Dialogues into Monologues

One of the biggest issues that arises when one decides to publish an interview with someone else is deciding what format the final product will take. There are many varied examples of published interviews with composers out there, and the range and scope of those interview formats have given those of us bitten by the interviewing bug several options. Each one of them has their own attractiveness and challenges, and coming up with the right formula is tricky at best.

Central to the idea of a book of interviews (as opposed to a book about a group of individuals) is that the material is firsthand; the words in front of you were spoken by the subject in some form or fashion. Where the flexibility comes in is how the role of the interviewer is presented within the text—basically, is the interviewer present in the book (with questions/discussions usually separated out and italicized) or not?

The most popular model of “present interviewer” seems to be where the interviewer has researched each subject and comes prepared with a list of questions that are form-fitted to that individual. Three books that incorporate this format include Soundings by Richard Dufallo, Soundpieces: Interviews with American Composers by Gagne & Caras and New Sounds, New Personalities: British Composers of the 1980s by Paul Griffiths. While the latter two have authors who are from the media (Gagne & Caras were radio hosts and Griffiths a critic), Trackings is set apart because of the personal relationship that existed between each composer and Dufallo, who was a conductor and had performed works by all of the composers in the book. Many times the results are close to a transcript in nature, where short back-and-forths give the reader the sense that they are in the room during the interview.

Another model of “present interviewer” books are the Composers on Composing series published by GIA Publications. Geared primarily towards the music education field, this series includes several volumes of interviews with composers who have written for wind band and choir, as well as orchestra. These books differ from the first model because of their questions; each composer is asked the same ten questions, and the reader is then allowed to compare and contrast how each composer reacts to each question. Answers tend to be relatively brief (2-4 paragraphs) and the interviewer is at least somewhat removed from the forefront by the repetition of the questions; there is no room for follow-up questions or discussion in this format.

The book that I’ve used as a benchmark for my own project discards the idea of the “present interviewer” altogether. The Muse That Sings by Ann McCutchan states the basic questions that she came to each interview with during the introduction, but each chapter is comprised entirely of words by the composers in a monologue-like style; always in the first person, it has been edited to bring focus to what is being said (and slightly de-emphasize how it may have sounded initially during the interview). The challenge with this type of model is that the author/editor is now responsible not only for the transcription of the interview, but also the editing of the interview into a cohesive and understandable statement. I’ve been upfront at the beginning of each interview about what the final product will look like and the process we will have to go through to get there—after finishing a rough draft of the edited monologue, I’ll send it back to the composers and let them make suggestions…not entirely re-writing for history, since I do want to keep it fresh and not over-edited, but I also want to make sure I’m not putting words into anyone’s mouth. I’m hoping that by combining this model along with the “same questions for each composer” format, this will give the reader a good sense of who each composer is while allowing them to draw conclusions by comparing them to others.

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