Adler, soon to turn 90, recaps a life in music with passion and honesty
Those of us who have been lucky enough to study with the great composer and educator Samuel Adler know that one of the most beloved parts of lessons was “story time.” Adler—who was a student of Hindemith and Copland—has known nearly everyone in the American music scene for the past half century, and liked to share his experiences with his students. More than just colorful anecdotes, these tales wove themselves into the essence of his pedagogical style, becoming object lessons on life, career, and creativity.
After retiring for the third time Adler, who turns 90 in March and has been an emeritus faculty member since 2016, finally set down his tales in a format for everyone to enjoy. His latest and most comprehensive memoir, Building Bridges With Music: Stories From a Composer’s Life, published this summer by Pendragon Press, is an engaging and disarmingly frank chronicle of his professional and personal lives. In a deftly conversational tone, Adler takes us through his childhood in Mannheim, his family’s narrow escape from Germany shortly before the outbreak of WWII, his time at the then-nascent Tanglewood Music Center, through his years in Dallas and at Eastman, and finally to his 18-year tenure at Juilliard. Some stories are humorous, like his 10-year wait for a letter of recommendation from Aaron Copland or his disastrous luncheon with Audrey Hepburn; others, distinctly less so, like the account of the end of his first marriage.
Told with the same honesty and passion he brings to his teaching, this volume is entertaining, instructive, and sure to be an important primary source about America’s new music scene in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Adler’s students will be particularly delighted to see each of their names painstakingly inscribed in an index, and it is this former student’s hope that for Dr. Adler, “retirement” means many more years of teaching and making wonderful music.
Evan Fein (MM ’09, DMA ’14, composition), who teaches Ear Training in the Pre-College and Evening Divisions, is working on his fourth opera, which will be premiered in Paris in 2018 by Opéra de Poche.
Building Bridges With Music: Stories From a Composer's Life is available in The Juilliard Store.