Ingram Marshall: Today’s Music Tomorrow

Promotion and Documentation

FRANK J. OTERI: Tell me about this notion about how you get your stuff out there because we’ve sort of been gearing this to how your work will be perceived in the future, but I guess what you do now ultimately affects how the future perceives you. You don’t seem to do a lot to push your own music out there in the world. You don’t have a Web site, you’re a self-published composer but you don’t really send stuff around. I get the sense that it’s out there and it’s great music, but it could be much more widely known, I think.

INGRAM MARSHALL: You’re saying such nice things about me. I just haven’t found the right agent. No, I’ve never had an agent or a person working for me in that sense and I think the reason is not so much I wouldn’t have it, I don’t, as I was saying before, I’m a slow writer, I don’t put a lot out and in order to have that kind of hyped-up career, where someone’s out there trying to get you gigs and commissions and stuff, you have to be able to produce. And I guess I’ve always felt a little behind the curve on that. Maybe I subconsciously was afraid I wouldnít be able to be that composer. Then I’d be having to do three or four new works a year and if I do one I’m lucky. So, I don’t know. I’m certain any composer would love more recognition and more CDs out there and more performances, but I’ve never made it the number one thing in my career. It’s been number two. I’ve tried.

FRANK J. OTERI: You have a surprising number of CDs out there and, you know, and everyone is wonderful, there isn’t a dud in the lot and there aren’t a lot of people you can say that about.

INGRAM MARSHALL: No duds at all? Wow!

FRANK J. OTERI: And, you know, each one rewards with multiple listenings. But I want to take this a hundred, maybe not 180 but 145 degrees off on a tangent into another realm ‘cuz you know, here we are in this lovely studio in Connecticut talking about music for something we’re gonna put up on the Web that people are going to read, you know, this is another way, this conversation, this very moment in time now becomes part of your legacy, your history…

INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, can I retract things…[laughter] You are going to edit this, I hope.

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, yeah. But this is something you do also in addition to composing. You engage people in interviews for the Oral History Project at Yale for Vivian Perlis and now you’re doing an oral history for the American Composers Orchestra. What do you think are the lasting values of this kind of documentation?

INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, I don’t know if anyone’s going to get a better understanding of my music from this kind of thing. If they’re already interested in it, it might give them some more insights or offer some clues into who I am, because my music’s very personal; it has a lot to do with me. You know, there’s no denying that. But at the same time, it’s my intention to write music that’s universal, you know, that really does seek an audience. So it’s hard to say how I think it all connects. I’d like to think that the music I’ve composed so far doesn’t really need too much explanation. I mean, I think music has meaning. I think there’s a hermeneutic side to it. It’s very important. Music doesn’t just exist on it’s own. There are always explanations and there’s always some hidden meanings and there are some legitimate things that you can say about music that are extra-musical. But what does that mean anyhow? Extra-musical. I hate that word! If it’s about the music, it’s about the music. So, I just really know what interviewing people and talking to them about their work fits into the big picture and I’ve been doing it myself as you said. But I’ve always been very interested in what’s going on in the new music world. Way back in the ’70s, when I used to live in the Bay Area, I used to write stuff for the Bay Guardian and then later on for, what was that other magazine… the Berkeley Bard, I think… New West magazine. And I used to do radio shows in Berkeley and I’ve written program notes for orchestras. A few years back I was writing stuff for Carnegie Hall, I was writing about Brahms and Schubert. So I’ve always felt like actively involved in knowing what’s going on in the new music world. So when the opportunity came to start working with Vivian and doing interviews for oral history, it seemed like fun. And she asked me to do some interviews with people I knew and liked, so that what easy. But then eventually she started asking me to interview people like George Crumb and Rochberg and Milton Babbitt, you know, composers that I admired, but had never really been close to, had never really known personally. And that got really interesting because I did in fact enjoy getting to know some people better. So that. The other thing, just from a practical career point of view, is that I’ve always, like many composers, I’ve had to have gigs on the side. I’ve never held a long-term university position. For four years, out in Washington State, I taught out at Evergreen College, but even that really wasn’t really full time. And I’ve done some teaching on occasion at Hartt up in Hartford, Yale one year, Brooklyn College one year. So I’ve had these occasional forays into teaching. And then writing articles and program notes occasionally helps out, so interviews kind of fit into that category. You know, it’s like a little bit of money-making, side career that’s gonna give to my real work.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

INGRAM MARSHALL: So the project I’m working on now, it’s a rather big one. It’s the American Composers Orchestra Oral History. And they’ve commissioned me, and it is a commission, like writing a piece of music, to interview about thirty-five people and compile an oral history of the orchestra. So that’s what I’m in the middle of doing right now.

FRANK J. OTERI: So in terms of doing something like that, are you thinking in terms of people will have this document in the future to understand what the ACO was at this point in time or is it for people now, what’s…?

INGRAM MARSHALL: I think it will be a really interesting historical archive because it’s a unique orchestra and it’s, there’s nothing like it in this country: how it evolved, how it was started, what made it so successful and it is successful are things I think historians and lovers of music and a general kind of interest person into such a thing would be interested in knowing about.

FRANK J. OTERI: You know, I conduct interviews like this and I’m a composer and I kind of feel that the two halves help each other. I feel like I’m able to have a better conversation with you because I’m also a composer and I also feel that I’m a better composer because I have conversations with people like you. And do you feel, in your life, in, say, talking to a George Crumb or a Babbitt that you bring to it something special as being a practitioner yourself, but then does it come around and translate back to you when you’re doing your own work.

INGRAM MARSHALL: To be honest with you, I don’t think it has too much effect on how I do my own work. Because I’m kind of set in my ways now. But I think being a composer helps me a lot in conducting the interviews as to what kind of questions to ask, especially if I’m interviewing another composer. And you know, I really look at Crumb’s work differently now after I interviewed him. The same with Milton Babbitt. It does help, I think, to get to know the person somewhat. It depends. Not all composers are like that. I did two interviews with Philip Glass, for example, ‘cuz he’s done so much you know. In the first one, we didn’t even talk about the operas.

FRANK J. OTERI: Wow.

INGRAM MARSHALL: And it was a good interview. It was very forthcoming and I’ve known Philip Glass for quite a long time. You know, back in the ’70s he was the famous cab driver. As much as I enjoyed doing the interview and thought it was a good one, I didn’t feel like I had a great deal more insight about his music from talking to him. Probably because I had known and liked it and had kind of in a sense figured out what he was doing and got to the point where I could discern what it is in his work that I liked. But occasionally with some composers I hadn’t reached that point so it would be interesting to…I conducted an interview with John Adams and he’s someone I’ve known really well for God knows, since you know, 1973 I guess. And it was a great interview. I mean I loved doing it and he enjoyed it. Vivian Perlis said it was one of the best I’d ever done and I realized it was because it was like two friends talking. But it didn’t help me to understand his music anymore. So it depends. I think the more interesting interviews are the ones with the people whose work I don’t know very well. Sometimes they’re not even composers. You know, for the ACO interviews, you know, I’m interviewing conductors and people on the board and musicians. So it’s a different thing really.

FRANK J. OTERI: Everybody’s gotten to this point and were reading to this point and here they are at the end of this discussion: what do you want people to walk away with, thinking, after reading us talking here and hearing you talk?

INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, I’d like to think that they’d want to go out and listen to my music. But I don’t know. I have a feeling that the interview is not going to make people do that. I think if they know my music they’ll be very interested in this, but it’s so hard to talk about your work and make it sound interesting. The worst thing in the world for me is for someone sincerely to ask me: “What is your music like?” Where they really expect a real answer. And it’s the most difficult thing in the world to talk about. If it’s a superficial thing it’s not a problem, yeah, it’s…kind of serious it’s classical, it’s not twelve-tone, you’d like it, it’s got tunes. I mean there’s all kinds of quick things you can say, but if someone seriously wants to know what your work is like and they’ve never heard of it, what do you do, where do you start?

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, that’s what’s great about the Web. They’re gonna be able to hear samples of your music and they’re gonna be able to click through to Amazon and buy a copy.

INGRAM MARSHALL: Yeah, it’s gonna sound like crap on the Web…

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, it’s not gonna sound like a CD, but radio sounds pretty bad most of the time too if you’ve got bad reception.

INGRAM MARSHALL: It seems to be that a lot of Web sites that sell CDs let you listen to tracks now.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, parts of tracks. Excerpts.

INGRAM MARSHALL: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting. I’ve done that a few times.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s a great entry point in I think. Because you know here we are talking about music, we got into some details about a lot of these pieces. Wouldn’t it be great to get a little snippet? I mean, it’s not going to be the same thing of course, but if somebody likes the snippet, they could just order it and it arrives on the doorstep, ideally the next day. And there they’ll have it.

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