Recent Interviews with Beth Anderson

A detailed interview by Howard Moscovitz is available at

Women's Orchestral Music with Ruth Martin

Date: Sat, 14 Sep 1996

1.Have you written an orchestral work/s?

Yes, three.

2. Have you had an orchestral work or works performed?

2 of the 3 have been performed repeatedly.

If so could you write the name of the work, the orchestra who performed the work and the approximate date it was performed?

REVELATION, never performed

REVEL performed by Richmond Symphonia 1/84

and by New Britain Symphony in CT about '88

and by the Baltimore Women's Symphony about '86

and the octet version of this piece was performed by Brooklyn Philharmonic about 1990 and the octet version was commissioned and performed by University of the Redlands' New Music Ensemble, Barney Childs conducting about 1983

MINNESOTA SWALE was commissioned and performed by the Minnesota Symphonia 2/94 and the by the Wellesley Orchestra 10/94 and then recorded by the Bratislava Radio Symphony 1995 for Opus One

b) Have you had an orchestral work recorded? If so by whom?

MINNESOTA SWALE was recorded by the Bratislava Radio Symphony 1995 for Opus One

REVEL was recorded by OPUS ONE in 1984 by the Richmond Symphonia

3. a) If you have written an orchestral work was it for a specific purpose, i.e.. did you have a commission?

No, I wrote REVELATION from my heart and it took 1979-1983 to get someone interested in it and then I got the commission from University of the Redlands for an octet and I cut the piece in half, duration wise, and re orchestrated it for them--then when the Richmond Symphony wanted to do it, they wanted the 6 min. version instead of the 12 minute version, so I re orchestrated the octet for their orchestra--can you imagine? So REVELATION remains unheard and everyone hears REVEL and says, "It's nice but why is it so short?" And I say to myself, where is the development and it's in REVELATION!

Were you invited by an orchestra etc.? If you were commissioned, who commissioned you?

MINNESOTA SWALE was requested by the Minnesota Symphonia/Jay Fishman conductor and they performed it first.

4. Do you feel as a composer that you have had encouragement to write in this genre or do you feel you have been discouraged?

It is so hard to get the piece heard or read. I had a reading scheduled for REVELATION and got all the parts copied and the reading fell apart... It is a miracle created by an angel that Richmond wanted REVEL. I would say I am discouraged by my experiences and I do not look forward to the struggel of trying to get a new orchestral piece performed.

However it does not stop me. I hear most things in my head for orchestra and would orchestrate my entire output if I had the energy/time/money and interest from orchestras.

5. In preliminary research I have undertaken into orchestral repertoire it seems that women's orchestral music is underrepresented in terms of performances and recordings. Have you any ideas why this may be so?

Surprised? I hope not. Women's music is underrepresented. In the larger forms, it is worse. Life isn't fair. It is difficult for men or women composers to have orchestral music played because of the expense and the audience or the perceived audience for orchestral music. If they can't sell the expensive seats, it would put the whole generally historically oriented ensemble out of business. It is a conservative entity and their normal business in this country is conservation of music written by dead people. When I am dead, I hope they play my music too--and if I can move along, I need to orchestrate whatever I hope they might play after I am dead, so they'll have the option of playing me. I don't want to leave here without providing orchestras with a lot of choices for which piece to play by Beth Anderson...high hopes. In other countries, the orchestras feel a desire to play modern works to keep the genre relevant to a younger audience and to raise the flag for their country aesthetically. For some reason the USA is not interested in winning the aesthetic race--as opposed to the arms race or the Olympic competition race.

6. a) What (if any) are some of the difficulties you have experienced as a woman and a composer working in this genre?

Oh, in one of the performances of REVEL for orchestra, the conductor felt that I didn't know how to make a big enough ending for the piece, so at the performance, he had the cymbal player and the timpanist play things I had not written so as to make it more "Hollywood". He thought I should be grateful that he made my piece "so much better". I thought he was incredibly arrogant.

b) What (if any) are some of the positive experiences you have had while working as a woman and a composer in this genre?

2 of my 3 pieces are recorded. The players in Minnesota were very interested in the piece and in my work and that experience was a pleasure. The audience members in Richmond were wonderful and pressed my hand in person and wrote fan letters afterwards. I was told that the clarinet player in the Bratislava orchestra enjoyed his part immensely.

7. I would be most interested in any other comments you may have which relate to this field.

In writing chamber music and songs, I know that if worse comes to worse, I can always hire someone to read through it, or perform it, but with orchestral music, I have no simple control over whether the piece is ever heard. I am at the mercy of chance, artistic directors, friends, enemies, is a long list. I need even more luck and perseverance to write orchestral music.

With Jeremy Green, November, 1996

Hi, I am a music major at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan. I am writing a research paper on contemporary composers. There are eight questions and I thank you for a response.

1. Do you compose solely for yourself or do you believe that you compose for a certain group of people.

2. Is the composing medium of orchestral music passing by, and why?

3. Do you rely solely on your composing for finances? If you do, why can you and if you do not, what else do you do?

4. What is the relationship between composer and performer?

5. What is good and bad about the music industry, and why?

6. Are there musical centers, like Vienna was in the Classic Period, where, and why?

7. In what direction is music heading and will orchestral music and instrumentation survive it, besides reperforming music that has been written for several hundreds of years?

8. Is there anything you would like to add that might not have been a

question that you think is important?

--Jeremy Green

1.Do you compose solely for yourself or do you believe that you compose for a certain group of people.

I compose for listeners. But I do it because I want to. I do not imagine that the world is waiting to hear my next piece, but they may hear it and like it anyway.

2.Is the composing medium of orchestral music passing by, and why?


3.Do you rely solely on your composing for finances?


If you do, why can you and if you do not, what else do you do?

I teach piano at Greenwich House Music School in NYC and I am the administrative director for an outpatient psychotherpy and substance abuse clinic here.

4.What is the relationship between composer and performer?

Hopefully friendly. When I can't afford to pay a performer (for a piece I do not have a performer waiting to premier), I write something I can do for piano or voice or speech and I do it. So sometimes the composer is the performer, as always.

5.What is good and bad about the music industry, and why?

I can't make a living in it. Because of the kind of music I write versus the kind of music that sells, I imagine.

6.Are there musical centers, like Vienna was in the Classic Period, where, and why?

New York, San Francisco/the Bay area, I am sure there are others but I am not enough of an expert to say. Because there is a high concentration of composers and performances and performers/critics/interested newspapers & journals/schools/interested audience in those spots.

7.In what direction is music heading and will orchestral music and instrumentation survive it, besides reperforming music that has been written for several hundreds of years?

I don't see any reason for acoustic instruments to disappear for performing newly written music of the present and future as well as the past. We're just adding things, not subtracting.

About Electro-Acoustic Music

This interview was conducted via email with Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner,

1. How did you get interested/involved in electro-acoustic music? Describe your earliest experiments/pieces.

I heard recordings of electronic music and I wanted to make my own. My music history teacher, Kathy Adkins, at the University of Kentucky offered to create a studio for their music dept., but they rejected her proposal. So I went to the University of California at Davis where they already had a studio.

2. If you learned electro-acoustic music technology in an academic setting, did these studies form the majority of your course load? Why did you choose the institutions where you studied music? (i.e., did their electro-acoustic music facilities become a deciding factor)

My major was music at UCD. At UK it was music with a specialization in piano performance. At Mills it was first piano (MFA) and then composition (MA). I chose UK because it was in my home town and had a good solid old fashioned music department. I chose UCD because SOURCE MAGAZINE was published there, they had a studio and Richard Swift was kind to me. I chose Mills because they had good piano teachers, a studio and Terry Riley and Bob Ashley were there. Electronic music was not my central focus at any of these institutions but it was important to me that it be taught and that it be available for experiments/composition/recordings.

3. If you are self-taught in music technology, how did you go about acquiring the equipment/resources necessary to make your music and learn all the technical details?

3. N/A

4. Did you ever feel that your gender would affect your abilities with music technology either positively or negatively? Did any other person ever indicate to you that your gender would affect your abilities in any way?

My assumption was that men were better at it because there were lots of them doing it. Hearing Pauline Oliveros' electronic piece on the 'flip' side of Steve Reich's COME OUT recording helped to mitigate that. No one said so directly--as far as I can remember.

5. Who have been your most influential teachers/colleagues/associates (these may include friends, family members, literary figures etc. or may include religious or philosophical beliefs). How have they influenced your music, particularly your electro-acoustic works? Do you have any pieces dedicated to them?

John Cage because he said anyone can be a composer which offset the UK teaching that stated, "No one can be a composer unless they can take dictation on Schoenberg's music and get it right the first time." Terry Riley because he showed me that tonal/modal harmony is not passe and that wholeness on every level, is what it's about. Nate Rubin because we discovered together that John Cage did not write sufficiently clear instructions to allow for a correct realization of CHEAP IMITATION. Michael Sahl because he has illustrated with his life and music that one can compose whatever one wants to compose or believes is beautiful, despite the art-music world's criticism, and still be respected and productive. Pauline Oliveros because she is a woman composer with a BA who got tenure and became world famous and is a shining light suggesting possibility to me. Tod Dockstater because he made the first electronic music I ever heard and it was beautiful and innovative. Jill Johnston because of her intense interest in feminism and aesthetics and their interplay. I did dedicate a piece to her called THUS SPAKE JOHNSTON which used her speech and some heavily modulated Schumann songs played backwards. Charlotte Moorman because she was an outrageous woman/performer who lived at full throttle, was well loved and made a big difference in the new music world. I wrote her a piece called GOOD-BYE BRIDGET BARDOT OR HELLO CHARLOTTE MOORMAN when I left California for New York. It was for cello and tape and a dancer.

6. What /who are some of the aesthetic influences on your music in general and your electro-acoustic works in particular? If you also write pieces for traditional instruments, does your approach to composition differ between the two mediums? Explain.

See above. Yes now I write almost solely for acoustic instruments. I began as a child writing for acoustic instruments, then wrote for acoustic instruments and tape, then for acoustic instruments with tape and live electronic modulation, then for electronics alone, and came back around the circle to acoustic instruments. At various stages, the way I thought about music was affected by my electronic music experience. Right now, it doesn't seem to be affecting me, but who knows...It was very liberating/educational/important for me, but I don't have access to a studio and really prefer the human quality of acoustic instruments despite their obvious drawbacks.

7. What are some of your favorite compositional techniques, equipment, computer languages and platforms etc.? Why?

I have been writing "swales" since 1985. A swale is a meadow or a marsh where a lot of wild things grow together. It is a good name for a musical collage of newly composed materials. That continues to be my favorite form. I used to decode words/names/definitions/ancient conversations and then modulate the coding systems. SKATE SUITE and JOAN have this activity as their basis, as well as some of my text-sound pieces.

8. For Mills College, University of California at Santa Barbara, Brooklyn College, Columbia-Princeton, Princeton University students and faculty: Why do you think that these schools graduate(d) an unprecedented number of female composer- technologists? What is the learning environment like at these schools? List influential teachers.

I got my graduate degrees from Mills and I believe they graduated a lot of women in composition who had a serious interest in electronic music. The learning environment when I was there (1971-74) was very loose. Anything was possible and very little direction was given regarding composition. A group of us women composers created a group called Hysteresis and we did concerts together for moral support, shared equipment and organizational skills. My important teachers at Mills were: Terry Riley and Bob Ashley for composition; Nate Rubin in music history; Naomi Sparrow for piano.

Have you benefited in any way from the following programs/foundations/recording opportunities: CDCM Music Series (Centaur Records); The Composer in the Computer Age series (Wergo Records); The Aerial (Non Sequitur Records); The Pauline Oliveros Foundation; Harvestworks Inc. and Tellus Records; the National Endowment for the Arts; the American Music Center; Minnesota Composers' Forum; The International Alliance of Women in Music (also ILWC and AWC Inc.)? Please list your work with these organizations as it pertains to your electro-acoustic music. (In addition please add any groups who have been particularly supportive to you in your electro-acoustic work that I may have left out)

9. NEA-I got a career development grant in 1975 from the NEA that I used to move to New York and to make some electro-acoustic music at Queens College of the City University of NY (access to the studio was made possible by Doris Hayes, now known as Sorrel).

AWC-They published an article of mine called BEAUTY IS REVOLUTION which was encouraging.

IAWM-This organization has been of great assistance to me in applying for performances due to their email news list, which I cannot recommend enough!

ILWC-They have always kept me in touch with other women composers which is so important. I need to keep hearing what everyone is doing to know that I am not alone.

AMC-They have my scores on file and I have gotten performances because people found music there that they liked and wanted to perform.

New York Women Composers, Inc.-Their catalogue, which includes my music, is very helpful because it makes all the music available in a list with descriptions/comments/critical remarks available to scholars/performers, regardless of who publishes it. They also produce concerts and I have participated in one of those concerts.

American Composers Alliance-Their catalogues offer for sale/rental all the music that I have available through them. They have also very positively assisted my career at various times.

10. Have you encountered problems of advancement in the field of music technology because of your gender? Share specific anecdotes if appropriate.

No-just money problems stand in the way of my making more use of electronics.

11. Why do you think that there are still very low enrollments of women in academic music technology programs today?

I don't know. Perhaps women realize that unless they are born with wealth, that they probably are going to be their sole support and they go into fields that are more likely to result in wages/health insurance. This bit of reality did not touch me in the 1960's and '70's but I have been dealing with the problem ever since. It was OK to be poor in the 60's and 70's, and I was younger.

12. How do you see your work in music technology helping and influencing other women?

Knowing that someone else who is a woman has done or is doing this work, is tremendously important. It gives the ones that come later the sense of possibility--encouragement--a herstory--a base on which to build.

13. How large of a role does technology play in your musical work overall? Has the technology presented any significant problems OR solutions for you that have altered your approach or aesthetic in any way?

20% overall--I have been interested in world music and post-Cagian music and astrology/yoga since 1966. They weave a web in my music which attempts to create a whole from variegated parts. I like layers of meaning. For example, my piece SHE WROTE (1974) uses a text from which the title is derived. It is decoded into pitches for the two violinists who have rules for the use of these pitches while the text is sung in multiphonics and another live or taped text saying more explicitly what the sung text refers to may be electronically modulated. In any case, electronic music freed me from the necessity of a first and second theme which are later developed and then recapitulated. It opened the door to silence, layering, and modulating sequences of activity, among other things.

For Women Composers, 4/22/96

This interview was conducted via email with Melissa Thiel,

1- How did your up-bringing influence you to compose music?

It didn't really.

When did you start your music training?

age 7

How did you first begin composing?

I got tired of practicing piano and started composing something or other. I showed it to my piano teacher at the time who was not particularly interested. I kept writing and when I was 14 I got a new piano teacher, who I chose because she was both a pianist and a composer--Helen Lipscomb, of Lexington, Kentucky and she had a lot of things published.

2- What genre(s) and medium(s) do you compose for?

I used to do a lot of pieces for acoustic instruments and tape, some tape pieces, quite a lot of text-sound (sometimes known as sound-poetry), theatre pieces (including an opera, 3 off-off Broadway shows, lots of performance art and "downtown" music theatre things. Now I mostly do orchestral music and chamber music.. I have written quite a few songs and some things for chorus and an oratorio.

3- What is your education level/course of study?

I have a BA, an MFA in piano performance, a MA in composition, and I did half the course work for a Ph.D. but do not intend to complete that degree.

Has this influenced your music, if so, how?

It taught me a few things that are useful and I was introduced to a lot of music I might not otherwise have heard and composers who I might not otherwise have met. After I got out of school I learned a lot more and that continues.

4- Are your compositions mainly commissioned works, or do you compose and then require a royalty fee for performances?

If I waited for genuine commissions with significant dollar amounts attached, I would write much less. I do try to collect a royalty fee--BMI does, rather. I would say that I do not make much money from composition. In the mid-1970's I got grants and good commissions and now I am in that "awkward stage" between 30 and 80 where I am not a young composer to be encouraged, nor an old one to be celebrated. I intend to live past 80 and see what happens!

If it is a combination, how do these two balance each other out? What is your preference?

My preference is for large commissions from large performing forces with good backing and administration and fine players and conductor.

5- What problems have you had getting your works published or recorded?

I solved the publishing part by joining BMI and American Composers Alliance. ACA publishes everything of mine that isn't already published by General Music/Joshua Corp. which was bought by EMI a few years ago. So everything is always available.

In terms of recording, I have CDs out on Newport Classics and Opus One. I had records out on Opus One, Dial-A-Poem-poet LPs (John Giorno's label), 1750 Arch Records (out of Berkeley and now out of business but available from Pauline Oliveros' catalogue). I had a cassette out on a small company in Baltimore.

Are these recordings or works readily accessible to the general public, and if not, how can they be obtained?

The current CD's I think are all distributed by Albany--THE small distributor for small labels. They are available to people if people go and request them. The stores can order them, and occasionally I see one actually in a store.

6- Are you consciously aware of gender issues and do they manifest themselves within your compositions?

Yes I am aware. I used to write on topics of interest to feminists such as my opera, QUEEN CHRISTINA about the fabulous queen of Sweden who Decartes thought to be the most intelligent ruler of her time. My oratorio is JOAN, on Joan of Arc. I also used coding systems that dwelt on even numbers which are considered in numerology to be feminine as opposed to odd numbers. I began my career imagining that I could not only be inspired by, but also make a contribution to women/feminism through my music.

In what ways has this changed over your lifetime as a composer?

I am less focused on celebrating women lately. I write more instrumental music now and so it comes up less.

7- What prejudices or prejudicial acts have you experienced in your lifetime as a woman composer?

Who knows all of them. I was asked to teach at a college once because of affirmative action and when the school realized that they could get away without hiring a woman, they stopped my application (which they had requested)! And on and on. Life is short.

8- What do you view as the major hurdles that women beginning to compose must overcome?

Themselves and their teachers. Don't believe anyone. If you want to write, do so. If you don't want to hold down a full time job in order to have the comfort to write, give up the idea of being a composer of concert music, unless you can learn to be happy in poverty, marry the rich, inherit the wealth, or otherwise fall into money. Then again, don't listen to me.

Regarding Geography, with herself

A. Where do you want to be on Earth?

B. Everything is just better in California--the wine, the food, fruits and vegetables, the comforts of living. Even the instrumentalists are generous and curious. Everything is wonderful.

A. Then I guess you want to leave New York

B. New York has all that intense hatred and pain-just torture-where everything is 10 times as hard as it needs to be, and everything is terribly important.

A. Then you must want to move to California.

B. Oh no. That was my defense of New York

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Copyright 1996-2006 Beth Anderson
Last Updated September 9, 2006