Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center Vivian Perlis, Director, Oral History of American Music, Yale University

Vivian Perlis
photo by NewMusicBox

While working with Aaron Copland’s papers that were filed in the basement of his house in Peekskill, New York, I came upon six assignment books for Rubin Goldmark, the celebrated composition teacher in Manhattan. Copland was astonished to see things he had not looked at for over sixty years. “Holy Moses! ” he exclaimed, “I kept everything!” (He actually used expressions like this, as well as “gee whiz” and “golly.”) As we turned the pages of one workbook labeled “Juvenilia,” Copland gleefully read the instructions from Goldmark: “No parallel fifths! No fourths! No octaves!” In response to my comment about how far he had strayed from these exercises, Aaron said: “I had to learn it somewhere, and this was as good as it got in those days.” No anger, no criticism, no impatience-only amusement at being labeled “the young modernist” among Goldmark’s students. Copland’s wit and good humor were constant and delightful, making it a great pleasure indeed to know or work with him.