I have to say I am especially looking forward to sitting down with and recording Vivian Perlis. I’ve known her personally for more than 30 years and admired her deeply since the day we met. Vivian is an historian in American music. She is widely known for her publications, lectures, and recording and film productions. In addition, she is a groundbreaking oral historian.
Vivian Perlis is the founder and former director of the Oral History of American Music (OHAM) project at Yale University. OHAM is known to be the preeminent project in the field of music dedicated to the collection and preservation of oral and video memoirs of the creative musicians of our time.
Her story begins: In 1969, while working as a reference librarian at the Yale School of Music, Vivian started a project of tape-recording interviews with those acquainted with the composer Charles Ives, a Yale graduate. Her work – thorough, methodical, and revealing – culminated in 1974 with the book: “Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History,” for which Vivian was awarded the Kinkeldey Prize of the American Musicological Society. Hailed “a vivid memory portrait of an enigmatic American composer, told in the voices of the people who knew him best.”
Beginning with her pioneering work in 1969 and extending through to the present day (via OHAM), there are “thousands of recordings and transcripts accessible to a wide range of users including scholars, musicians, students, arts organizations, and the media.”*
From the OHAM website: Following the Ives Project, it was evident that no systematic scholarly research was in progress to document creative musical figures by means of tape-recorded interviews. Several composers had spoken about Ives, and in so doing, about themselves as well. (It is not a good idea to ask a celebrated composer to talk only about someone else.) These formed the nucleus for a broader-based project, Oral History of American Music (OHAM). Included were Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Nicolas Slonimsky, and Dane Rudhyar. Through the decades since the founding of OHAM, composers have continued to be the project’s primary focus.
A list of interviewees can be found at: http://web.library.yale.edu/oham/major-figures
In 1984 Copland: 1900 through 1942 was published. Perlis and Copland co-authored this “enduring record of an American maestro’s explosively creative coming of age.” The book garnered a Deems Taylor/ ASCAP award.
A review upon its release: Aaron Copland is one of America’s most beloved musical pioneers, famous for Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Lincoln Portrait, as well as the movie scores for “Our Town” and “Of Mice and Men,” and numerous orchestral and chamber works. This candid, colorful memoir begins with Copland’s Brooklyn childhood and takes us through his years in Paris, the creation of his early works, and his arrival at Tanglewood. Rich with remembrances from Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, and Nadia Boulanger, as well as a trove of letters, photographs, and scores from Copland’s collection.
In 1989 Copland Since 1943 was published, again to much acclaim.
In 2013 The Complete Copland was issued, combining the earlier two books into one volume.
Other works include:
Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington, co-authored with Libby Van Cleve, includes two CDs and is derived from interviews in the OHAM archive.
Among her productions are recordings of the music of Leo Ornstein and Charles Ives, and television documentaries on Ives, Eubie Blake, Aaron Copland, and John Cage.
Honors and awards received include: The Charles Ives Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1972); a Grammy nomination for “Charles Ives 100th Anniversary” (1974); the Harvey Kantor Award for excellence in the field of oral history (1984); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987); and the Irving Lowens Award for distinguished scholarship in American Music from The Society for American Music (1991).
In 2010, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the archive, Vivian was honored at both Carnegie Hall and Yale’s Zankel Hall. She stepped down as the director of OHAM the same year; however, she remains active and ever-influential. She continues to serve as a senior research scholar at Yale University.
TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW, CLICK ON LINKS BELOW.