Dorothy Stone, a Remembrance

[Ed. note: Dorothy Stone, a recipient, as a member of the California EAR Unit, of the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction (1999), died in her home in Southern California on March 7, 2008. We asked composer Rand Steiger, her longtime friend and EAR Unit colleague, to write these words in her memory. – FJO]

name
Dorothy Stone
(1958-2008)

Dorothy Stone was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, on June 7, 1958. She attended the Manhattan School of Music from 1976 through 1980 where she studied flute with Harvey Sollberger and electronic music with Elias Tanenbaum. She then migrated to California (along with a stray cat who had wandered through a window into her apartment on 116th and Broadway, only to be whisked off to the desert) to attend graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts. There she immediately became a central member of the burgeoning CalArts Twentieth-Century Players. Among her many inspired performances that year were those as soloist in Morton Subotnick’s piccolo concerto Parallel Lines.

Longing to return to New York, and frustrated with some of the conditions at CalArts, she returned to the East Coast in the summer of 1981, not intending to return to complete her degree. But she had second thoughts, and we were all delighted when she unexpectedly showed up again in the fall of 1981.

Since her early days at the Manhattan School of Music, it had always been her dream to form her own chamber ensemble with which she could pursue a career performing the music she loved. For several of us, an idea was already in the air to do just that and, shortly after she landed, we met in the infamous CalArts cafeteria to develop our plan. That day Erika Duke, Dan Kennedy, Amy Knoles, Michael McCandless, Gaylord Mowrey, Jim Rohrig, Dorothy Stone, and I became the California EAR Unit, although it would be several months, and numerous, hilarious debates before we invented the name.

In the summer of 1982, after we all graduated, we traveled with the Twentieth-Century Players to the Holland Festival. The dean of CalArts at the time, Nicholas England, so admired the way Dorothy dressed for performances that he made it the dress code for our tour. We were all directed to wear black t-shirts under partially open bright pink shirts. Not everyone was pleased, but we complied. We arrived in Holland for a week of intense rehearsals at an estate in the quaint town of Breuklen. Later that week, angry at the poor transcriptions with error-filled parts that we were asked to play by the festival curators, Dorothy and the clarinetist, Teresa Tunnicliffe (now in the San Diego Symphony), staged a revolt to demand better working conditions. We then performed numerous concerts led by Stephen “Lucky” Mosko and Daniel Shulman, and also made a side trip to perform as the EAR Unit at the American Center in Paris. Our trip to Paris (the first for all of us) was highlighted by many adventures, including a misunderstanding at the dilapidated Hotel L’Aqueduc that had an elderly woman threatening, in menacing-sounding French, to call the police.

From then on, for 26 years, Dorothy was a driving force behind the Ear Unit, along the way inspiring dozens of composers to write adventurously for flute, performing in over a hundred concerts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and many more around the U.S. and Europe. Alone, and with the EAR Unit, Dorothy participated in a huge number of premiere performances, particularly by young composers, and also had works written for her by many leading composers including Andriessen, Babbitt, Carter, Powell, Riley, Rzewski, and Subotnick. Among her many recordings were Carter’s Enchanted Preludes, Feldman’s For Philip Guston, and Babbitt’s None but the Lonely Flute, which she also chose as the name for her remarkable, critically acclaimed solo CD.

Throughout this time she had a vigorous, yet secretive creative life. Starting with her early experiments in the analog electronic music studio at the Manhattan School of Music, and continuing through composition lessons at CalArts, particularly with Mosko, Dorothy pursued her own musical ideas, although she rarely shared them with others. On the rare occasions when she did disseminate these pieces, they demonstrated the same musicality and creativity that we came to know from her performances, colored by her quirky sense of humor and feisty spirit. Her most ambitious piece was the fantastic Wizard Ball, a piccolo solo she played very loudly, with amplification and electronic processing using analog circuitry she built herself. It brilliantly brought together her diverse musical interests and fulfilled her dream of making her piccolo sound like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. Shortly after, Wizard Ball was recognized with the inaugural Freeman Composition Award and a prize from the International League of Women Composers.

Harvey Sollberger recently wrote that Dorothy was “somebody on a mission that she would configure and give meaning to in her own way…(not) looking for anything quick or easy, with the result that what she accomplished was fully hers and fully authentic.” EAR Unit cellist Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick writes, “Dorothy is in my DNA—her timing, her coloring, her breath, the way she intuitively thought about phrase and pitch and concept. Every piece I ever played with her has her permanent imprint on it.” All of us who collaborated with her knew her to be an intelligent, uncompromising, and immensely talented musician.

In her first year at CalArts, Dorothy was often frustrated with Mosko for what she thought was an autocratic approach to programming, with too great an emphasis on the music of faculty composers (although she dove into these pieces and performed them brilliantly). Their relationship crackled with tension relieved only by bursts of ecstatic energy in their uncompromising performances. Their mutual respect won out over these tensions, and in her second year in California, Dorothy became a devoted composition and conducting student.

After completing her degree at CalArts, she continued to study with him, and the lessons grew longer and more intense until—to no one’s surprise—they fell madly in love. Soon after they married, and ever since, they lived in Green Valley, California, in a rustic house surrounded by fruit and nut trees, always with at least two cats and one dog (but often more). Many people who came to Los Angeles to work with the EAR Unit over these years made the unforgettable pilgrimage up to their place, where great hospitality, humor, and conversation were nourished by the fruits and herbs of their gardens, and Lucky’s fantastic cooking.

Mosko wrote a series of compositions for her, for which she perfected an amazing ability to produce smooth glissandos over the entire range of the flute. In life and music their bond was intense and unshakable—their love, ever growing. Dorothy never fully recovered from Lucky’s unexpected and premature death in November of 2005. Those of us who were fortunate to have known them both, to have shared work and friendship with them, will carry them in our hearts forever. But we will never be the same without them.