I guess, therapists are in such demand.
Let me ask you about some of these performers that you've been with then. Margaret Leng Tan — how did that happen?
Ah, that's a nice story. In 1994, Wendy Mae Chambers commissioned me to write a solo to a piano piece that she was going to do in a concert at Columbia University in New York . I did the work. It was called the Animus Child , and at the premier that Wendy played, Margaret Leng Tan was in the audience. I didn't know anything about this, but she, at the time, was planning to start a sort of solo toy piano recitalist career. I thought, "Boy, isn't that something, there are going to be two of those people in the United States that I know of who are making part of their living as solo toy piano recitalists?" So Margaret came up to me and said she really liked the piece and wanted a copy. So I arranged for her to get one, and she went crazy with it. She's played it probably 50 to 60 times all over the world and continues to play it. She just did it in Melbourne, Australia in October.
You wrote a piece for Guy Klucevsek, the accordionist?
Yes, I wrote a piece called Breath and Bone , which is an elegy for a friend of mine who died, Gregory Charn , a percussionist. Guy commissioned me, and I wrote about a 6 minute work that is for the accordion player to play his instrument and to sing and whistle and stomp and shout. He premiered it at Merkin Hall in 1996, and then we recorded it, but in the recording he wanted to really nail the accordion part, which is very hard. Doing it live alone he can pull it off, adrenalin takes you through, but in the confines of a recording studio, he felt that he would compromise the accordion part, and it's not something you could overdub the vocal stuff, so he asked me would I do it as a duo with him. So on my CD "The Character of American Sunlight," the Breath and Bone work is done by both of us. He subsequently practiced enough where he actually can do it by himself now really well, so he recorded it about a year and a half ago, his own solo version of it. He also has played that piece all over the world.
You have a history of working with Zeitgeist New Music Ensemble. Can you tell us how that has evolved over the years?
Sure, I can't pinpoint the year, but I think it was 1993 maybe. Zeitgeist had found out about a piece of mine called Mad Coyote Madly Sings , which is scored for a tenor sax, bass drum set, four vocalists, four shouters, four declaimers, and they, of course, didn't have that instrumentation. They didn't even have a bass player, so they asked if they could make an arranged version of it. I said, "Sure, you do all the work, go ahead." They came up with a version with Heather Barringer, who played the bass part on a mallet cat [midi vibraphone]--that was my first experience with a mallet cat. Joel Holmquist was a drummer at the time, and he played the drum set part, and Bob Somerado played the tenor sax part on alto sax. And then the vocal stuff was done by, I think, just one person, Maria Jette. It was a very interesting arrangement. Since then, I have had music done at the Composer's Forum concerts in the Twin Cities. They had heard my music before, and they decided that they'd like to work with me some day. Then, the Music in Motion Program--do you recall that? I was a part of that and worked with Zeitgeist in Phoenix for three weeks over a nine-month period to we create a work together called The Redness of Blood , which is a big piece done for the two percussion, piano, and clarinet. That was my first piece with Zeitgeist. They've played it subsequently, and I've just remained good friends with all of them, even though their personnel has changed radically since I first encountered them. And then Heather Barringer wanted to commission me to do another work, and this commission came about four years ago actually, and finally the resulting work is In Bone Colored Light, which you will hear tomorrow night.
It seems there are kind of literary stories and influences just bubbling underneath your works even when they're just purely instrumental ones. Can you talk a little bit about your reading, your relationship to language?
Sure. I have many works that are fairly normal in the sense that they use poems for either sung purposes or as text to be sung, or many works that have poems or prose that is meant to be spoken or acted or declaimed, but I also have other works since about 25 years ago that seem to have a story behind them coming from some literary source. Whether I end up calling the piece a name that has to do with a literary source or not is not relevant, and sometimes the sources are just my own private musings that I don't really share all the time. I read a lot, for instance, I just re-read the Cormac McCarthy trilogy books, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain. I read those books about 5 or 6 times a piece. There is something in the way the man writes about the landscape of southern Texas and northern Mexico that, I don't know, I hear music in it. Stuff like that, writings like that, authors like that have a big effect on me. I have used a lot of Allen Ginsberg poetry; before he died I got to speak with him, and he was very generous about the use of his works. He only said, "Well if you start to make money, then the lawyer's got to get involved." He knew that there was not much money involved, he didn't want to get a nickel and dime for these small little performances that might occur here and there. He was generous with his work, so I've used several Allen Ginsberg poems: The Green Automobile, Whom Bomb, Sunflower Sutra, that's my latest Ginsberg work, which is a piece for a solo pianist actor. Speaking of Shjevski, Anthony Damar commissioned my work Sunflower Sutra, and Tony also commissioned Shjevski to do De Profundis, which is a fabulous piece with Oscar Wild text letters from prison, when Wild was in prison. Poetry, prose, and stories, whether I'm told stories on the reservation or I'm told stories about my friends in New York--I just love that idea of, you know, a person in words going from beginning to end. Sometimes it doesn't go beginning to end, it feels like a circle, and so sometimes the music, perhaps, reflects that. You know, it doesn't sound like a piece that begins and ends, it sounds like something that's just there. I think that literary influences happen for me that way as well.
Are you interested in visuals, too?
A lot, actually. Mostly because I have eyes, and I walk around, and I look at things and occasionally actually go to galleries and look at artwork, but it's not something that's affected me as much. I love the visual art that you find in theater. I am enamored of theater sets, for instance, the world that can be created through the physical space and sets and lights. The play that's going on there is an aside. I mean, if that's good, that's great too, but sometimes you go to a play, and you just get lost in the world of how the sets look and how the lights look. I saw Carousel done a few years ago, and I loved the music, but I knew the music so well that I just lowered myself into the heart of the sets. They were so tender and beautiful that I think that things like that somehow affect my heart and my brain and get stored away to later emerge somehow in music that I do.
Speaking of theatre, there is also a composer, George Crumb, of course, who writes concert music plus lights, costumes, and a kind of sense of the spaciousness and visual aspect too. Do you have any relation to his kind of music or philosophy?
Sure. I grew up when I first started to really listen to concert music, and I loved his music. I loved his idea about the totality of the concert space, be it a theatre space, a place to tell a story, to use costumes, or to use lights. His music sometimes on recording sounds like incidental music to a play, and I mean that in the most complimentary way, a good play with good incidental music. Yeah, sure, his music affected me a lot that way. He uses all the vocalizations and things like that, but he tended to use them more sparingly, they were special moments, whereas in my music they tend to be part of the musical language, just like a C major chord has been used by thousands of composers in history. I think a stomp and a shout is a valid as a C major chord.
But you're not so interested in the visual aspect of the concert ritual, the costumes, the lights?
Oh, yeah, I am a lot, and I would love to be able to do that, but there are certain realities in our culture and our concert music world having to do with time and money and rehearsal time and, boy, we do a lot of great stuff in very little time. I often think how different things would be if musicians still had the thoughts and procedural aspects of dancers or actors, theatre actors. Those people, they think it's normal to rehearse forever and to go at their work from many different angles for hours and weeks on end, just on one work. In the new music world, it's, of course, a product of musicians long ago getting smart about getting paid for what they do, which they should, of course, and that's the kind of world we live in. We are a world of commerce, and people should get paid for what they do. However, what happens, unfortunately, what's happening with music, is that rehearsal time is very limited. That's, of course, a famous sort of bad situation with orchestras. If you happen to be fortunate enough to get a new orchestral piece played, you're not going to be fortunate to have them rehearse it and give it the rehearsal time that it normally would deserve. You maybe will get 1 or 2 rehearsals of 20-minute lengths each, and that's pretty scary.
I love the idea of my pieces; I think of my pieces that way all the time. I sometimes am able to have them performed in that fashion, but it's very rare because of costs and time. Even this experience with Zeitgeist during the last two days--those musicians are all so busy doing many other things that, boy, we're squeezing an hour or two here and there and they're off to something else. It's great that people are doing a lot, but I think the new music suffers in terms of how it's presented, by virtue of the fact that there is never enough time to really give a new piece certainly enough rehearsal. Of course, then there's the old story of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunarre and all those 100 and whatever rehearsals it had for the premier. Man that sounds exciting. When I think back, though, that's just what they probably did on some level when it was a brand new work, especially a work of complexity, and they understood that to do it properly, to really do the story justice, they had to put the rehearsal time in.
Anyway, music itself doesn't get enough rehearsal time, so then it's hard to think of putting on top of that lights and all that. You can sometimes squeeze it in and you, by the hair of your chin and all that, you make it, but it's always a very tightrope kind of situation. Hopefully, someday that will change, but it's not likely. To answer your question, I think about my pieces that way all the time. Even when I'm writing them, I think of them as pieces of theatre, as a story as I've said. I love the idea of their being sets or even lights, and the musicians working with the director, you know, all that kind of stuff. I've experienced that a few times, and it's just fantastic when you have a long rehearsal period and the director and lights and people putting a lot of time into it.
If so much of your performances and everything depend on money, is what you are basically saying, how do you find your own audience and who is your audience?
Well, I think you find your audience by not thinking about that very much. You're just doing your job and doing your work and not worrying about, let's say, being rejected or accepted. I've been writing music for 32 years and I've just kept plugging away at it. I just do it, and I put some effort into getting the pieces played; I send scores out, all that stuff. In New York I created my own band. That's a very good way to start to gain an audience; it's something that Philip Glass and Steve Reich, of course, did in the late 1960's, early 1970's, which was very, very smart. It's in fact, one of the best ways, but you have to stick to it, and sometimes it's hard to stick to. So I've done that, and I also do concerts. Early on, my group was called the Mad Coyote, and early on in its existence, I was doing a concert every 2 or 3 months in New York , which is pretty goofy. I thought, "Let me just get my stuff out there," you know. It's out there, it's out there and it got a little bit of notice and word of mouth occurs. If you happen to have somebody write an article about you"”Kyle Gann picked up on my and wrote a couple of nice things in the Village Voice. I did a large work called the Paha Sapa Give Back . Paha Sapa is Lakota for Black Hills . That was a 70-minute piece done at Washington Square Church . [Kyle Gann] wrote an article about it, I spent some money on the press, and I got sold out two nights there, 500 people each night. Then word of mouth started to spread, and then I just kept doing my work. You build an audience slowly, and hopefully you don't think about who they are and who they might be. You want to, I think, have your audience theoretically be everybody, which you know, I think is quite possible, especially if you've ever had a chance to go to a Present Music Concert in Milwaukee . You'll see something going on there that you don't see anywhere. It's a lovely thing. They average 600-800 people a concert. The demographic of that audience is pretty wide, and a lot of those people are not musicians, they're from the community and it's… So, I've had pieces done there, and it's very exciting to have a piece, Haunted America , which Zeitgeist is doing tomorrow. That was commissioned by Present Music and was premiered in June. There were 800 people there, and it was so exciting, not just because it was a premier and a great performance, but looking at that audience--there were children and people from all walks of life. It was kind of an idealistic situation that was actually there in front of my face, it was actually happening in reality, so that was a very, very lovely kind of thing. So an audience comes and doesn't come, and sometimes it happens despite whatever you might do or not do.
Can you think of a couple of points in your career that would be high points or low points?
Nope. I don't mean to be flip about that, but I just don't think of my career as high or low. To me it's all just part of my daily life; it's part of my life and that's not to say that if I get an orchestral commission and it's going to be performed, I understand how that's on a different par in terms of things that normally come to people than maybe doing a solo flute piece. However, that solo flute piece to me is just as important as that orchestral commission. I tend to live life day-to-day and not think of highs and lows because that's life. Life has highs and lows, whether it's in music or in your day-to-day life.
Do you know any unrecognized composers that maybe people should be paying more attention to?
Can you pick one that you…?
No. No. I'm making a little joke because, you know, I worked at the American Music Center for 10 years in New York . They're a much different organization now than they were when I was there. I was there in the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's, and we determined somehow through some sort of survey or study, that at that time there were about 60,000 contemporary concert music composers in the United States. That's a pretty small number alongside the population, but alongside the number of opportunities available for those composers, the ratio is incredibly lopsided. The truth is there are more and more composers that are writing this kind of music, but the opportunities to really get their music played with any kind of consistency is very rare. In my mind, all those composers deserve to be heard. Anyone that takes the time and the effort into writing a piece, which is not an easy thing, physically and mentally deserve to be heard, but the truth is and, unfortunately, what the reality is, most of them probably won't to the degree that they would like.
Where might you place yourself on the spectrum of the traditional experimental maverick type composer? You don't sound like anyone else; you've been doing your own thing; you're kind of not part of any particular school. Is that how you see it too?
Well, only when I'm asked that kind of question do I stop to think about it. I feel like if I actually thought about that outside of a situation like we're in right now in an interview, I'd be thinking about the wrong stuff. So, I don't know. Lately I've felt like my music does have a sound that's a "Kitzke" type sound, I don't know. A lot of people say that to me, and that's a pretty gratifying compliment to hear. I think if it does have that it's because I've just stuck to what's inside my heart and mind and brain, and I've not really thought much about the various "ism's" out there. There's nothing against any of the "ism's," but I've pretty much followed my own path from day one from when I was a kid. I'm not necessarily a stubborn person, but I didn't study music a lot. I taught myself first and then I went to college. Maybe that has something to do with it. I taught myself to be a composer for the first 5 or 6 years, and then I went to school and found out what they had to say there. I worked with some fantastic people, John Downey at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and there the lessons--I didn't necessarily learn stylistic things from a man like that, but we talked about life and death and love and hate and sex and the war at the time in Vietnam and all that. Those are some of the best musical lessons. He was a smart man, because he saw in me someone that should be let go to go my own way and not confined to write a fugue or something, although I did write a few fugues. … I feel like I'm happy with what I do, and I feel like I tell an honest story for who I am at this moment in time. I'm getting pretty old now, and I've been doing it a long time, and I've been very sincere about it, so perhaps that's what comes through, you know. I have been to a lot of places most people won't go and seen some things most people won't see that I think have somehow come into my music and perhaps give it a flavor or a quality that sounds unique or individual.
What's your greatest fear?
I can't think of one actually. You know, I've seen a lot of really terrible things in the last eight years in terms of loss and death and having gone through stuff like that and seeing people die in front of you, things like that; you don't have much fear anymore after that about, certainly about music and whether your music gets heard or not heard or recorded or not recorded. So I don't really have a fear of much that I can think of at the moment.
Actually, you did say yesterday, you told us that music takes up a small part of who you are and that you don't want it to take over too much. What is it that you do when you're not composing, what are those great things that you love to do?
Umm, reading, hiking, camping, spending time on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, interacting with my family, interacting with my friends, walking, and just sitting and doing nothing and not thinking about anything other than whatever comes into your mind at that moment. I'm a composer who--I do all my scores by hand. I have been forever doing my scores by hand. I don't have a computer, and I don't have a cellphone. I don't want any of those right now and don't feel like I need them. Part of the reason, I think, now that I'm asked the question so much about the computer thing is sometimes I think people are mad at me because I don't have e-mail. I could contact you so easily, they say. Well, call me, you know! But part of the reason I think I don't have those things right now is the world is a very fast-paced place. I live in New York City , which goes 1000 miles an hour most of the time. Knowing myself as I do after all these years, I like to have some aspect of life have a certain slowness to it, or more than one aspect, and one of the aspects is doing my scores by hand. There is something about the slowness of it that is beautiful and peaceful to me, even though it's very physically demanding and the older I get the harder it gets to do, actually. I may end up getting a computer at some point because my arms give out or whatever, but also I like just making sure there are things in life that are slow and that remind me that having a slow quality to life is really important and beautiful. You have to balance out the fast-paced part of it that you have no control over. I think that that aspect of my thinking then also comes out in the music I write and how I work on it and how I think of it. I am not terribly prolific. I've been writing music 32 years, but I think I've written maybe 57 pieces, which sounds like a lot when you say 57, but in 32 years it's, I guess, not that much. There were a number of years where I didn't write anything because I had nothing to say. I had no story to tell, and I had to find where that was, so I chose not to force things out, and that was the right decision. Then there are other things that happen in life, of course, that keep you from working that you have no control over, and you have to attend to these things. So there were another couple of years where I didn't do anything, any musical work. I think as hard as that was, it now is feeding what I do now in a way that makes what I do now still fresh to me and interesting to me and makes me want to continue to tell the stories in music that I want to tell.
Don't forget to stop and smell the sagebrush.
Yes. That's really important.
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