The Many Views of Betty Freeman

The Many Views of Betty Freeman

Personal Music Background

Betty Freeman in Los Angeles, November 1997
Photo by Mayra V. Lars, courtesy Betty Freeman

Betty Freeman in the Kitchen with
John Cage and Merce Cunningham, April 1, 1977
Photo courtesy Betty Freeman

FRANK J. OTERI: How did you get interested in music initially?

BETTY FREEMAN: Well, it’s very easy. There’s no escaping it. It’s there. And it is always there.

FRANK J. OTERI: You studied music.

BETTY FREEMAN: Well, I just think you’re born that way. You’re born like – I have friends who like the water, for example. I don’t like the water. I think you’re born liking music. I’ve decided that.

FRANK J. OTERI: But you’ve also studied music when you were in college.

BETTY FREEMAN: Oh, very seriously.

FRANK J. OTERI: What did you study?

BETTY FREEMAN: Hmm. Theory, harmony, counterpoint, music history

FRANK J. OTERI: Did you write any music?

BETTY FREEMAN: No, I didn’t have to write any music, except just examples. I minored in music, but I studied piano with David Barnett for 4 years. Then when I left school, I studied with Beveridge Webster.

FRANK J. OTERI: I have his recordings of Stravinsky‘s piano music. They’re wonderful.

BETTY FREEMAN: Then I studied with Johana Harris at Juilliard.


BETTY FREEMAN: I rented a piano or a spinet whenever I moved, and I moved a lot because it was war time. I studied in New England Conservatory when I lived in Boston.

FRANK J. OTERI: Did you give recitals?

BETTY FREEMAN: To friends, yes. Not in public.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now was it all new music, or was it old and new?

BETTY FREEMAN: Oh no, it was all old music. It was all classical music then. New music wasn’t taught in those days. I mean this goes back to, well let’s see, I’m 79 now, when I started I was 15. That goes way back to the ’30s.

FRANK J. OTERI: So you never actively played contemporary music?

BETTY FREEMAN: No, but I loved contemporary music, and I went by myself, I remember, to Tanglewood when Koussevitzky was there, and of course when I went to Wellesley, I went to the Friday Afternoon Rush Concerts every Friday and heard Koussevitzky. That’s when I really heard contemporary music.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now what grabbed you about contemporary music?

BETTY FREEMAN: Oh, Frank. It’s the music of my time.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now you say that, and I say that, but lots of classical music fans would say that we’re crazy.

BETTY FREEMAN: I like contemporary clothes; I like Armani, Prada, Gucci… Oh no, my goodness this is music of my times. My music.

FRANK J. OTERI: I wish more people felt that way.

BETTY FREEMAN: The other is like living in a 14th Century house.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yet so many other people think that the music of the past is their music and that the music of now is not for them.

BETTY FREEMAN: I don’t even think about those people. And one of them is one of my best friends. He only likes old music. We’re friends. I mean, I can still be friends with people who don’t like it.

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