An Interview with Libby

Was there one overwhelming or deciding event that made you take on the profession of composer or have you always known you wanted a life in the arts?

I did not always dream of becoming a musician. In fact, when I started college, I had to make a choice to be either a stockbroker or a singer! There was no deciding event that made me choose this profession. Instead there were many little things that helped to shape my idea of who I am in the world.

So why did you choose to become a composer?

I wanted to be a composer because I love sound. By giving order to sound, a composer reveals some new understanding of what sound means to our lives and us. Music is a special way of perceiving the world around us in our quiet, private moments.

Do you do play any type of instrument, sing, or only compose? I do a number of musical things. I play the piano, the electric bass, the harmonica, I sing, and for five to nine hours a day, I compose.

What else do you do in a day besides compose?

In addition to composing, my days are spent going to rehearsals, working with conductors and performers, proofreading my music and working with my publisher, making telephone calls, writing letters, going to meetings, doing volunteer work with arts organizations, reading and doing research for new works of music.

Which piece you have composed do you feel is your best or favorite?

Honestly, whatever piece I am working on at the moment. I actually feel that every piece I write is my best piece while I am working on it. If I didn't, then my heart would not be in it.

Who are your favorite composers? Some of my favorite composers are Hector Berlioz, Thea Musgrave, Maurice Ravel, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Sergei Prokoviev, Big MaMa Thornton, and Harry Partch, and J.S. Bach.

How many people are in your family? I am married, and I have a daughter, a son in law, and two grandsons, and a dog, Bodie. I am the middle child of five sisters.

Where did you grow up and go to school? What was your music education like? I was born in Delaware, but my family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota when I was very young. In my elementary school years, I learned to read and sing Gregorian chant, which is unified, non-metric and non-western music. There was no question of who sang well and who didn't. This made a very strong impression on me personally and musically. I went to Southwest High School in Minneapolis, where I sang in the choir, took piano and sang in a rock band. At the University of Minnesota I studied composition for my Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate Degrees. There I learned to notate music well and to work in a recording studio. I also had the opportunity to hear my music performed, and to make many lasting friendships with other artists and musicians.

Do you come from a musical family?

My father played clarinet in a Dixieland band. My sisters took piano lessons. But I am the only person in my family that chose music as a profession.

What kind of music do you compose? And what motivated you to choose this kind of music? I compose music for the concert hall. My music can be programmed along with the music of the past 150 years, which is performed on traditional orchestral instruments. I chose this type of music because I love physics. Flutes, cellos, trumpets, tubas, all of the orchestral instruments emit natural sound, and they operate on the laws of physics. I can hear those laws working in the air when those instruments play.

How does a piece of music get its start?

For me, a project begins with the idea. A performer or conductor will commission me to write a piece for them, and we talk a lot about the subject, who will perform it, and how long the piece should be. I am very lucky that I can compose music that I know will be performed. This is not the only way to do it, but my musical life has worked out that way. When I know those details, I choose a text, if necessary, and sounds begin to enter my head. I listen to the music in my head and I make an outline for the structure of the piece. I then compose from the outline and this takes a very long time. I write everything down by hand at first. I work at it every day. The inspirations come in many spurts, not in one grand moment of "Being Inspired."

Then what?

Once the music is written I need to make sure it is put very neatly on paper so performers can read and understand it. This involves either hand copying the music or having it professionally typeset using a computer program. Then I will make individual parts for the performers to play from, and have all the scores duplicated and bound and delivered to the performing group or person. Then rehearsals begin; at this point the job is only 2/3 done! No one has even heard the music yet! During rehearsals I work with the conductor and performers and we decide how the music is played or sung. This is my favorite part - working toward the first performance. We then perform the piece for the first time for an audience (premiere it).  

What if other people want to perform this piece of music?

After the first performance of the piece, a publisher works to make the piece available to whomever wants to buy or rent it. I work a lot with the publishing company to make sure everything is written down correctly and neatly.  

What advice would you give to a person who wants to compose for a living? Listen to all kinds of music, as much as you can get your hands on. Make friends with creative and artistic people. Learn to read and notate music very, very well. Listen some more. Work at your music every day. Study the music of other composers. Write everything down. Talk to musicians and music teachers as much as you can. Perform: sing, play instruments, make up your own instruments, and of course, dance!