Inici » Converses, nĂşm. 012, octubre del 2011 2 octubre 2011

A Conversation with Rami Levin


Rami Levin is an American composer who studied at Yale, UCSD, and University of Chicago, and formerly served as professor of music, associate dean of faculty and composer-in-residence at Lake Forest College in Chicago. She relocated permanently to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2010.
We spoke at her residence there on January 6, 2011

Rami Levin

Rami Levin©

TM: Please talk about the musical environment in your family when you were growing up.
RL: My parents had the classical radio station on all the time – WQXR, in New York. When I was five and a half I started going to a music school on Sundays where I learned to play the recorder, piano and basic music theory. My parents often took me to concerts. For my seventh birthday they took me to a performance of La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. There was always a lot of music around the house. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing an instrument or listening to music. My parents themselves are musical to a certain extent. My father had a very nice voice, and though he didn’t sing professionally, he was a cantor at various synagogues. He did not play an instrument. My mother took piano lessons when she was young. I don’t recall any stories about my grandparents having played instruments, but everyone in the family was a music-lover.

TM: How did your father come to be a cantor? Was there a family connection?
RL: He never had any training. He came from an Orthodox family, and went to synagogue regularly. I would imagine at some point a synagogue he belonged to needed a cantor occasionally and he offered his services. In later years he was a cantor for the High Holy Days.

TM: You must have memories of him singing?
RL: I have memories of him singing at home when I was growing up, but his cantorial exploits were not until much later, so I don’t have any memories of that.

TM: Did you grow up in Manhattan?
RL: I grew up in Long Island, and we moved to Manhattan when I was in high school.

TM: In addition to music school, what other musical memories do you have from childhood?
RL: I went to the High School of Music & Art, which has since been combined with the High School of Performing Arts and is now called La Guardia School of the Arts. It was a phenomenal experience. All of my friends were fabulous musicians or artists already. It was there that I learned to play the oboe. I entered the school as a pianist, and the rule was that if you were accepted as a pianist, you had to learn another instrument so that you could play in a band or orchestra. I chose the oboe, and really loved it. I played it all through high school and college as well.

I studied composition privately in New York with Miriam Gideon. She was a wonderful influence. First of all, she was a woman composer, so it never occurred to me that women could not be composers. She was a very supportive teacher. She encouraged me to make recordings of my pieces, which was a very important thing to do, so I could gain some perspective on what I was writing. At first I wrote for whatever instruments were at hand or music I could play on the piano, which was a limitation, since I am not a very good pianist. Later I would write for oboe, and for my instrumentalist friends at Music & Art, and we recorded the pieces (non professionally).

TM: What do you recall from your early lessons on piano and recorder, when you were five or six?
RL: My piano teacher told me about a little boy named Mozart, who was writing symphonies when he was my age. I began to feel very competitive with this kid named Mozart, and decided, when I was about six, to write an opera. My teacher taught me how to write down the music I was inventing. I still have the manuscript, in very childish handwriting, of my first (and only) opera. I wrote a couple of scenes, basically I, IV, V, I chord progressions all in C major. But my teacher was very encouraging and said, “You’re composing!” In a sense she was my first composition teacher. Half of each of my lessons was devoted to writing down my little tunes. The piano was a vehicle for me. At first I wrote only for piano, because that was all I really knew. Later on, in high school, when I learned about other instruments, I expanded my compositional repertoire.

TM: When your papers are collected and given to an academic institution, your first opera will be included.
RL: Perhaps. There’s an overture, which is all C major. Then there’s an aria where a boy and girl talk about what to do: “What shall we do today – too cold to go out and play – what shall we do, what shall we do, what shall we do today?” I was certainly not in the same league as that kid named Mozart!

TM: So you were composing at the age of six. What music were you listening to at the time, and in your teen years?
RL: Mostly classical music; Mozart, Bach and Beethoven – it was also the music that I was playing on the piano. I didn’t hear my first impressionist piece until I was a teenager. During my first summer in high school, I went to a music program at the University of Vermont. My composition teacher played me some Debussy, and showed me that if you started with a triad, you could add a seventh and then a ninth, to create different sounds. I had never heard anything like it. I thought “Wow! This is incredible!” So I began exploring these new harmonies, moving beyond the classical style.