In the Muse chatted recently with Senior Acquisitions Specialist Loras Schissel.
What are you working on right now?
I’m putting the final touches on the personal correspondence for the American composer David Diamond, which is neat because it’s not only David corresponding with other musicians and other New York type people, but he was real thick with writers. So there’s a huge back and forth with him and E. E. Cummings – he set a lot of Cummings songs and such. He also corresponded with Carson McCullers, and there’s a whole bunch of artists and painters and sculptors he was friends with. It’s a real nice look into New York in the 30’s and 40’s and the whole art scene at that point.
Tell me about your musical interests outside the library.
Everything interests me! Right now I’m working on my concerts [as conductor] for the summer, and those are with the Cleveland Orchestra. My debut concert conducting the Milwaukee Symphony is in June, and that will be a film music concert, leaning towards a lot of John Williams music, because I’ve known John for a long time so it’s nice that I can borrow stuff out of his music library that isn’t published. I have a big concert later this year that will be a challenge to program. The Cleveland Orchestra asked me to do a concert on September 11th as a memorial for the tenth anniversary. How do you program something like that? It has to somehow commemorate what happened but at the same time be somewhat hopeful. People don’t go to a concert just to be sad. We’re also helping the Sousa family with a family photo album, which is why I’ m standing here talking to you because I was just scanning some pictures for the Sousa family.
What instrument do you play?
Tuba! That was my main instrument in school. Tuba and string bass. But I don’t get much of a chance to play those, even with ensembles that I conduct. If I have a guest conductor, when I ask if I can play along with the tuba section or the string bass section the answer is always a resounding no.
I remember doing an interview with NPR with Thomas Hampson and specifically telling the commentator “Don’t ask me about singing because I’m an instrumentalist.” So on air the guy immediately asked me about singing, with Thomas Hampson right there. I said I can’t help you with this, I’m a tuba player! Tom Hampson said, “Oh you’re a tuba player too?” and we realized that we were both picked to be tuba players in high school because we were both very tall and could walk around with that instrument on our shoulders.
Do you have any favorite item in the Music Division collections?
Well every day is always a gift because you never know. That’s why I come to work everyday. It’s not to get paid. If I had my druthers I’d just spend all day in the stacks, because you can’t walk by something on the shelf and pick it up and not get something out of it. Whether it’s a copyright deposit torn out of a spiral notebook from some hip-hop singer that wrote down his rap to copyright it, to conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and being able to run downstairs and look at the manuscript full score and being able to see if that’s an F-sharp. So for the intellectually curious I can’t think of a better place to work in the world. I don’t know why more musicians don’t come by here. Interestingly enough, conductors are the hardest people to get to come use our stuff. For some reason they’re not inquisitive types. And players aren’t either. Which is funny. It’s the whole turn around – up until the early twentieth century the most important person musically speaking was the creative artist, the composer. But since the twentieth century the most important people have been the re-creative artists – the interpreter. It’s the fiddler who plays someone else’s piece, it’s the singer who sings a composer’s song. A violinist like Itzhak Perlman makes more money in one evening than a composer makes in a whole year.
Any of our American composers! I feel lucky to have known most of these people. Morton Gould, who for some people is the guy who wrote the American Salute, but for me he’s the really sweet guy who got me into ASCAP – he was my sponsor. Ned Rorem who is very much alive and is probably one of my closest musical friends. The film composers too interest me a ton. Knowing David Raksin put me in touch with people like Nicholas Slonimsky and the Zappa crowd.
The Zappa crowd?
You don’t think of Nicholas Slonimsky being part of it but probably one of Frank’s best musical friends was Nicholas Slonimsky. They could sit down for a whole afternoon and talk about the Second Viennese School. Zappa adored that stuff. Remind me – I have a tape of David Raksin interviewing Frank Zappa and Pierre Boulez together. I knew Boulez. Another reason to come to work every day. And it’s not just working for these people – these people are our friends here. A composer like Aaron Copland used to come by. [Former Music Division Reference Specialist] Wayne Shirley used to tell the story of seeing a tall guy come into the reading room and go over to the card catalog and thumb through the cards. Wayne finally realized who it was and went over to him and asked “Can I help you Mr. Copland?” He said “No, I was just making sure you had all my stuff.”