Joan Tower (b. 1938)

  • We have a requirement in the conservatory at Bard that you have to take composition for at least one semester. And it’s a fantastic idea… because it opens up the players to being on the other side of the page, creating the page rather than following the page.
  •  I wasn’t an academic, I never have been – that’s just not where my talents lie. Making music and creating it and producing it was my talent.
  • I’ve won Grammys and stuff, but those credentials are temporary. They sound great, kind of like, “I went to Harvard” kind of thing. Some of those credentials have a lot of power, especially the Grammy, but it’s not what really makes you write music. It’s the music itself. And I’ve learned that over 60 years.
  • You can’t say, “Ah! This is the good piece!” Usually with me, I say, “This is a disaster area” and I’m always pleasantly surprised that it’s not quite as big of a disaster as I thought it was. I think it’s good to take that approach, because you never get disappointed!
  • We all have different talents and we have to face the fact that some of them are stronger than others, and to live in a reality zone, which is sometimes hard in music.
  • There are always going to be people who are better or more sophisticated, but you have to take what you have, and develop what you’ve got.
  • Noted music makes a difference because you have to keep working on this totally detailed page, which gives you all the directions on how to put up the building. It’s sort of like I’m the architect — it’s very specific notation. It tells you exactly what to do, every step of the way. So, your musical soul is going into a very finite blueprint, which is very different from improvising.
  • You get to know an instrument by writing for it — and I’ve been around most of the instruments — but there are a couple of instruments I don’t know as well as others, and that’s because I’ve never gotten to them.
  • Yo-Yo Ma is very famous, and he’s also somebody who is very curious. He doesn’t care that the audience may be a little afraid — he just goes there, because he’s curious. And he takes everybody with them, because everybody loves him. That’s the kind of leadership we need.