A “Virtual Séance” with the Founders of the American Music Center

5. Great Teachers and Music Education

HARRISON KERR: It is safe to assume that any composer must be an exceptionally intelligent and gifted person, and that he required rigorous training. Without going into the details of the long period of study, let us assume for the sake of argument, that his education is, in point of difficulty and in cost, about on par with that of a doctor of medicine today. Considering that the composer must master at least one instrument (frequently several), and that he must thoroughly assimilate such difficult subjects as harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and the higher forms of musical composition, and that he must have a comprehensive knowledge of the cultural and historical background of his art, I am unwilling to concede that it is any less arduous to acquire. 1

QUINCY PORTER: I should doubtless be sued for libel if I were to list a number of American composers, both living and dead, whom I feel to have been permanently injured by the education they received. In most cases the harm was done largely by an inadequate early training. Sadly lacking in basic fundamental knowledge, students felt it necessary to go to Europe, where they could work with some famous teacher. In many cases they did all their study with one person. Often blinded by a personality, they were easily led off into a very attractive labyrinth of fascinating theories, losing their way and writing in a style totally foreign to themselves, their heritage or their environment. The result was a great deal of “second hand” music, of dubious value as a contribution to the musical life of this country. 2

MARION BAUER: The real function of a teacher is not to force upon any student one’s own ideas or methods, or type of work. The true function is to develop the student’s own talent and help him to find himself and his individual style. To develop from inside out – not from outside in. 3

AARON COPLAND: I owe [Rubin Goldmark] something in the sense that I don’t know who else I might have studied with, and I don’t know whether they would have been so intent on giving me a solid academic grounding and all those harmony exercises, which are so boring to do. And don’t forget he was a serious composer who had written symphonic works that the New York Philharmonic had played. It was a grown-up atmosphere, it wasn’t just somebody in Brooklyn whom nobody had ever heard of. He was president of this and that organization of musicians, and came of a distinguished musical family, that kind of thing, so studying with him seemed grown up, and different. 4

MARION BAUER: My first studies in New York were with Henry Holden Huss5

AARON COPLAND: We sort of graduated from [Rubin Goldmark]‘s “class” – which it wasn’t in my case – by writing the first movement of a sonata – which is to say, the first movement has a subject, then a second subject, a development section, and a recapitulation. It had to be done right, and I did all that, but in very conventional style because he wanted it that way. In the meantime I was writing little pieces of my own on the side that I didn’t show him. I remember once showing a less conventional piece to him, and he said, “I can’t criticize that; if you want to do it, do it, but don’t show it to me.” That was his attitude. When I went to Paris I wrote to him…by that time he was rather more approving, you might say, more willing to think, “Well, if you want to do it that way, do it.” And, “I am sure Madamoiselle Boulanger must be a lovely person.” 6

MARION BAUER: …I was the first American student of Nadia Boulanger, who later became the teacher of many American composers. 7

AARON COPLAND: I can’t imagine my entire career if I hadn’t met her. It would have been different in some ways, in some very essential way. I don’t know how, you know how those things are, you can’t re-create something that’s happened in some other terms. But it was certainly unexpected. If anybody’d told me when I stepped on the boat for Paris that I was going to study composition with a woman teacher in Paris I would have said, “You are crazy.” … I was going to go for a year. I though it would have been too expensive to stay for three years… I just kept writing home and saying “Could I stay another six months?”… I don’t remember being homesick. 8

QUINCY PORTER: I was not studying with anyone while I was in Paris. I had left the Cleveland Institute of Music, where I had taught for six years, the last three as head of the theory department, to devote myself to composition, and we went to Paris. While there I received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and subsequently a renewal, which made it possible for us to remain in Paris for three years (1928-1931). It was on my previous visit to Paris in 1920-21 that I studied with d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum. 9

OTTO LUENING: …These guys were going to Paris at the same time Hanson was saying you don’t have to go to France or Germany – you can get it at the Eastman School… Some cases got grim, and away from musical values and into cultural lifestyles. Hanson did not like the New York scene… He never forgave me for leaving. 10

HOWARD HANSON: I went to Rome in ’21… of course I was fascinated by St. Peter’s and Gregorian chant and the Sistine Choir… We had at the Academy the works of Palestrina in the original clefs, the old soprano and so forth. So I set myself the task of learning how to read those clefs so I could read them at the piano which also made me a good sight-reader later on… 11

OTTO LUENING: I was in close connection with [Philipp] Jarnach and Busoni and [Volkmar] Andreae, who were three big names in music. I was a young professional. I was put on my feet very young. I had to act like a young professional and I did. I composed hard and played in the orchestra, and conducted and everything. I was in that swing, and they were very supportive. They helped me a lot and got me going and helped me in my endeavors. Busoni looked at my compositions and gave me hints, and Jarnach went through everything and they backed me up. They gave me a lot of support. So I realized that you could have – a young professional life. Move from the young professional life – have your peers help you – they would admire your energies and so on, and they would help to guide you. This was a very fine thing for a young guy to have, very good. 12

MARION BAUER: Raoul Pugno…was touring America in 1906, and he had brought his wife, and his daughter Renée, to this country with him. Renée and I became great friends and I was asked to teach her English. We made such progress that when it came time for the family to return to France, Mme. Pugno invited me to visit them in their country home in Gargenville to continue Renée’s English lessons and to have piano lessons with M. Pugno. He had seen my first attempts at composition and was very encouraging, telling my sister that he would arrange for lessons in harmony, which he did… 13

AARON COPLAND: …The language problem was a bit of a chore at the beginning, naturally, because you can’t immediately have bright conversations with everybody until you get the hang of the thing, the French aren’t very good about learning English; they think everybody ought to talk French, otherwise you are not really civilized! 14

MARION BAUER: I taught his daughter and Nadia Boulanger English in return for piano and harmony lessons…15

AARON COPLAND: [Nadia Boulanger] was rather choosy and was very rough on people that she thought were not talented, and made no bones about telling them so. There must have been some very unhappy scenes in that room at times. She was very honest – sometimes people thought brutally honest…I think part of the fascination was the openness of mind that she seemed to have toward anything that might be presented to her, and at the same time having pretty firm ideas of right and wrong in musical terms. But still wide open – you could convince her of something else if you really wanted to try hard enough and was good enough – in that sense of being in touch with all the latest developments and being openminded about them. And that was very refreshing to me who had worked with Goldmark for four years. His mind was a good one, but still closed to any of the newer developments. And then the fact that it went far beyond the confines of music. She was intellectually a superior woman. She read heavy books, so to speak, she was a real intellect, so you had the warmth of the personality, the musical knowledge, and the civilized atmosphere in which we were living, the historical atmosphere, really, and it all really added up. 16

OTTO LUENING: [Busoni] was not in any sense, the kind of thing that you understand here – your generation – as a teacher. He was an animator. He was a mind. He was a great artist. He was a child prodigy and a man who was world famous at the time, but he had decided what he wanted to do. He was opposed to the war, so he lived in Switzerland modestly and was composing. Composing was the thing that was really important because that was creative. He was that kind of a person. He put into his life all of these things and he was demanding in this sense – he demanded that you be mature at seventeen and he didn’t tell you how to be mature. He just expected you to be mature and so you were. You behaved yourself because that was what he expected. He was a great artist, a great gentleman, and a great mind – he had an incredible memory. He would forget nothing. He knew all the literature by memory and he knew all the musical literature by memory. He had all of these things and his influence was that he freed us… You didn’t quite know what you were doing there, but it was your responsibility to look into it very carefully to see what there was in it that would lead you to things. . . 17

QUINCY PORTER: I am not a musical isolationalist; I am not afraid that exposing our students to foreign influences will prevent our building up a strong national music. My chief objection to the conventional educational formula of the past is simply that it made for narrowness. The influence to which the budding composer is exposed should be varied and extensive, not single and limited. 18

MARION BAUER: My early aspiration was not to listen to the sly remarks of intolerant men regarding women composers. . . that if given a reasonable chance for development, an individual talent, regardless of sex, can progress and grow. 19

QUINCY PORTER: We should, and can, give him while he is still very young, invaluable training in the development of at least three tools which will be indispensable to him if he should turn out to be a composer, and equally indispensable if he turns out to be any other kind of musician. These tools are, first, a solid knowledge of musical notation; second, the maximum possible ear and rhythmic training; third, ability to perform… Some may maintain that a composer doesn’t have to know how to play but I will not hesitate to affirm that they are dead wrong. 20

OTTO LUENING: I used to as a teacher try to coach [my students] to stand on their own feet. I figured that I wasn’t going to be around all the time to coach them along and help them. I would be around to applaud once in a while, but they had to learn how to handle – and on the whole, I think they’ve done very well. They’ve done a good job. I’m pleased with them. 21

QUINCY PORTER: Maybe it seems either disloyal or a sign of my being part of another generation of composers who really had to work to get a technic in composition. The school here has changed radically with the advent of the Mel Powells and Gunther Schullers…There’s very little counterpoint left, nor good solid harmonic training, and some of the recitals are experimental jokes… The Theory is the mathematical type which doesn’t have much to do with music from my point of view. 22

AARON COPLAND: I’ve never been tempted to take a proper university job, because I was always trying to hang onto all the time I could possibly have free for my own compositional work. So I fell into lecturing at the New School for Social Research to grown up audiences in the evening. It meant that I only had to work one evening a week, because instead of talking to one student at a time, I talked to 200 students, and that solved my economics problem for about a dozen years…Then, of course, I spent 25 summers at Tanglewood with pupils each summer, numbering about seven choice and carefully picked students so seven times 25 makes a lot of people. Many people who say they are students of mine, really mean only for two months in the year… 23

OTTO LUENING: The students yesterday were asking “How did you ever manage to do all the things” – if you taught and so on, how did you keep on doing things? I said that we generated energy in ourselves…24



1. Cited from “The Composer’s Lot is ‘Not A Happy One'” by Harrison Kerr, Musical America, February 1934.

2. Cited from “The Education of the American Composer” by Quincy Porter, Musicology Volume 1 No. 1 Autumn 1945.

3. Cited from Marion Bauer quotes in “Woman With A Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phil Beta Fraternity Cincinnati OH, Volume XXX, Number 3, March 1951.

4. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel B. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

5. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in “Woman with a Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phi Beta Fraternity, Volume XXX, Number 3, 1951.

6. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’ Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel B. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

7. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in “Woman with a Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phi Beta Fraternity, Volume XXX, Number 3, 1951.

8. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on February 12, 1976, Reel E. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

9. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Richard I. Strunsky, September 21, 1949. Archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

10. Cited from “Otto Luening at 85″ an interview with Otto Luening by Brooke Wentz, broadcast on WKCR-FM 89.9 New York NY on June 11, 1985 and subsequently published in Musical America (November 1985).

11. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 1 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

12. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

13. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson & Co., 1949].

14. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on February 12, 1976, Reel E. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

15. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in “Woman with a Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phi Beta Fraternity, Volume XXX, Number 3, 1951.

16. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on February 12, 1976, Reel D. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

17. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

18. Cited from “The Education of the American Composer” by Quincy Porter, Musicology Volume 1 No. 1 Autumn 1945.

19. Cited from Marion Bauer quotes in “Woman With A Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phil Beta Fraternity Cincinnati OH, Volume XXX, Number 3, March 1951.

20. Cited from “The Education of the American Composer” by Quincy Porter, Musicology Volume 1 No. 1 Autumn 1945.

21. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

22. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Roy Harris, March 24, 1965. Archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

23. Cited from the transcript of the VHS Tape of Aaron Copland’s Self-Portrait Documentary, December 19 1979. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

24. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.