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Building Bridges With Music

Stories from a Composer's Life

Samuel Adler
June 1, 2017

276 pp.

55 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-57647-303-0

HC, oblong, 10x7 $59.95

Purchase on Boydell & Brewer


After over sixty years of teaching and finally retiring for the third time in May of 2016, I felt the urge to write down the many stories I have experienced during my long life. This book covers occurrences from my early childhood in Nazi Germany, emigrating to the United States at age ten, my education on the high school and college levels, my years in the army (an education, to be sure, albeit of a different kind), as well as the many professional experiences as a composer, conductor, teacher, author and administrator both in this country and abroad. I have tried to relate the many encounters with some of the most important personalities in the world of music, the other arts, academia, religion, and even politics. My life has been blessed with a most supportive family, many good friends, and a host of students who have made my teaching years rewarding and colorful. Building Bridges with Music seems to have been part of my destiny and I have embraced this enthusiastically whenever the opportunity presented itself. I invite you to have this experience with me through this book.



Samuel Adler:


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Building Bridges with Music Stories from a Composer's Life by Samuel Adler, edited by Jurgen Thym Pendragon Press, 264 pages, $39.95 Samuel Adler is one of the most respected composers in America today. He has written in a wide range of genres, including string quar­ tets, solo pieces, symphonic works, choral items, and operas. ARG has reviewed his works 14 times over the past 30 years. But even many musicians and listeners who enjoy and admire his compositions may not realize how rich and varied a career he has had. His life, continu­ ously intertwined with his musical activities, has had its share of tumult, striving, and plain goodluck. All of this is apparent in the substantial book of memoirs just published. The book's apt title stresses Adler's lifelong efforts at mak­ ing music happen in many different contexts­ that is, his devoted attempts at bringing music to many different audiences. And the subtitle reflects his eagerness to share his interesting memories and anecdotes and the heartening and deeply humane messages that they carry. Some of the stories that Adler has to tell may be familiar to people who knew him in his many years as a professor at North Texas State University, the Eastman School of Music, and the Juilliard School-or at hissummer compo­ sition courses at Bowdoin College (Maine) and in Germany. The 40 years that I spent teaching music history and musicology at Eastman over­ lapped with Sam's 30 years as a prominent professor of composition there. When Sam showed me the manuscript of this book, I urged him to send it to Pendragon Press, for its "American Music and Musicians" series. I was delighted to learn that Pendragon quickly saw its merits. As a result, news of Sam Adler's wide-ranging activities, and the artful way that he has managed so many aspects of "the music biz'; can reach a large readership. The stories in this book will interest performing musicians, lovers of classical music, and any­ one who likes to reflect on the way classical music has thrived-and might still thrive in the future-in the social and cultural melting pot that is the United States. The most gripping parts of Building Bridges with Music are the. early chapters, American Record Guide where we learn how 10-year-old Sam and his sister Marianne and their parents-a Jewish family living in Mannheim, Germany-man­ aged to make their way in 1939 from life under Hitler to the United States, got settled in (even­ tually) Worcester, Massachusetts, and began to build new and productive lives. Sam was a tal­ ented all-around musician-violinist, fledgling composer, eager conductor-when he began making his mark at Boston University and then pursued further compositional study under Hindemith and Copland. One of the most fascinating parts of the book tells of the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra (1952-62), which it was Sam's idea to create and conduct in order to improve the public image of the United States military in post-WW II Germany. The remainder of that orchestra's fascinating history was told in the book Uncle Sam's Orchestra, by John Canari­ na, its last conductor (N/D 1999). The "Uncle Sam" in the title refers primarily to the United States but could refer also to another Sam: the orchestra's founder! Adler sheds light on the inner workings of several major music schools, and he shares memorable accounts of his interactions with prominent figures in musical life (including a humorously annoying run-in with 1950s pop singer Eddie Fisher). He sketches the main lines of his personal life, but this is primarily about his musical activities. We get the back story to many of Adler's compositions and learn about the challenges involved in bringing the larger­ ensemble ones, especially, to performance. He was determined to write music that uses a wide range of stylistic resources yet communicates directly. For a wonderful taste of the results, I recommend Canto XII for solo bassoon: four etudes, including one titled 'Sermon' and another based on the famous opening of The Rite of Spring(Albany 306). The book concludes with two essays based on his extensive experience creating music for Jewish worship, an interview by Marilyn Shrude on teaching composition, plus lists of Adler's composition students and of his own compositions. The latter is still not complete: at age 89 he remains an active force in the musical life of our nation and the wider world. The book's editor, Jurgen Thym (a long­ time professor of musicology at the Eastman School) provides helpful footnotes identifying the many individuals mentioned. Pendragon has gone to the expense of publishing the book in a wider-than-usual for­ mat, and has used bright-white paper. These decisions allow dozens of photos to be includ­ ed, some of them in a format large enough for interesting details to "tell''. A few of the photos are even in color! Some, once seen, are unfor­ gettable-for example, a sepia-toned snapshot of 10-year-old Sam on board a ship with many other immigrants. He stands in open-mouthed astonishment, his hands reaching slightly out­ ward, as the Statue of Liberty comes into view. LOCKE

American Record Guide

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