Becoming a Composer
FRANK J. OTERI: So, to backtrack a bit to your own training, which is very different than this alternative training that you were offering these students, when did you first decide that you were going to be this thing called a composer? It’s sort of a strange, outside-of-normal-society concept.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Oh, early on, I think when I was in my early teens and I’ve had a lot of encouragement all of my life. I had a mother who composed, she didn’t do it a great deal and didn’t do it fully professionally, but she composed. That wasn’t uncommon with women. She did it in a practical fashion. She composed for the people she was working with, and she was doing choreography and all sorts of things in school environments. I had a father who was passionate about music. He knew the repertoire inside out, knew all the performers…the sort of things I don’t know [laughs]. He knew all of that. I never really got into it that deeply. He knew it all! I started getting music lessons very early on. I moved away from the traditional direction for women and started on piano and I was lucky to have a piano teacher who encouraged me to compose. Her husband had a little string orchestra, so I got to play with the orchestra and write for it. So by the time I was twelve, I was getting this sort of experience. Then the musical establishment in my very musical city, which was Christchurch, New Zealand, gave me a lot of support. So to decide to be a composer was not an opposed decision. There wasn’t anything I really had to push against except the norm for women in New Zealand at that time. I was born in ’39, so the norm in the early ’50s and late ’40s was pretty much like it was for many women here: marrying, having kids, and so on. I decided to do none of that [laughs]. Composition is going to absolutely be a fulltime life.
FRANK J. OTERI: Studying in Darmstadt must have been worlds apart from the community of music you had been nurtured into in New Zealand or the things we’ve been talking about today. Dealing with music in the environment and getting people to listen to sounds around them is really an ecumenical way of looking at the world. Darmstadt, or at least the mythology of Darmstadt, is this totally cerebral, academic, avant-garde, overly complex, brainy, anti-ordinary folk music. Yes? No?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Mixed! [laughs] It was never academic for me. I was there in 1961 and ’62, or else ’62 and ’63, I don’t quite remember. I was there the year after the last time Cage was there. I was also there, I think, the first time that La Monte Young was there, that was my first year. My composition professor in England, Peter Racine Fricker, had told me to go there. It was great advice. He was dead on target. It wasn’t in the least bit academic. It was funny. I was there at the point at which total serialism was total! And simultaneously, because of Cage as much as anything, aleatoricism was coming in. There were these two camps battling it out which was really great fun to observe. I owe La Monte and Cage a lot, and later on Pauline. One of the first things I experienced at Darmstadt was on the one hand Boulez talking about durational serialism, and on the other hand La Monte pushing furniture slowly around a room—pushing a table around the room as I recall [laughs], which was wonderful! I love it! I veered in that direction within just a couple of years or so.
FRANK J. OTERI: So were you writing total serialist music?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: No.
FRANK J. OTERI: Never?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: I was looking at it quite hard. It interested me a lot but it didn’t feel like my language. I was writing atonally. I had been writing atonally for a long time. I still, when I work with pitches, tend to prefer atonality. It just feels like my native pitch language. But serialism, that degree of structural control, didn’t interest me much. I get very intrigued by the point at which I feel a piece takes over my plans and subverts them and changes them, and the piece moves on in its own direction and becomes semi-independent, which is of course fantastical thinking in a way, right? Delusory thinking, or delusional! [laughs] Except, as they say, it’s what happens to a piece that is then coming from a level other than conscious deliberation. I get interested when a piece does that. I never could feel that with serial procedures there was really a lot of room for that. I’m sure it’s there but I never could find a way to bring those two ways of thinking about working together.