A Conversation with Anna Rubin
Ellicott City, Maryland, July 14, 2002
TM: What was the musical environment in your family?
AR: Lots of recordings and lots of piano! During the war, my parents had gone to New York on a trip â€“ they lived in the Midwest. At that time you could make little 78s and send them to soldiers on the front. My mother made one and sent it to my sister, saying â€śHello, my dear, weâ€™re in New York, and weâ€™re going to see the Rockettes, and the top of the Empire State Buildingâ€ť. I was born in â€™46, and this record became an object of total fascination for me. I would play it over and over again. I look back and see that I was fascinated by the wonderful sing-song of my motherâ€™s voice, and I was fascinated with the recording per se. And lo and behold, the voice and electronic media have became extremely important for me. And in the meantime I studied piano for a long time. No one ever considered me a rising pianist â€“ I didnâ€™t consider music as a career path until after I got a bachelorâ€™s in sociology, and was inspired by an older teacher who had taken up piano later in life.
TM: Did your mother sing? Were there musicians in your immediate family?
AR: She didnâ€™t sing, but she did play piano, and played music constantly. We would dance around the house with scarves, a la Isadora Duncan. She worked very hard to expose my older sister and me to the arts â€“ music, painting, theater, dance. She was the musical influence in the house â€“ my father basically watched TV. She loved classical music, Gershwin, and she had a taste for some jazz. I was exposed to a lot of Jewish music at the synagogue, and that has been a big influence â€“ liturgical singing, folk song. Later I became involved in Jewish camps and learned more about Israeli and Middle Eastern folk song and folk music.
TM: Where did you grow up?
AR: Until the age of twelve I grew up in Akron, Ohio. Then my family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. As soon as I could, I left Arizona and moved to California, where I lived for many, many years, in both northern and southern California.
TM: I donâ€™t have an image of Akron and Arizona as Jewish cultural centers, but it sounds like there was a lot going on.
AR: Actually Akron has quite a vibrant Jewish community. I heard music in the synagogue and studied Hebrew liturgy in religious school. The cantor was outstanding. My parents also had a lot of recordings of Jewish folk and popular music. Phoenix had a smaller Jewish community but our synagogue had a wonderful cantor whose dramatic singing is something I can still recall.. The whole tradition of cantorial singing is a very strong influence for me. And then through a Jewish camp I went to in my teens I was exposed to the larger Jewish community in Los Angeles and a much broader cultural sampling of Jewish arts.
TM: After the bachelorâ€™s in sociology at what point did you go to CalArts?
AR: I taught for five years in an alternative high school. Then I went to Aspen for the summer. I wanted to go to Aspen to see whether I could enjoy doing music full-time (and I could). I had never taken ear-training or theory formally â€“ so I took every introductory offering in theory and electronic music that the Aspen Music School offered, and from there hopped immediately to CalArts, and got a second BFA in music there. I was accepted as a piano student, but early on I took a composition class with Bill Craft, who had been a long-time percussionist with the LA Phil, and is a very fine composer. Something clicked and I realized composition was something I could enjoy and do. I was lucky to come under the tutelage of Leonard Stein, a wonderful man who was very involved in the contemporary music life of LA. He had been a private secretary to Arnold Schoenberg, edited a lot of his work, and headed the Schoenberg Institute at USC for many years. He was a wonderful, wonderful man for whom I am writing a piano piece this year. I took a lot of counterpoint and other music classes, and continued to study composition with him privately after I finished the BFA for three years. I also took some classes at a nearby college, because CalArts wasnâ€™t very strong in things like counterpoint and music history, and I felt the need for that.
TM: Tell us about the program there.
AR: It was totally focused on contemporary music, and there was an amazing collection of people there â€“ Harold Budd, Jim Tenney, Mel Powell, Mort Subotnick, Lucky Moscow. But they had very little use for music prior to 1950 â€“ it was catch-as-catch-can, and exciting as that was, I felt like I didnâ€™t have a good grip on the tradition.
TM: What were the backgrounds of the students coming into the program?
AR: For the BFA program kids came from every kind of background you could think of. Itâ€™s perhaps more apt to talk about the MFA program. I had the opportunity to study with Mel Powell privately in 1977, and after six months he brought me into the MFA program. That cohort included Lori Dobbins, who is now a professor of composition, and Randall Packer, a very interesting character who is a historian of multimedia and currently at American University in Washington, DC. At least two of the students came from garage bands.