Speaker Shares Discoveries about Composer
Thursday, Sep. 20, 2012
Speaker Shares Discoveries about Composer
The late composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was the subject of the hour as Dr. Jenny Doctor gave a speech on Williams’ life and music at the Merrill-Cazier Library on Wednesday afternoon [Sept. 19].
“He definitely felt that music wasn’t just for musicians to play for audiences,” said Doctor, a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. “He believed that the real way that you got to know music — and I think most of you in this room will agree — is by playing it yourself.”
Throughout her speech titled “Vaughan Williams, Boult and the BBC,” Doctor spoke to USU students about Williams’ collaborations with conductor Sir Adrian Boult as well as his career and association with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
“The thing that I think is really interesting is that BBC sort of froze the way they thought about Vaughan Williams with 1945,” Doctor said. “They didn’t allow him to grow in that 13 years before he died.”
During that time, Williams composed his seventh, eighth and ninth symphonies.
“He wrote three symphonies over the age of 70,” Doctor said. “That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. And they aren’t just repeats, they grow — they actually move into the kind of music that was being performed after the war, which was absolutely different than the kind of music that was performed before the war.”
Doctor said Williams’ wanted everyone to learn his music.
“That’s how you really get to know a piece, isn’t it?” Doctor said. “He felt that that’s how people really communicated through music, was by learning how to play themselves.”
Doctor said during the 20th century, something happened that had never happened before.
“Sound technology made it possible for the greatest music to be performed at you, rather than you having to sit at a piano and try to figure out what it sounds like, which is what happened in the 19th century,” Doctor said. “That was called the piano culture.”
Doctor said people always hear about first performances when they read music history.
“One of my mentors always used to say ‘It’s not the first performance that matters, it’s whether there’s a second performance,’” Doctor said. “So the BBC repeated these pieces over and over again, and that is, I think, quite important.”
The BBC welcomed new music and tried to cover all genres, Doctor said. It believed in supporting and bringing new music to audiences.
“This collaboration was incredibly important and brought the newest ideas in music of the moment as an expression of society to its audiences,” Doctor said. “Music isn’t just about music of the past — it’s about the present.”
Christopher Scheer, professor of musicology at USU, recommended students of his music history class attend Doctor’s speech.
“I love Vaughan Williams’ music, so I thought it would be fun to come and learn more about him,” said Brynn Seegmiller, a violin major.
Seegmiller said she has performed some of his music before in the Utah State Symphony Orchestra.
“It gives them a good example of music scholarship and its different stages,” Scheer said. “This particular talk will become a chapter in a book, and it may in turn influence the textbooks that the students use.”
Doctor is contributing to The Cambridge Companion to Vaughan Williams, a book expected to be published in 2013.
Scheer said Doctor’s presentation is an example of critical research that looks at different archival sources and does more than just tell where the sources come from.
“It interprets them in a way to better understand the larger question,” he said. “It shows that data is not just something to be collected and recited back, but something which can be used to increase our understanding of the world around us.”
Cathryn Haubner, a violin major who attended the lecture, said she was interested to hear how Williams made an effort to reach the community and make a difference.
“That’s something I can take away as a musician, that there really is social implications to what we’re doing as musicians,” Haubner said. “It’s not just an art, it’s also something we can use to cross barriers.”
Doctor will be doing a pre-concert speech at 6:45 p.m. Friday [Sept. 21] before the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra concert “Music for a Royal Occasion.”
“Vaughan Williams spoke a language that was very much of his time, and he was expressing something that was very much about the community in which he lived,” Doctor said. “I think that when you listen to his music you understand British culture of that time in a way that you can’t get through any other means. I think that it expresses its time and its culture in a really extraordinary way.”