Check out this great article about us by Fred Cohn in Chamber Music Magazine:
This interview originally appeared in the May 2013 New York Flute Club Newsletter. © 2013 by The New York Flute Club, Inc.
If the morning is about getting ideas out of Katherine’s head and onto paper, the afternoon is about getting her music out of her apartment and onto music stands everywhere…
ZL: So, you’ve composed until you’re done for the day, then what?
KH: Well, I head for the computer: there are always things to answer, like somebody wants a lesson on Kokopeli, and that has to be scheduled. I go to the post office a reasonable amount. I’m very, very lucky that Papagena Press has been enough of a success that about five years ago Theodore Presser came to me and asked to be my distributor, and offered me a very nice deal. So I have to get stuff off to them, from time to time, and then there are a ton of other things, a lot of inquiries. So in the afternoon I handle things like inquiries, and the business level of it.
ZL: Now that Presser is your distributor, what kind of work do you have to do for Papagena Press?
KH: Well, there’s a lot! Getting pieces ready, which includes editing, proofing (ugh!) and designing the publication. And you’ll notice, I do design, very carefully, every cover. First of all, it’s fun for me. And I think it makes a real difference.
ZL: And Papagena is just your works?
KH: I tried once, many years ago, to put out someone else’s work. And my name did not sell anyone else’s work. And it was a lot of effort! So I said, “No more.”
ZL: So your work is creating the product that Presser then reproduces and sells. You have to make it into a printable PDF or something for Presser?
KH: No, for the printer. I pay for all of that, which is the reason they made me such a good deal!
ZL: Oh, so you do literally everything except the distribution?
ZL: So if someone wants to buy your music, they order it through Presser, but basically what they are getting is a physical product that you, Katherine Hoover, have created. That’s very cool! Do you keep all of the music in stock, or did you, until it was distributed by Presser?
ZL: So before the days of Presser, if you ordered a piece of music from Katherine Hoover, it came directly from the hand of Katherine Hoover. Katherine Hoover took it to the post office, and mailed it to you. That’s freaking cool! [Both laugh.] I mean, it’s probably tiring for you, but it’s cool for the rest of us. “This stamp was licked by Katherine Hoover!” [More laughter.]
ZL: Would you say that having your own publishing company, having that control and that vehicle for your work to get out into the world, has been successful?
KH: Absolutely. It means two wonderful things: I really do have a say in where the page turns are, what it looks like, all of this…. And, the other one? It’s a big one: I can put out whatever the heck I please!
ZL: Is it financially successful?
KH: I make some money from it every year. I make enough that it helps.
ZL: So your afternoon is Papagena, inquiries, website maintenance, that sort of thing. And you do that for three hours, five hours, twelve hours, until you’re done?
KH: Well, two to three hours. Then if it’s Monday, as it is today, my son usually comes by for dinner.
Which brings us to…
KH: I have a house to run and a family to take care of and that takes time too, but the days are very different, sometimes you work two, three, four hours, sometimes you work seven or eight hours, and one day will follow the next and it won’t be the same at all. But basically it’s writing, then tending to Papagena takes the next big chunk, and then practicing. Practicing voice and flute.
ZL: So you do that at the end of the day?
KH: No, I do that after I write, when I’m still reasonably fresh.
ZL: So, to complete this “day in the life,” obviously you have a family life you maintain, and a personal life that you also maintain. You’re having dinner with your son. What are some of the other activities that might take up your personal time?
KH: Well, I just had a daughter-in-law and granddaughter here for 10 days from Vienna. And, this is New York, we like to go to things. We don’t get to half the things we’d like to go to! One reasons this has worked so well for both of us [Katherine and her husband, Richard Goodwin, who is a guidance counselor at a South Bronx high school] is that I knew when I married Richard that he had the passion about what he does that I have about what I do, and so we would respect that for each other. He knows music is central to my life and that I wouldn’t be me without it, and I know he would not be himself without what he does, and his kids.
ZL: Well, I think that’s really important. Both of your careers are so challenging, and require such an investment of your personality. It’s not like filling out forms at the bank all day! You have to be able to give each other that permission, at the very least, and support, hopefully at the best.
At this point, Richard himself interrupted the interview to add another answer to the question of her non-composing activities, by showing me some of Katherine’s pottery. In fact, it turned out I was drinking coffee out of one of her pieces, and that the two spend time together every week, working at a pottery studio. The coffee mug I was using was an exception in Katherine’s work:
KH: I was never terribly good at the wheel, so basically I’ve been making things lately for which there is absolutely no human use. And I’ve been enjoying the heck out of it!
RICHARD: She’s in her “Dali” period, I would say…
And so one day in the life of a composer flows, with writing, practicing, business and life, until it is time to start thinking about tomorrow’s writing session, when another day in the life of Katherine Hoover begins.
This interview originally appeared in the May 2013 New York Flute Club Newsletter. © 2013 by The New York Flute Club, Inc.
KATHERINE HOOVER: A day in the life of a composer
Interview by Zara Lawler
The flute world knows Katherine Hoover (www.katherinehoover.com) as a groundbreaking composer of wonderful music for the flute. She began her life as a composer when it was very unusual for women to consider composing as a career. Equally boldly, she started a publishing company, Papagena Press, to get her music out into the world. I first met Katherine in the early ’90s when I was at Barnard College, working on both her Suite for two flutes and Kokopeli for my senior thesis project on women composers. She was one of the first “real” (that is, non-student) composers I had ever met, and I am so pleased that we have worked together quite a bit in the years since! For this profile, we got together last year at her Upper West Side apartment, and I used the opportunity to ask her all sorts of nosy questions about the nitty-gritty of her life as a composer, and how it compares to the life of a flutist.
Actually, it turns out that a day in the life of Katherine Hoover, composer, begins the night before!
ZARA LAWLER: When you sit down to start your composing day, is there any sort of warm-up you do, any sort of mental preparation?
KATHERINE HOOVER: As a matter of fact, I usually start by thinking about the piece the night before. I just sort of review things a little bit, and by the time I get up in the morning, it’s usually running through my head, and I’m into it. That’s the best, because life is so distracting. If the piece is any good at all, though, I’ll be in the middle of it.
ZL: You’ve told me a couple of times when I’ve tried to schedule time with you that you can’t do anything in the morning, that’s when you write. I’d love to get a sense of what a day in the life of a composer is like.
ZL: Maybe there’s not a typical day…
KH: I think for many, many people there is not. When I started to write, I had a young child—who of course has his own kids now! And the only time I had to write, once I decided I really, really wanted to do this, was in the morning after I took him to preschool. I had a couple of hours and that was it. And then I was into making a living, and taking care of him, and everything else that goes with life. So I started out writing in the morning, sitting down at the piano the minute he was at preschool, and I got very tied to that, because I realized it was the only time I would ever have to write. I still write in the morning. Lately it’s been hard now that I have more time—I have to make an effort to be free enough with myself to go back in the afternoon and work on something I worked on that morning.
ZL: Is there a time you set for yourself to get started?
KH: Usually around 9, something like that.
ZL: And when you spend your morning writing, do you take breaks? Do you work until you’re done? What’s the flow of the morning for you?
KH: It really depends on how hard the piece is. There are times when you can go on for 30 to 40 bars, and other times when I’m happy to have 6 to 8 bars.
ZL: How long does that take?
KH: That depends on the same thing. Again, anywhere from 40 minutes, and I’m really unhappy if that’s all I get, to a couple of hours in the morning. Lately sometimes I’ve been able to come back in the afternoon and do another hour or two as well, and I like that.
ZL: When I practice, I like to work in half-hour chunks, with breaks in between. Do you have a structure for yourself during the time you’re writing?
KH: No, no, no…again it really depends on whether it’s flowing and what I’m thinking about, and actually I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night with ideas now, because I can. But no, it really depends on what kind of idea it is. Some ideas will go a long time before you can stop working with them. And my mind is also saying to me at certain times, “Hey! Write this down!”
ZL: I think people would be interested to think about how the life of a composer compares to the life of a performer. Playing is so interesting because you have to be in shape both mentally and physically. What is that experience like for a composer?
KH: Not nearly so well-rounded I can tell you! You sit on your duff at the piano, or wherever you sit, at a table or whatever, and you write. If I write for flute, of course I’m checking it out, but I write with the piano first.
ZL: When we were working and talking about the piece for E Pluribus Flutum [Zara’s work for 8 to 100 dancing flutists, incorporating folk tunes, dances, and a Katherine Hoover finale—Ed.] that became Clowning Around, I was struck by a comment you made. You said “Well, you know, I’ll just throw some things out and see what comes back.” And I was wondering if you could talk a bit about what that process is, of throwing things out, and seeing what comes back.
KH: That’s really interesting. One of the reasons I decided to do [Clowning Around] is because I hadn’t written anything light in quite a while, and that’s an important balance to me. It’s a balance that I don’t ever want to lose sight of because so much of contemporary music is sooo serious [said in a mock-serious voice].
ZL: Yes, I’ve noticed! [Both laugh.]
KH: So, I didn’t know what would happen. I don’t do that kind of thing very often, so I just had to see what I would get, and that’s what I got.
ZL: Another composer friend of mine said that a lot of his work is just making the conditions right for himself to have ideas. And basically he said, “I just pamper myself. I take care of myself, so that I can then have ideas.” Is there that aspect of it for you?
KH: Yes there is, but it’s different for me. I’ll read something, I’ll go to a gallery, I’ll see all kinds of things, and then something will start giving me sound ideas, ideas in sound. I love to do this, because then the sounds it gives me are usually pretty different from other things. Somehow it triggers a kind of originality, and I don’t want to sound the same all the time.
ZL: So you get your sound ideas from non-sound sources sometimes.
KH: Correct. I have hundreds of years of sound sources in my head, and I want some different sounds if I can find them.
ZL: The part of your job that is seeking inspiration, do you have to set aside time for that, or does life provide that for you?
KH: Life provides that, as long as I get out, and start looking and thinking and reading and so forth.
ZL: During composing time, I was wondering if there’s a balance between writing new material and editing or reworking material that you’ve already written, or does that all feel like one process for you?
KH: It’s all part of one process. I learned this about my own process. A few times in a longer piece, I would think, “Well I want something here that’s totally different, I want to go in a different direction at this point… I want to go someplace else.” And I would! I would do something I thought was completely different in every way, and then, so help me, in the third or fourth rehearsal someone would say, “Well you got this thing from right there in the beginning didn’t you?” [Both laugh.] So I finally just said the heck with that, and accepted that even if I try and write something really, really different, it will probably be part of the same process and the same piece. I just count on it.
ZL: I wish I had my camera out. You just did this gesture of shrugging your shoulders like “I don’t know how it happens,” and I just think that, well, it’s a mystery to me how composers compose, and it’s interesting to me that there’s an aspect of shrugging your shoulders for you too!
KH: It’s a mystery to me, yeah. And for the guy who told you that he just has to pamper himself, get to the right mood somehow or other, that implies the same thing.
ZL: So it’s not like “And now I will write the next five notes of this piece.”
KH: Well, yes, we do do that, we just don’t know where they come from, that’s all. [Both laugh.]
ZL: In the little bit of truly creative work that I’ve done— when I’m really starting with nothing and not just adding an interpretation—I really feel the difference. And for me, there’s a great deal of fear. I mean, what if what I come up with is stupid? or what do I do next? Is there any aspect of that for you?
KH: Oh, absolutely…
ZL: When you’re playing a piece, you work on matching yourself to the piece, and bringing out the best in the piece and bringing your best self to the piece, but when you’re with the blank page, is that fear something you face on a daily basis, or are you kind of over it?
KH: No, not on a daily basis, and no, I’m not totally over it. I don’t think you’re ever totally over it. I’ve had some tremendous fears. I mean, obviously, I didn’t start writing until my 30s, when I should have been writing from the time I was a kid! I went to school in the ’50s, I mean, come on! For boys, and even more so for girls, in music school, there was a sense of “What are you doing, writing? Who do you think you are, Beethoven?” It was really not a good attitude. “All the good music has been written,” was basically it. And I was the only female in class, with six guys, all grad students. I was an undergrad, and I just sat there, and they never bothered to look at my work, and that’s the way it was.
KH: So I did not write, and you can imagine, with all of this, when I finally did start writing, there was a tremendous amount of fear that it wouldn’t be any good. And the bigger the piece, the bigger the fear. And sometimes I still have some of that, but it’s a little different now. I’m not afraid of myself and other people at this point, but I am afraid of not doing it really well.
ZL: How do you know when you’re finished for the day?
KH: I just run dry! Or else the phone rings, and I just get so distracted…sometimes there’s just something I have to go and do. Usually I don’t schedule anything before 11:30, so sometimes it’s that I have to stop, but usually it’s like something says “That’s all for today!” I think, [in a kid’s voice] “Nah, I want to do more!” [Then in a grown-up voice] “Sorry, that’s it, that’s your allowance.”
ZL: How about for a piece, how do you know when it’s finished, when it’s time to put it on the computer?
KH: I get to a certain point in the piece, and I realize I have to pay attention to the piece’s form. So I’ll sort of sketch an idea of how long it should be, whatever ideas I have in terms of the piece. There’s a certain point when you’ve done enough of the piece that you have to plan out or begin thinking about the form or else it can be very chaotic. I guess that’s kind of a signal to myself in a way—it’s still subject to change as you go on, but basically you’ll have a sense that yes, this is coming to an end, and it has to be in a way that fits with the rest of the piece. I may go back and look and think it over, and sometimes I will ask myself, “What are some really strong ideas or ideas I really liked in this piece?” and you can bring them back to put it together. Because that’s how people will hear it: if you hear it as being strongest, people are going to hear it that way and that’s the way to bring it to an end. A lot of composers say endings are really really difficult. I used to think that wasn’t true, but it is.
ZL: For a performer, you know you’re done practicing the piece because you had the performance, or the performance is tonight or tomorrow. And I guess for your pieces when you have a commission, there’s sometimes a deadline that will help create that for you, but for a piece you’re working on for yourself, is there ever a temptation to just keep tinkering with it until…
KH: A lot of people do more of that than I do, I think. It has to do with the time constraints I had when I started writing. I tend to be done with it when I’m done. But lately, again, when I’ve finally got my life to a point where I can just relax and do what I want, the way I want, I’ve tried to open up in that way too. And I’m doing more rewriting than I used to.
What does composer Katherine Hoover do in the afternoon and evening? Stay tuned for part 2…
Lawler & Fadoul recently gave the world premiere of Katherine Hoover’s Two Preludes for flute and marimba/vibraphone at a concert celebrating the composer’s 75th birthday as part of the New York Flute Club’s annual Flute Fair. We commissioned Two Preludes as part of our Gronica Project, expanding the repertoire for our instrument combination.
Katherine Hoover, who turned 75 in December 2012, occupies a special place in the hearts of flutists. She is a ground-breaking composer and inspiring entrepreneur–she forged a path for herself as a composer at a time when it was very unusual for women to do so, and ensured the success of her career by starting her own publishing company long before personal computers made desktop publishing commonplace. For the members of the New York Flute Club, she has the added attraction of being one of our own, a local girl made good, and we enjoy seeing her at concerts and other flute events around the city. None of that would matter, however, if we didn’t love her music so much! Her music engages our minds, moves our hearts, and excites our imaginations.
For all of those reasons, she was a natural choice to be one of the first composers commissioned by Lawler & Fadoul. We asked her for a set of preludes for flute and marimba and/or vibraphone, and we were so pleased to be able to premiere them at her celebration concert. How cool to honor a composer in her 75th year with not only some of her best loved pieces of the past, but with a hot-off-the-presses premiere. Actually, Two Preludes has not yet been published, even, so maybe “still-on-the-press” is a better expression.
The first movement, Uptown, is for flute and marimba, and has a fun, jazz-inspired atmosphere, with the flute and marimba trading the lead voice back and forth. Performing it for an audience (instead of in a practice room) really made it feel playful and exciting. You never know how a first performance will go, so it was very exciting!
The second movement, Out of Town, is with vibraphone and has a very different feeling…like a summer vacation upstate. Katherine had never written for the vibraphone before, and she was entranced by it, and wrote a gorgeous (and challenging!) solo for Paul in the middle of the piece.
A good time was had by all! Hoover’s Preludes will be featured on our upcoming CD, Prelude Cocktail.
PS. Katherine is the composer of one of the best-loved American solo pieces for flute, Kokopeli (you can watch my story-telling version of Kokopeli here).
PPS. Stay tuned for my profile of Katherine in the upcoming New York Flute Club newsletter. I will post it here once it’s available.
Ever notice how once you start thinking about haiku, they seem to be everywhere? There’s been a real confluence of them for me this weekend. First, Paul’s haiku t-shirt worked its way into our programming meeting (see previous post). Then we remembered last year’s CMA haiku, especially since this weekend was the CMA conference.
Then this morning, I heard a fascinating and inspiring episode of On Being, the NPR show. The guest was John Paul Lederach, who has spent 30 years as a peace mediator in countries all over the world. He spoke very eloquently about the power of both music and poetry to facilitate the healing process for people who have suffered unspeakable violence and upheaval, by giving voice to feelings and experiences that can’t be expressed in regular words.
Lederach says that over his years in conflict resolution he has become particularly interested in the art of haiku, for its ability to capture “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” He has noticed that people will often, unconsciously, speak in haiku when in the heat of meetings designed to transform conflict situations. Similar to how the Fibonacci sequence seems to appear in nature, the structure of haiku seem to arise naturally in speech when people are trying to come up with simple solutions to complex problems. (I mean, really, is that cool or what?)
He has transcribed many of these haiku, and written his own based on those experiences. You can see and hear the haiku, or the whole episode, here. This one was my favorite from the episode:
Don’t ask the mountain
To move, just take a pebble
Each time you visit.
—Yangon, March 2003
First rehearsal of the season, and we are planning our program at Lynchburg…and we got derailed writing haiku. So, to whet your appetite for the concert, here’s one:
A solo by Dan Asia
Is five minutes long
As you can see, our programming discussion has informed the poem. We also came up with the alternate:
Is often pentatonic
Why haiku you ask? Well, Zara will be playing a solo in Lynchburg, based on haiku (This Floating World, by Edie Hill), and Paul is wearing his awesome haiku t-shirt today (see photo). It has this haiku on it:
NOTE: if you would like to hear Paul play Marimba Music by Dan Asia, and can’t come to the concert, check it out on iTunes.
I have a marimba partner and a life partner. With my marimba partner (Paul), I do projects like putting on concerts. With my life partner (Aine), I do projects like building a treehouse. So it seems only natural to put on a concert in a treehouse.
Yes! A treehouse! It’s in western Massachusetts (near North, in my sister’s back yard. We started work last summer. First we put up the beams.
In November, Aine and I spent Thanksgiving weekend building the platform. We framed the floor:
And covered it all with plywood.
When it was finished, it looked just like a stage among the trees, and the idea for a Treehouse Concert was born.
The concert will be May 21 at 4pm. If you live in the Northampton, MA area and would like to come, the concert is free, but you must RSVP. Please email me at email@example.com for all the details.
(In case of rain, we will be inside, but you’ll still get a chance to see the treehouse!)
Ever wonder what happens to marimbas when they are ready to be put out to pasture?
But, nonetheless, this video offers one possible answer:
It’s actually an ad, but it’s so cool, we wanted to share it.
Ever notice how changing a tire…
…is like setting up a marimba?
It was made quite obvious to us yesterday, when Paul’s car had a flat. It caused quite the delay in our day, but at least allowed us the excuse of lunch at the Original Pancake House, which was right next door to the tire place.
Interestingly, this is the second flat tire I’ve experienced recently with a current collaborator who was once a member of Tales & Scales. Here’s Neil Parsons changing his tire on the last day of the Arts Midwest Conference: