"I Remember Lou"
Scroll down to the box provided and add your memories of Lou Harrison. We'll include them on this page.
From Ned Rorem (read at a dinner meeting of the American Academy of Arts & Letters, November 13, 2003):
In 1944, age twenty, I earned my living as Virgil Thomson's copyist. I Iabored at his dining room table, while he ran the world of music over the telephone in the nearby study.
One morning out of the blue there sat another person at my work-
As it was, we got along famously: Lou as a person was a total original, as a composer a total eclectic. His social style was Californian, easygoing, even oriental, but with more than a twinge of daftness which led later to a turn in the loony bin, and a predilection for Negro males. His music style was anything that was asked for; Lou felt that one ought to be capable of all, and had earned a living from choreographers (twenty-five dollars a minute was his fee) of every persuasion, composing fandangos for José Limón, folkish diatonicisms for Jean Erdman, Webernian mood pieces for Charles Weidman. Lou taught me the whole bag of tricks of the so-called twelve-tone system in about an hour, and I applied them for about a week. Finally, however, his eclecticism was original. Lou Harrison sixty years ago was concocting raga-type ostinatos identical to those today of Glass or Reich, with the notable difference that while all three men prepare canvases that are nonpareil, only Harrison super-imposes a drawing–a melody upon the canvas which gives it a reason for being.
Weekends we would gather at Lou's on Bleecker Street, where he
Lou Harrison was born in Portland, Oregon in 1917. In San Fran-
During the 1960s Lou Harrison, on a Rockefeller grant, went to live in Korea. His lifelong obsession with pitch relations, in particular with just-intonation, and his interest in music of other cultures, led him to include non-Western or folk instruments in dozens of his works, and in eventually inventing his own, including jade flutes, and wash tubs, and muted iron pipes. But since his intrinsic language is melodic, diatonic, and very simple, I, for one, prefer the works that demand less on what seem like frantic sound effects and more on sheer tune. For instance the haunting 1950 Suite for Cello and Harp. He had just completed a work called Nek Chand for a Hawaiian slack guitar, and corrected final proofs of a book of poems plus some gamelan scores and drawings, when he dropped dead last February at a Denny's restaurant in Lafayette, Indiana. He was 85.
There is no right time to die. All death is unexpected. The older our friends become, the more we feel they'll always be there. A child's death is really no more tragic than an old person's. As for our own death, Freud claimed it is unimaginable, "and when we try to imagine it we perceive that we really survive as spectators .... In the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality." But for artists, immortality is a given. Thus Lou Harrison will continue living, not just in the minds of we brief mortals who knew him, but forever in our recording and concert halls.
From Jake Heggie:
I remember when I met Lou ... I was having a new piece done by the New Century Chamber Orchestra (1996!) and Lou had a piece on it, too ... He complimented me on the composition and then said, "Well, have a nice career!" ... And off he went. I stood there and watched until I couldn't see him anymore.
From John Luther Adams:
Sevens On the Passing of Lou Harrison
From Charles Amirkhanian:
I was probably 18 studying English literature and music at Fresno State. My specialty was percussion. Hearing Lou's and John Cage's music had inspired me to try my hand at composition.
I was fortunate to know Ronald Harlan, the Music Librarian at the university, who let me borrow as many LPs as I wished, taking them home (against all rules) by backing my car up to the loading dock and slipping 50 at a time into my car. I'd bring them back in a week and nobody was the wiser except myself for having heard 3000 discs over 3 years. Ron was gay and knew and loved the music of Harry Partch, Lou Harrison amony others. And he had built the best record collection of any state university in California. I'll always be grateful for his assistance and understanding. He once introduced me to Partch, but that's another story.
One day Ron informed me that Lou Harrison was to do a concert in Salinas at Hartnell College. My trombonist friend Richard Edwards and I drove there for the concert (I think it was in 1963) to hear Lou's music.
I ventured timidly onstage and hovered around til there was an opportune
moment to ask Lou if I could try playing his rack of inverted
full-sized metal garbage cans.
I picked up a hard bass drum stick and gave one of the cans a whack.
" Oh no! Careful," he said. "You'll ruin them. You have to play it this way."
He then took a fluffy soft beater and stroked the bottom of one of the cans gently so that the rich overtones emerged with surprising clarity and beauty.
A great lesson was learned by me at that moment. Know your materials, and keep in mind that percussionists don't always have to play the role of "alpha male."
From Linda Montano:
For the 8 years I lived with Pauline Oliveros and for the years I've known her, she has loved Lou Harrison...
I am remembering Virgil Thomson visiting the area above the Mills Concert Hall in the early 1980's. It was there that Bill Colvig and he made new gamelan instruments. All day as Mr. Thomson was sheparded around he was excessively polite and almost aloof, and then alone with Lou and Bill suddenly they all began regalling old stories from the their times in the 50's and the stories and aquaitances. Soon, with Lou's gentle prodding and ever present laughter, the conversation reeled around in and out of the unprintable and fully joyous.
It was in this quality of ease, grace and just plain fun, that I remember Lou bringing to so many occasions. His sense of the ineffible and love of beauty were infectious. His gift to the world, palpable in his music.
we live in the world of peace and harmony that he so vividly envisioned.
From Jon Szanto:
From Marc Hoffman:
On an elementary school
field trip to see the Pittsburgh Symphony I ended up sitting next to
teacher. After a long string passage the piano soloist jumped in. I looked
around in disbelief that everyone else in the audience seemed calm. The
teacher whispered, "What's the matter, Marc?" I answered, "It's
out of tune!" A sharp whispered reprimand: "Out of tune! This
is the Pittsburgh Symphony!"
From Daniel Wolf
Requiem for Lou Harrison
Partch did wood and bamboo, Lou did aluminum
Thomson's Solitude: a portrait
of Lou in New York. Lost.
Missing Robert Duncan and John Cage, now Nobbie Brown and Lou Harrison. Waiting for war. Waiting for a new song to break this speechlessness. A need for sounds, instruments, of metal. Of spectra cracked, fractured. A need for counterpoint, for differences made plain and clear. A need for a new ratio.
Missing my teachers. And so far away from home. Making a new home in the old land: Emma, now 11 months, cries at five past midnight. Echolocation. She falls quickly back to sleep, comforted that the dark is not so deep. Every night the same. Every night a new cry, a new song. Can I give her a sense of ratio, a sense of proportion? Will she, too, learn to dream of Alexandria?
* NB 14:16:19:21:24 is the proportion of the original tuning of Gamelan Si Betty
from david lang:
I always called him professor
harrison, which was a very unlikely name for him. it had become a tongue-in-cheek
way of saying hello but that
was the way I first knew him - he was my first college composition
teacher, my freshman year at stanford, in the fall of 1974. most
of the stanford faculty was on leave that fall, gone to paris to help
in the setting up of ircam, and lou had been called as a one semester
replacement. I was 17 and very wide-eyed - I had never met anyone
him. I bought a copy of his MUSIC PRIMER and I asked him the best
way to read it. he thought about it for a moment and then suggested that
I get some colored markers and illuminate elaborately the boxes at
the beginings of the chapters, which of course I enjoyed doing very
much. he introduced me to a lot of revolutionary things that stay
me even now - tuning issues, experimentation, junk percussion, john
cage. most of all he changed my idea of how a grown up composer was
supposed to live. to that point I had imagined that a composer should
be dark and moody and troubled and introspective. he thought a composer
should live a good life. and he did.
From Kraig Grady:
I dropped a date on the ground on this man ran up scooped it up and threw it in his mouth. This was how i first met Lou. We shared the rest. But his generousity of the years surpassed beyond what i could do in return including me in his primer, in a seminar on tuning as well as concerts.
Last night he was there in my dream, we were driven somewhere where a festival of music was going on and we observed the different musical pieces being rehearsed as well as our own. Either he or he was suggesting to me that i set a paragraph of K (who i am sadly not familiar with) to music even though he said
it wasn't what one would normally use for text. We were all dropped off and he walked away with his friend and then i sadly realized this would be the last time i would see him. I will alway appreciate the help and joy he brought me
From Emil Miland:
From Ralph Jackson:
Lou Harrison was always teaching us important lessons. He may not have consciously intended to do this. Perhaps it was simply a byproduct of the life he lived so honestly, so richly and with so much love. These lessons were at times mysterious and indirect. Occasionally they even seemed to be at odds with Lou's own behavior. And of course, Lou's partner Bill was a part of this teaching, just as he was a part of Lou in every way.
My story begins on a foggy morning in San Francisco. My partner David Leisner and I were in a rental car, beginning a trip down to Aptos. We were to spend the day with Lou and Bill. The traffic was terrible, and we immediately got lost in the Mission District. After an hour of trying to find the freeway entrance, we had a horrible argument in the car. In fact, in those days, we almost always argued when we were driving together. Outside the car, we never argued.
After finding the freeway and crossing a scar in the landscape which we later found out was the San Adreas Fault, we drove up the mountain to Lou and Bill's peaceful paradise. They greeted us warmly at the gate and were immediately gracious in every possible way. We were treated to a wonderful tour of the house, the library, the gamelan, the gardens, and even the rusty mobile home trailer where Lou sometimes secluded himself to paint! Their home was bursting with drama, color and life, just like they were. We were both struck by the incredible sweetness between them and the shear joy of their lives together. It was a kind of calm, sweet bliss that just seeped into you.
Then, it was time for lunch and we headed to a little Mexican restaurant where they often went on Sundays. Lou insisted on driving and we piled into the old Mercedes with the "composer1" custom license plates and headed down the mountain. Bill was in front on the passenger side and David and I were in back. In a matter of minutes, everything changed. Bill complained that Lou wasn't watching the road (and frankly it did seem that we were coming precariously close to the edge of the cliff) and Lou responded with growing fury. Every stop, turn and lane change brought a crescendo of harsh words between them, until at one point Lou turned to Bill (taking his eyes off the road while approaching a hairpin turn) and roared "SHUT UP!" And it was truly a ROAR. I don't believe either David or I uttered a word. We sat completely stunned, praying that we would arrive safely. And I'm sure we wondered what lunch would be like with them screaming at each other.
Their argument continued full steam until the moment one of the car tires ran over the curb in front of the restaurant. Interestingly, Bill made no mention of that. In fact, he simply said in the sweetest voice ever "should I put money in the parking meter?" And Lou responded harmoniously with "No, honey, it's Sunday." After that, all their sweetness returned. There was no aftermath or any hint of the argument. They were completely unaffected and it turned out to be a lovely lunch. Interestingly, once back at their house (the drive home was peaceful and uneventful), they did make a point of showing us a metal garden sculpture depicting the two of them screaming wildly and waiving their arms at each other.
Later that day they prepared us a dinner made with love, showed us a video about the gamelan, and even invited us to stay the night if we didn't want to drive back to San Francisco in the dark. As we drove through that night, fifteen or so years ago, some of their gentility and love stayed with us. We've never had another argument in the car.
We will miss Lou and Bill and their important life lessons.
From Neely Bruce:
I cannot say I was a close friend of Lou Harrison, but I remain a great fan of his music and have nothing but pleasant memories of the times we met. The first time was during the Charles Ives Centennial Festival/Conference in 1974. Thereafter he and I crossed paths at irregular intervals, always happy to see each other. The last time I saw him was at Dartington three years ago, where several of his pieces were performed, including the stunning late piano concerto. I have always admired the effortless beauty of his music and the remarkable energy he could summon as a counterweight to his great lyrical gifts.
In addition, I will never forget the flashy shirts and his complete acceptance of his noticably large frame. Lou, thanks for never wearing a suit in my presence, and thanks for not bothering to try and slim down. You are an inspiration to us all, on many, many levels.
Lou Harrison was often on the periphery
From Joe Salerno:
LOU HARRISON BUYS A PIECE OF ART
Into the café, and I am seated right next to Lou and company, the perfect table for one!
In from the street pops a young man who needs money, he is carrying an unusual carved wooden sculpture about a foot or so high. I watched as he announced that this item was for sale. Getting no response from the other side of the café he turns towards our side, again he announces he needs money and needs to sell this carved object.
Lou has been watching and responds, “Let me see that thing.” He picks it up, looks at it, asks how much and then pulls out his wallet and hands over the exact amount! The young man thanks Lou and exits back to the street. Lou sets the sculpture at the edge of the table, and continues on with their conversations, taking time to remark how nice the carving is.
I remember thinking to myself ‘how cool is that’ to see Lou help out that person.
Then lunch arrived. More movies followed that afternoon.
From Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrrez:
From Beth Anderson:
When I arrived at University of California at Davis
in 1969 for my junior year, Richard Swift suggested that I go down and
meet Lou Harrison and see if he would take me as a student and perhaps
Bill Colvig would teach me instrument building.
Bill answered the door, let me in, started water for tea, and then went to talk Lou into coming out to speak to me. I think he spent quite a bit of energy calming his ruffled feathers. I told him of my quest and Lou's response was much less than enthusiastic. He did encourage my other interests in meeting the famous Japanese gardener at the university and exploring the commune scene in the nearby hills. In general, it became clear to me that he wasn't very interested in having me as a private composition student and he was very pleased to get me out of his house.
I enjoyed meeting them both and I was very grateful for Bill's kindness and for Lou's honesty.
In 1974 when I was composer in residence at the Cabrillo Festival in Aptos, I ran into Lou quite a lot and we got used to each other. I had always admired his music and once we both recovered from my "early morning raid" we got along swimmingly.
I didn't see him very often after I moved to New York but I loved knowing he was there. I miss him so much.
From John King:
Lou came to teach at CalArts in 1975 as guest composer-in-residence. After one lecture we walked down the hallway together and we were discussing the word "aesthetics". Lou said "How you define aesthetics is really a matter of taste". We both laughed and scratched our heads simultaneaously. His music was often played by the great CalArts percussion dept. led by John Bergamo, and one of his pieces needing guitar (!) I also got to join in the energy and excitement of his music. An inspiration to us all.
From Adam Silverman:
I met Lou Harrison a couple of times, but my favorite LH memory is from a time when I didn't see him at all. I was in San Fancisco with my teacher Ben Johnston at the SFSO's first "American Pioneers" fesitval. - Lou co-hosted the event with Michael Tilson Thomas, and it was proclaimed "Lou Harrison Day in San Francisco" - a marvelous event and one of my favorite concerts ever. Bill Colvig introduced himself to me, saying "I go where Lou goes, I build some instruments - I guess I'm his all-around flunky." On Ben's introduction, I was invited down to Aptos to spend the following day at Lou & Bill's house, and though I spent a couple of hours there, they slept the whole time and never knew I was around. Bill Alves was there, and he showed me their beautiful instruments - the gamelan, harmoniums, hand drums, and the piano that had belonged to Henry Cowell. I admired their gardens, the view of Aptos, and especially the sign on their gate in Lou's calligraphy that read "Come inside - there is no dog here." It was a very special day that I remember each time I hear Lou's music.
From Allen Strange:
Lou was a dear friend to me for over 35 years and, in spite of his own preferences, was the one who launched me down the road toward electronic and computer music!! I kidded him about this for years-
I was a grad student at Cal State Fullerton in the 60s when Lou, Bill Colvig and Richard Dee came to give a concert of Japanese Court Music. Being the naive musician that I was, I was "blown over" by the timbres and "notes between the keys". Of course this was forbidden territory to my instructors and they were absolutely no assistance in explorations down this path. Some months later V. Ussachevsky came to do a lecture and this was my first real exposure to electronic music- and I immediately realized this was an accessable road into the "sounds between the keys"! One relating this story to Lou he merely chuckled and said "Well Allen, just don't let them unplug you!" Goodbye Lou- we'll see you later.
From Charles Shere:
So many memories. Meeting him in 1964 at the Cabrillo Festival. His first visit, when he brought Virgil Thomson to our apartment. The cabin he lived in in those days, up on Viewpoint Road, with the pot of eternal soup on the stove and the crowded music room, and the legendary chest of manuscripts out on the porch.
From Stephen Scott:
I have two remembrances of Lou to share, both from 1988 when I was honored to be one of the participants in the first of Charles Amirkhanian's Composer-to-Composer events in Telluride. In addition to Lou's gentle, wise and generous presence at all of the pow-wows and public events, I remember his delight at finding another septuagenarian in attendance: my father, a retired, recently widowed chemistry professor who had driven to Colorado from Oregon to show his support for me. When Lou and longtime partner Bill met my dad, then 72, they both exlcaimed delightedly "we're seventy!" As I recall, the three of them formed an informal elders' club for the week, and my dad was very touched by their friendship.
The second memory from Telluride is that Lou took an interest in my "bowed piano" techniques, and he told me he was in possession of some of Thomas Jefferson's correspondence concerning a harpsichord Jefferson had commissioned from a London builder. Lou recalled that the letters contained some discussion of the proposed inclusion of a "bowed string" stop for the instrument. A few weeks after the festival I received a package from Lou including photocopies of the pertinent pages, from which I learned much. I know that I'm only one of hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have benefitted from Lou's exemplary humanity, his wide knowledge and his generosity in sharing both.
Lou Harrison will be well and lovingly remembered.
From Philip Perkins:
In the late 1970's I took a class at Mills College in the playing of Lou's "American Gamelan" instruments. I was pretty hopeless as a player, the "hit one/mute one" hand crossover seemed to be completely beyond me. Eventually Lou sat down across from me and earnestly tried to teach me how to play his instruments himself. I was wearing a black T shirt with a picture of a bloody skull smoking a cigarette on it--the skull was saying "BUY OR DIE"--it was an advertisement for a record label. Eventually Lou looked up at me, and seeing the shirt exclaimed: "Buy or die... heavens!"
He thought for a moment and then said: "Actually I don't mind if they die if they don't buy my records."
From David Rosenboom:
It was with great respect and a heart full of Lou's presence that I and my friends at CalArts dedicated our New Century Players "Green Umbrella" concert on Monday, February 3rd in L.A. ˜part of an L.A. Phil. new music series˜ to Lou. We were presenting a survey of mostly unknown, recent, experimental music by Latin American composers, and we began with percussion, a fitting start. The music soared and we knew both Lou and Bill were watching and smiling, helping us spin the sounds around inside all our souls. Lou was a treasured friend and colleague.
On the ocassion of the birth of Jacqueline Humbert's and my son, Daniel, he surprised us with a lullaby, written in his florid script with multi-colored pens. We framed it and it has always held a central place in our hearts. Recently, we recorded it's simple and beautiful lines with the idea of building a "Canon for Lou" from its small parts. Maybe now we will.
Lou, Bill, other friends, and I filled our common days together when we all taught at Mills College with illuminating conversation and lots of great laughs...sometimes about how Lou didn't like loudspeakers..., sometimes about how he used to tease me by calling me "boss man," ... sometimes about where music was going, ... and often most inspiringly about where the world was going. More often than not, this was on the way to or from the Tea Shop where Lou would go for an after-class malt or shake, one of his favorite things.
On a few occasions after I moved to CalArts, I walked out of my office into the hallway and suddently encountered Lou, a total surprise; he had just decided to drop in. But that was Lou, ... spontaneous, inspired, thoughtful, poetic, always with true beauty of spirit and glowing sound surrounding him and those he drew close.
From Winston Leyland:
I first met Lou (and his partner Bill Colvig) in Summer 1973 when I interviewed him for the Gay Sunshine Interview series --interviews which provided seminal insights into the connections between gayness and artistic creativity. (The interview was published first in "Gay Sunshine Journal," then in the book anthology Gay Sunshine Interviews vol. 1, 1978/1984 and then finally reprinted in the book Gay Roots vol. 1, 1991). Other interviewees in the series included Ned Rorem, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, William Burroughs, Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams.
I had been familiar with (and enchanted by) his music ever since purchasing the old Esoteric recording of his ballet "The Only Jealousy of Emer" back when I was a teenager around 1958/59, and I purchased recordings of his music as they appeared in the 1960s until I finally met him in person, as mentioned above.
Lou memorably made the comment in his interview: "I do not go along with the pseudo-Freudian notion that sexual frustration, or sublimation, is a help to creative processes. I think, in fact, exactly the reverse. Unless you have plenty of love, plenty of sex, plenty of affection, it just gets in your way if you're trying to do creative work...."
My last communication with Lou was when he telephoned me in San Francisco a few days before he left with his partner, Todd, for the Midwest....and his death. He invited me down to visit his Bale House in Joshua Tree and was his usual bubbly self.
As a Buddhist I feel that Lou himself was a natural follower of the Dharma, although not formally. I suspect he will zip through the bardo after death (the bardo of becoming), aided by his karma as expressed so poignantly in his breathtakingly beautiful composition "The Heart Sutra" and will emerge at the other end as a fully realized Bodhisattva. His music remains behind for generations and ages to come....
From Malcolm Humes:
Thanks to all for the memories shared, and nice to see names of many people whose music and work have also come across my ears over the years (Charles, Stephen, Philip).
I never met Lou but had many friends who studied with him or knew him through Mills College, or performed with him. At a premiere concert of one of his works at Mills where I hoped to meet him he was home feeling sick and I had a long wonderful and inspiring conversation with Bill Colvig who had come to tend to the gamelan and attend.
Bill struck me as such a gentle, kind and wonderful person and I'm sure he added a gentle balance to Lou's life - the story here about the unannounced 6am visit in 1969 to them seems to capture that well.
Just last week I pulled the one CD of Lou's work that I do have to listen to, and today I found news he'd passed on while poking around for some info on Mills College.
At a time when I became interested in Gamelan music and was mostly exposed to more frenetic Balinese style gamelan I found Lou's fusion of gamelan into his music wonderfully relaxing. There's a video I recall seeing of him outdoors, joined by trumpet and that's the vision I always have of Lou when I think of him.
I'm sure he had a broad and deep impact on the ears and ideas of many people over many generations, not only directly, but indirectly like myself. And I thank him for that and think fondly of him despite never having had the chance to get to know him. My thoughts go out also to Bill Colvig also. I'm sure the instruments they created will live on to carry some of their love into the ears of many for years to come.
From George Zelenz:
A Lou story
In 1995, Lou and Bill came to visit me in Joshua Tree. I picked them up at the Palm Springs airport in my small truck, and Lou volunteered to sit in the back. On a thin cushion, al fresco. Upon arrival at my house, Bill promptly did his impersonation of a man with narcolepsy, and fell asleep in a chair by the kitchen table. Lou asked if I would drive him around, and show him Joshua Tree the town. "Bill can sleep the whole goddamn day for all I care" said Lou, with some exasperation. We jumped in the truck and took off driving, with no real goal or destination.
Driving around, we talked about all the usual stuff we always talked about. Pretty much everything except music. We rarely talked about music. About an hour into the drive, he did ask me how my composing went. I told him about this dancer I was writing for up in Berkeley. It paid very little, but I was doing my best I said. I told him about the structure being mostly whole notes, sung quietly, in a 3 voice part. He said, " I have a poorly compensated commission of my own right now, I think I as well will just write a lot of whole notes". We both laughed awhile on that one, and then that moment eased into a comfortable silence between us for some minutes. We were headed north, going downhill on a dirt road, the setting sun nearly searing my unprotected eyes. We were a stone's throw from the property he would later purchase.
From that silence, Lou turned to me rather calmly, his eyes squinting into the sun. Matter of factly he broke the silence. "Harry Partch had no balls".
Oh great, Harry Partch had no balls. Thanks for sharing Lou.
I was a bit in shock, Harry after all being one of my heroes and all. Lou went on to explain how when Harry was a kid, he contracted mumps or measles or something like that, and that because of the family's rural homestead, a doctor was just too far away. So the testes apparently wasted away or something to that effect.
Thanks for sharing Lou.
Indeed. Thanks for sharing. That's one of the things that made Lou so great, so awesome as a person. He would share with almost anyone until the cows came home. Share a meal, a conversation, a lifetime's learning and experiences. Lou gave to me so many books on so many subjects I've lost count. All of them signed with a little note. He'd think of someone when he would discover an article or book, and he'd mail it to them right away. Meeting Lou when I did, opened up so many doors and through him I met so many amazing people. He's basically the 1st harmonic of an amazingly varied and unspeakably beautiful scale. From which, all other harmonics relate to Lou, and resonate with him. Lou, you were the 1.
From Kerry Lewis:
Lou Harrison was a great and generous soul. I studied with him when I was a music composition major at San Jose State in the mid-1970's. He opened my ears to a lot of music I hadn't heard before. He showed me that it was OK to write nice-sounding melodies - even tonal ones. He gave me work copying and arranging his scores when I really needed the money. I remember with great pleasure the time when he invited my wife and me to dinner at his "old" house in Aptos and what a good time we had. The dinner included mushrooms harvested from the stump in front of his house that had been seeded by John Cage. I treasure the lullabye he composed and wrote out beautifully for our first child Elsa.
Anecdote: When I was studying with Lou he explained to me how one went about "preparing" a piano (a la John Cage). In all innocence, I asked, "What do you do if you are preparing a grand piano and a nut or bolt falls through the strings to the soundboard?" Without missing a beat, Lou replied, "You leave town as quickly as possible." Goodbye, Lou...
From Merilyn Jackson:
When Relache was producing New Music America in 1987, I had to pick Lou up at his hotel. We had never met and he asked how he would know me. I looked down at my clothes and said "I'm wearing screaming yellow stockings." In the lobby a goateed man came up behind me and said over my shoulder, "They're not so very loud."
From John Luther Adams:
A Conducting Lesson
Over the years Lou taught me many lessons about composing and about life. He also gave me the best conducting lesson I ever had.
In 1988 I had the great pleasure of welcoming Lou and Bill to Alaska for a residency and a concert of Lou‚s music with the Fairbanks Symphony. On the program was his "Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra", which I conducted. As a percussionist I'd always had steady time. And as an occasional conductor I'd prided myself on my precision and attention to detail.
After the dress rehearsal I asked Lou what he thought.
"You remind me of John Cage", he said.
Intrigued and vaguely flattered, I asked: "How so?"
"Well, you're more kinesthetic than John."
My intrigue and flattery grew.
"When John used to conduct he wanted to hear every detail of the music and he tried to show every nuance of the score. So, of course, the tempo would gradually slow down."
Instantly I recognized that I was doing the very same thing. At the next night's concert my conducting was leaner, crisper and steadier in tempo ˆ a style I've tried to maintain ever since.
This lesson from Lou was not just about conducting. It was also a lesson about teaching.
Lou was fond of recalling that his teacher Henry Cowell would often begin a sentence by saying "As you know" and then impart some wonderfully unexpected pearl of wisdom. In his own teaching Lou employed this technique brilliantly, using the gentle touch of flattery to prepare receptive minds for the gifts of learning.
From Timothy Tikker:
Lou Harrison has been a great inspiration to me, through his music as well as through so many other facets of his rich life. Though I never met Lou, I did correspond with him briefly, and wanted to share some of my modest experiences here.
My first big exposure to his music was the CD of _La Koro Sutro_, his setting of the Buddhist "Heart Sutra" for chorus and American gamelan plus harp. I was particularly interested in the work since its text is in the international language Esperanto, which I had begun learning some months before. I soon discovered that my teacher for the Esperanto correspondence course I was taking, Cathy Shulze, was a good friend of Lou's, and in fact was the one who asked Lou to write the work. I was pleased to discover that the work had been premiered at San Francisco State University, my undergrad school. In one letter Cathy referred to Lou as a "grand-anima homo" -- a man of great soul -- and I knew she didn't make such a statement lightly.
Getting his address from the Just Intonation Network, I wrote to Lou, hoping he could help me locate the score to _Koro Sutro_, since the local music store couldn't find it. I got daring and wrote the last paragraph of my letter in Esperanto. I soon received a beautiful envelope, elegantly calligraphed in red felt pen, containing a fine notecard with a photo of a 16th-century Persian painting -- I have it before me now as I write this. The note inside, continuing in calligraphy, was entirely in Esperanto; he addressed me as "Kara Samideano Timothy Tikker" (roughly "Dear Fellow Esperantist..."!). Lou gave me contact information for his publisher, Peer Music (from whom I eventually learned that this work is available rental only; fortunately I was soon able to get a score on perusal). He also mentioned Cathy Shulze, confirming that she stimulated him to write the work, and that he very much admired her and "her great endeavor for Esperanto".
While I never had any direct communication with him again, many years later I did have an opportunity to play a tiny role in a Gamelan festival held in Eugene, Oregon (from which I had moved a few years before). A friend wrote to ask my help in, at Lou's suggestion, translating a proposed text for a gamelan piece into Esperanto, which I did. I was told afterwards that Lou was very touched that they had found a way to render this text so.
The more I've learned about Harrison, the more I've found myself identifying with him: his omnivorous eclecticism, his study of oriental and sacred music traditions, his frustration with equal tempered tuning and love of just tuning, a special esteem for Kirnberger's 1/2-comma temperament (he kept his piano at home tuned in it, as I have my clavichord) -- as well as non-musical matters, such as calligraphy, vegetarianism, and environmentally-sustainable building practices. Though I lived in San Francisco for many years, I never took the opportunity to meet Lou, which seems so ridiculous now.
I have been fortunate got become familiar with more and more of Lou's works over the past several years. I always find that I enjoy each piece more and more on each hearing. His spontaneity, his relishing in delightful simplicity, and his love of beauty always strike me. His _Music Primer_ is still so provocative, asking so many questions, about music and so much else in life, which need to be asked, but which so, so many -- including 99% of music teachers we still encounter -- are too mentally stifled and habit-encrusted even to think of, let alone discuss. He was so fresh, and over such a long life, and I'm sure will remain so always, through his music, writings and teaching.
Perhaps what I admire most about Lou was his courage to be himself. So many are so worried about being accepted, being academically or politically "correct"... Lou kept true to himself, and made the music, held and expressed the political views, etc., which his heart and conscience dictated. Would that we all may have that courage!
From Jeff Abell:
In the summer of 1975, I was a student at the Center for World Music in Berkeley, where Lou was composer in residence. It was an incredibly important time in my life as a composer and artist, and Lou also was involved in studying the composition forms of Javanese music with Pak Chokro that summer. Lou taught a class called "Intonation in World Music," and I was constantly amazed by how incredibly sensitive his ear was. He would sit at a troubador harp, and say, "Now, in Didymous chromatic, you have these kinds of intervals," and he'd tune the scale by ear, and then improvise a little piece in it. That would continue over the course of the evening, and I was forever in awe of his sensitivity to pitch, and his incredible memory for different kinds of scales.
Equally awesome was his comfort with music from a wide array of times and cultures. I was accustomed to the notion that Ethnomusicologists and Western-style musicologists had different ideas about what constituted "Music." Lou shook off all the restrictions. It was unbelievably liberating. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Ancient Sumerian, Greek, were accorded the respect of the European tradition. I can even say that it was Lou who taught me that the late Brahms piano music was "divine," (his word, of course).
Watching Lou interact with Bill Colvig that summer also gave me the sense that gay relationships could be as complex and deep as so-called straight ones. I'll never forget the night that Lou was checking out a handsome student as he walked out of the room, and when he sighed loudly, Bill raised one eyebrow and remarked, "Poor old thing." I bet the fur flew that night!
In 1993, I created a performance art work, and at the conclusion, I declared 36 friends and artists to be "saints," for the lessons they taught me. Lou was one of those so honored. I'll pray to him frequently in years to come.
From John Duffy:
After the war, I was a student of Henry Cowell, and Lou was ever present in our life in Manhattan. Often, he let me use his apartment and piano for composing. He lived in a walk-up, cold water flat, where he exposed the walls to a wonderful red brick. Beams came through the floor, up to a high ceilings. Below was a wonderful Italian bakery.
Lou had tuned his piano to mean temperament, new to me, and all about were scores of his music (dance scores he was working on), Frescaboldi, Dufay, and Perotinus. I loved it there. And I loved Lou's gentle, kind spirit. Often we gathered with Cowell, Hovhaness, the Becks and Boulez, who was conducting for the Barraut company on Broadway, and took a crosstown bus to John Cage, and Merce Cunningham's apartment, where we had lots of fun, wine, and good things to eat.
That summer, I hitch-hiked to Black Mountain College where Lou and lots of people in the arts were in residence. This was rich and memorable. I admired Lou in many ways. I Iearned from him. We started a chamber series at The New School, premiering many new works.
A true test of his character, around that time, was asking the USIA to remove his music from overseas libraries, as a protest of the war in Asia. Other composers were eager for performances and recogntion. Lou stood strong on moral grounds.
He was a rare,beautiful man.
From David Kendall Grant:
The Mills College Gamelan experience changed music for me. I regret not having the opportunity to experience the man in life, not only by the traces of his passing. The War Requiem was composed and organized through the lens provided by his creation. I will enjoy watching sound through the coming years with his memory in mind.
From Eva Soltes:
It's impossible to express how important Lou and Bill have been in my life over the last thirty years, and how much richer my life has been for knowing them.
Lou once asked me why I took so much videotape of them? I answered "Because I don't want to be in this world without you!" I offer to others who want to see Lou's face and hear his voice visit: www.harrisondocumentary.com with a high speed modem.
From Lisa Moskow:
When I played in the Mills College Gamelan Orchestra, Lou and Bill played in the orchestra. It was Lou's last class at Mills before retiring and he turned the leadership of the orchestra over to Jody Diamond so he could enjoy laying back as a player rather than a director. He and Bill seemed to be having so much fun—their enthusiasm was very contagious. I also remember the final concert we did at the end of the session—it was so joyous—I can still see Lou and Bill belting out the songs with such gleeful energy. What greater gift can we give than the gift of joy?
From Jim Jandt:
This is a small anecdote concerning a large man. Lou Harrison came to Kansas City for a concert by the New Ear Contemporary Chamber Ensemble which included performances of his work. I had created a charcoal portrait of him and asked him to sign it. He liked the drawing and surprised me by asking Bill Colvig to come over and also sign the piece. I had no real idea of his magnanimity and intention to give credit where credit was due. Bill Colvig was of course a great part of Lou's life and the principal builder of many of the gamelan(s?) created under Lou's direction. I was grateful to Lou for his inclusion of Bill as a participant in my humble art offering. I remember both Lou the composer and Lou the proud partner in a creative collaboration.
From Paul Hertelendy:
If Lou had to go, doing it in February, 2003 surely was a great relief, sparing his having to undergo the ordeal of yet another war. A confirmed pacifist, he wrote music in protest of the Vietnam War. It was a controversial stand, as he well knew, just as was his public stand about his gay lifestyle. He never shied before such firebrand issues. It could cost him financially, but at least not morally. And he made his stand gently and intelligently, without roiling the emotions. If he ever fought in a war, it was the one—nearly a one-man crusade in the early years—against equal temperament. In the process, he opened us up to evocative tuning systems that we had never encountered. He not only opened our ears, but also our minds.
I interviewed him numerous times. When I was working for my first Bay Area newspaper, which was very conservative, I knew that the gay issue was one that our paper did not approach eagerly. So Lou made it easy, more than 30 years ago, with performances of his puppet opera "The Young Caesar" containing a gay scene. After all, an opera warranted review, without qualms, whether about Norma, Salome or Caesar! He was supremely tolerant of others' views but held to his own firmly, discoursing when asked, wearing that benign smile that could disarm the most aggressive debater. How will Lou best be remembered? Composer, sulang performer, apostle of Eastern culture, poet, artist, designer, calligrapher, pacifist, gay-rights advocate, teacher? Personally, I will remember him most as inspiration. And as that cheerful, ever-enthusiastic friend from Aptos who belongs to the whole, wide world.
From David Doty:
I first met Lou in the summer of 1975, when he presented a class entitled "Intonation in World Music" at the Center for World Music in Berkeley, CA. I had not heard much of Lou's music at the time (though I had heard the Louisville Orchestra recording of his "Four Strict Songs...," one of his first works in Just Intonation and still a great personal favorite) and didn't know much about him. But he was proposing to explain Just Intonation, using Partch's book as a text, and that was something I greatly desired. (I had first become aware of Just Intonation via a presentation on Partch by Dean Drummond in 1969, but had not really undertood either ratio arithmetic or how to build and tune a practical instrument for Just Intonation.) So I spent many afternoons that summer in a hot second-story room in the old St. John's Church building on College Avenue, while Lou lectured and demonstrated on manipulating ratios and using a monochord, and on the traditional tunings of ancient Greece, classical Islam, China, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.
In the course of that summer, I also became acquainted with Lou and Bill's first American gamelan (later to be known affectionately as "Old Grandad"), for which Lou composed such works as La Koro Sutro and the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan. At the time, Bill was busily cutting and filing conduit pipe to add chromatic pitches to the gamelan's five-limit tuning. From Bill I learned about tuning metal with an oscilloscope and coupling sounding bodies to resonators.
Toward the end of the class, it was decided that we would perform a concert of new music on the gamelan as a part of a two-day festival that marked the end of the summer session. That performance made a powerful impression on me: it convinced me of the significance of Just Intonation as a sensuous aestheic experience, rather than just an interesting mathematical abstraction or a venerable historical tradition.
In this way, Lou and Bill's teaching and example changed my life; it equipped me with the tools to understand Just Intonation and it inspired me to persue it. I never again studied formally with Lou after that summer (which I sometimes regret--I am sure that I could have learned much about composition from him), but we always stayed in contact and he was always supportive of my efforts in instrument building, composing, writing and publishing. A visit to Lou was always an inspiration, not merely because of the beauty of his music, but because of his enthusiasm and his eagerness to share his latest ideas and discoveries.
Lou was a founder and a constant supporter of the Just Intonation Network. He and Bill were present at the meeting in October, 1984, at which the JIN and 1/1 were first conceived and he graced the pages of 1/1 with his ideas from time to time, as his busy schedule of composing, lecturing, and teaching permitted, most recently with his keynote address from the Microfest 2001 conference. He also gave us the simple yet eloquent motto that has adorned our front page since our first issue: "Just Intonation is the Best Intonation."
Lou was unique, in the beauty of his music, in the depth and variety of his interests, in his generosity, and in his erudition. We will not see his like again. He will be sorely missed.