Named “one of the most successful woman composers of all time” (The New Yorker), Joan Tower is an icon. Our Executive Director Elizabeth McGuire recently interviewed Joan about the pandemic’s effect on music, owning the idea of being a “female composer,” Joan’s advice for music students, and much more. Read an excerpt below or click here to watch or read the full interview.

Elizabeth McGuire: Is there a lesson that you learned as a young musician that you still remember today?

Joan Tower: Okay. It’s what I tell composers and players, actually. Start your own group. Start your own group, and make it your own vision, like you want to play this kind of music only, or you want to be the composer who writes for this group only, or you want them all to be composers who play, or they’re just players and you want to get some big composers involved writing music for them. I mean, there’s all kinds of visions that you can create with your own group, because nobody’s calling the shots except you. That’s what I tell … It’s not easy work, because you have to have a leader who’s going to be able to get everybody to stay together, and maybe even raise some money down the line. That’s down the line, but even as a youngster, I think it’s a great thing. It’s like having a team, like a neighborhood team and you meet every Saturday night to play for each other, or with each other. It’s like a club. I think it’s a great thing to have as a young, young musician.

Elizabeth: That’s really excellent advice. I wish someone had given that advice to me early on, because I think the interaction with other musicians would have been very special. I had that in the orchestra world, but certainly not as a chamber musician, and I certainly didn’t think of things in terms of my own vision for what I wanted. I always thought about pleasing the section leader or pleasing the conductor, and trying to obtain some sort of a status or something, but not ever really what I wanted to do as a musician, or now as an administrator. Certainly now, I have much more of an ability to craft a vision and to see it through.

Joan: Sure, sure, sure, yeah. What instrument did you play?

Elizabeth: I played the horn, I played the horn.

Joan: As a horn player, you could have established your own group, either as a brass quintet or as a quartet or something, trio, and a wind, a wind, too. Yeah.

Elizabeth: That’s right. Opportunities.

Joan: Yeah, but see, it takes, from a young kid, it takes a lot of resourcefulness to make that come off, and you probably need a leader. That’s the way those groups get started. There’s always a leader.

Elizabeth: There’s a charismatic leader.

Joan: charismatic leader who will say, “Okay, guys. You have to be over at my house at 6:00 on Saturday.”

Elizabeth: Yeah, they set a standard. A set of agreeable standards, and yeah, then you’re in. I love that advice. Thank you so much.

Watch or read the full interview on the blog of the Colorado Music Festival (the performance arm of our organization).