When I was in my twenties, like many before me, I made a pilgrimage to the farm in Redding, Connecticut where, for many years, Charles Ives enjoyed his summer studio and the labor of his potato patch, clear of New York City and his thriving insurance business. The farm was quiet, desolate by then. No life, no vegetable garden. No music. No conversation. As I prepared to walk around the grounds a strange sensation came over me. Although I had little feeling of any violation or trespassing, I began to feel silly. Like John Coltrane following Varese around New York City. I returned to my car, sat for a while, then drove back to Boston. - In the late 1960’s, The American conductor, and my childhood friend, Dennis Davies introduced me to Elliott Carter. We met at a recording session of Carter’s Double Concerto for Piano, Harpsichord and Percussion. After talking with me about music and related subjects, he accepted me as a composition student at the Julliard School of Music, where he taught for many years. He told me that a gifted composer needs only two things to become successful: self-discipline and experience. He added that formal education made little difference in the lasting career of a dedicated and talented composer. Later in the recording session, I turned pages at the piano for Charles Rosen, the celebrated music historian and pianist extraordinaire. He talked to me quietly throughout the rehearsal, which made me anxious. Because the part was so full of notes, I was afraid I would miss the page turn. When it came time to flip the first page, he turned to me and said ‘don’t bother’. He was playing this new and difficult work completely from memory! I was young and worried that music school would ‘corrupt’ my ideas. So I took Elliott Carter’s advice and decided against studying composition at Julliard. Today I often see the composer, now in his 90’s, at concerts in Boston and New York. I never approach him. I am no longer even a particle of his life, but his extraordinary music and ideas are a part of mine. I feel like I have a tiny share in the great success of his music. - Most humans are filled with apparent contradictions, probably due to our highly evolved nervous systems. Composer John Cage, who founded much of his art on the meditative traditions of eastern philosophy, was an incurable workaholic. I once spent a day together with John Cage, talking music and philosophy. A few weeks later he sent me a friend’s doctoral thesis which was focused on the subject of numerology. He was seemingly impressed with my use of integers as a structural basis for music, but couldn’t accept my interest, as a composer, in combining art and science. Several years later, Boston pianist Stephen Drury played a marathon concert in Jordan Hall, programming Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, followed by John Cage’s Etudes Australes, a true test of listener/player endurance. One of the composers was present. John Cage and I spoke at intermission. I didn’t mention numbers. As I recall, by the end of the concert, we were the only two audience members left in the hall.
A Collection of Writings on Nature, Science, and Art by John Holland