When I was 14 my favorite composers were Beethoven, Liszt, and Grieg. When I was 15 the most exciting composer I could think of was John Cage. When I was 17 I discovered Pauline Oliveros and was very excited since she was the only woman composer I could find in 1967. I had run across Cecile Chaminade in the John Thompson piano book in about the 2nd grade one.
Right now I love Gustav Mahler and Ottorino Respighi. I love John Cage's music that he wrote around 1950 and most of Eric Satie, especially SOCRATES. I love folk music. I think Stefania de Kenessey and Lori Laitman are wonderful composers.
I don't know if this is true of all generations but I don't feel as though I have had a role model. The composers who were my teachers (Terry Riley, Robert Ashley, Larry Austin, John Cage, Richard Swift, Helen Lipscomb) did not have or need a Ph.D. but now everyone gets them and you can't teach in a university without one, unless you have been there since before the 'rule' changed. I always thought I would teach more than private piano. And I did work as an adjunct professor for nine years but no tenure-track job ever appeared for me.
Composers now are not as likely to get into the 'academy' as they once were. Composers need to find another way. I did try my hand at film composing and would have loved to do more of that but it didn't happen for me. I wrote several off-off Broadway musicals that ran for a few weeks and were not revived. Lately I have written a group of songs for children that I envisioned being a sort of Golden Book with colorful pictures illustrating the songs and the music printed so children/teachers could sing along with a CD in the back (in my imagination, Judy Collins or some famous folk singer would sing on the CD). But as it turns out, the children's book market is another world and the people who 'live' in it don't know me.
This is probably more than you need to know about my search to make a living as a composer.
For twenty years I did improvise for modern dance classes (and some ballet and jazz), sometimes 6 hours a day. I love dancers and it was fun to help them get off the ground, but it was not good for my tendons.
I didn't really have a composer to model myself after. And I didn't have a mentor either.
2) How did your family feel about your career choice and how did it affect your career choice?
I was raised by my mother and she was of course worried about me being a starving musician. She insisted that I get a teaching credential and I finally did get one when I was 28. The only problem with that was that I couldn't get 100 students in gospel chorus to even sit in their seats, much less sing when it was appropriate. Teaching in New York City is not at all like teaching in Kentucky where I am from and I realized I couldn't do it.
I became a composer anyway.
3) Did you ever feel discriminated against as a female composer?
Yes of course. When there are festivals of new music and 100 or 99 or 98 of the 100 composers are men and there are only 0 or 1 or 2 women, you know that's discrimination. If you look at the statistics at colleges and universities and see that a tiny proportion of composition teachers are women, you know they are discriminating. There is a vast array of women composers in all aesthetics available and we don't hear or see enough of them.
My favorite example is that one of my teachers got a new job and at this new university he was asked to hire a woman composer because they needed someone because of the gender equality law. He talked to me and I was overjoyed. You can imagine. And a week later he came back to me and said that they had taken back the offer because they had learned that the law was not going to be enforced. So they didn't need to hire a woman! And I had thought that he was my friend. Did he fight to hire me anyway? No way.
4) Where does your inspiration come from?
God. I used to write when I was terribly unhappy. Those would always be my most productive times. But then I discovered I could write when I was happy too. And I could dream music and wake up and write it down quickly. And I could just go sit on the piano bench and write when I didn't feel anything in particular at all. Sometimes a poem or a story inspires me. And I can certainly write more quickly with a deadline, or a guaranteed performance coming up, or a flattering commission, or a seriously interested/wonderful player/orchestra waiting for the new piece. So many things, people, emotions, and situations create inspiration.
And for some reason, sugar and caffeine have a positive affect on inspiration, if not my waist.
5) What do you like/dislike about being a composer?
I dislike the lack of respect and difficulty making a living. I love being able to create something beautiful.
Beth Anderson The Classroom
Dear Ms. Anderson,
My name is Amy Buehner and I am a music teacher at Woods Elementary School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. In my class, we study and learn about a different composer every month, based on birthdays. While searching for a new composer, I came across your name, and it just so happens you have a January birthday, which is the month we are working on. So, you are our honored composer of January 2006! My classes of 1st through 4th graders compiled a list of questions for you, and if you have the time, we would be so very appreciative of your response. It has been very exciting for the kids to study someone who is alive and composing today...they had a great time deciding what to ask you and are eagerly awaiting your answers. Here it goes....
If you have time to answer these questions, my students would be delighted. We have enjoyed learning about your compositions and are really interested to know more about you, as the kids are learning about different influences on composers right now.
Thank you so much for your consideration.
So, here are the questions with Ms. Anderson's answers:
Where do you live right now?
What is your favorite color?
Favorite subject in school?
Favorite instrument to play?
Favorite style of music?
Do you like art?
Are you ever influenced by pieces of art?
Do you collect anything?
Where are your ancestors from?
Does this impact your music?
Do you have any pets?
Spouse or partner?
Do you like to dance?
Who was your most influential teacher?
Favorite band or singer?
What is the name of the first song you wrote?
How old were you when you started composing?
How do you feel when writing music?
What is your favorite piece you've written? Why?
Least favorite? Why?
Do you ever work/sing/perform with partners?
In Swales, how do you decide which styles or elements to combine?
I am so glad to know that you and your students are studying my music.
Sincerely, Beth Anderson
We have now sent more CDs of Ms. Anderson's music and have spoken to Ms. Buehner about a longer term relationship between Beth Anderson and the kids at Woods School.
Keep an eye on this page for more details.
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