New Anthology on Music Is a Collaborative Effort
By Anne Levin
Approaching the 125th anniversary of Princeton University Concerts (PUC) a few years ago, staff and board members of the music performance series began thinking about how to best mark the significant milestone. Among the original ideas was a coffee table book.
That concept has evolved into something very different. Ways of Hearing: Reflections on Music in 26 Pieces is an anthology that asks prominent musicians, poets, visual artists, scholars, and others — from conductor Gustavo Dudamel to late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — to share thoughts on their favorite music and how it has influenced their lives.
Published by Princeton University Press, the book debuts with a virtual book launch on Wednesday, September 29 at 6 p.m., taking place at the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C. Princeton’s Labyrinth Books is taking pre-orders for the volume until September 15.
“This was such a nice collaboration between the three of us,” said PUC director Marna Seltzer, who edited the book with University Professor Emeritus Scott Burnham and Labyrinth co-owner Dorothea von Moltke, both of whom are board members with the presenting organization. “We all have different strengths. The idea just evolved and blossomed in a way that I don’t think would have happened if we hadn’t come together.”
The collection of essays, poetry, interviews, visual art, and more spans different styles and subjects. Violinist Arnold Steinhardt shares his thoughts on Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. Ginsburg, who was a noted opera fan, talks about what she considers the sexiest duet in the genre. Writer Pico Iyer offers meditations on Handel.
Among the other contributors are poets Paul Muldoon, Maureen McLane, Susan Stewart, Susan Wheeler, and C.K. Williams; architect Frank Gehry; scholars Daphne Brooks and Elaine Pagels; mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton; and violinist Edward Dusinberre.
“As we sent out invitations to people, most of whom said they would contribute something, we saw that it could really become a gift to the field,” said Seltzer. “One of the things I’m most excited about is that it really broadens our audience. It blossomed and grew in a way we didn’t anticipate.”
Each of the collaborators had their favorite contributions. “I am especially fond of a piece that’s co-written by [performance artist and composer] Laurie Anderson and [scholar] Edgar Choueiri,” said von Moltke. “She has been experimenting with spatializing sound, and they’ve been experimenting together. They wrote about another dimension in music.”
Seltzer was thrilled to interview Ginsburg in person, traveling to Washington to meet with her at the Supreme Court. “I had worked with her son, who is a record and CD producer, and I reached out to him,” Seltzer said. “I thought it was an incredible long shot. But she agreed, and it was so much fun to talk to her and see the twinkle in her eye when she talked. There is no doubt that outside of her legal, scholarly life, opera was a really big part of what she did to feed her soul.”
The book took longer than anticipated to put together. It was originally supposed to be ready for PUC’s 25th anniversary, which was in 2019.
“So many things changed that we could never anticipated,” said Seltzer, “like Ruth Bader Ginsburg dying before the book was finished. To know this is one of the last piece of writing we have from her is very special. And who would have known that when the book was published we’d be in the middle of a pandemic? I guess the one good thing is that it made people more available to contribute.”
The responses are “very eclectic,” said von Moltke. “You can have so many different ways of writing about music.” Seltzer cited the contribution by Gehry as “unexpected, and making the book broader and more interesting. People went in directions that were incredibly personal. They give the reader a different sense of how to listen to music and think about it.”