How far back does your composing and music go?
My grandmother from Lithuania played mandolin and she gave me one when I was about 9. I had a plastic ukulele when I was little, but I wasn't one of those kids who studied music all through childhood. I just messed around with instruments. I improvised and made things up. I just always loved music. My sister and I had about 6 piano lessons, but our father had migraine headaches and couldn't bear to hear kids practicing and playing wrong notes. It just wasn't feasible in our house. I saved up from odd jobs and got myself a guitar when I was fourteen and then a banjo.
When it was time to think about college, everyone in high school asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" When I said, "Music. I love music best," they all said, "No. Too late for that. You haven't studied it. That's only for people who started much younger." So I accepted that I loved music very much but would be either an academic intellectual or a writer. While at Shimer, I began trying to teach myself enough notation to be able to write down bits of music I'd made up so I wouldn't forget them.
In England, after the Shimer-in-Oxford program in '66-67, I decided to stay an extra year and took private lessons in theory, counterpoint, composition and classical guitar. I ended up playing all the plucked instruments. I loved to play music at Shimer, as people did then and I hope still do now. At one point when I was trying to write down some music I had made up in order not to forget it, one of the three Oxford students sharing that house said, "You know, they call that 'composing'." I'd never have been so presumptuous as to think I was actually composing, but by definition apparently I was.
One often talks about artistic movements or schools -the op artists, the pop artists and the abstract expressionists - is there a movement that you consider yourself a part of or is it something you even think about?
I don't really think that way. I have friends who are composers and artists of all kinds. There was a period in the 70s when I was often grouped with the minimalists, though I didn't really consider myself one. Steve Reich and Terry Riley and many others are people I knew and was inspired by, and some of us still try to keep each other inspired. Terry Riley was often considered to have initially inspired both Phil Glass and Steve Reich, and Terry also got me my first CD contract. And then of course John Fahey, who was a friend, was a towering figure of the whole acoustic instrument revival and for what's now called "world music."
Earlier, in the 60s and 70s composed music was dominated by very bleak, dry, intellectual aesthetics like serialism, and we were all expected to write atonal music in music school. I was part of the "movement" to bring back tonality, motor rhythm, sensuality, and a sense of flow to music. It was a battle, as was bringing the use of computers into music and art.
Can you say something about how you came to Shimer?
Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me was finding a little article in the Chicago Tribune that mentioned that you could go to Shimer without finishing high school. This was at a point when I was desperate to get away from home. I discovered that Shimer was a place where people were really into ideas and cared about things, not just the superficial things that people were into in high school. Back in the early, early sixties, things were very up-tight and girls were expected to be into makeup and clothes and to want to date varsity football players, get married and live happily ever after. In contrast, I was passionately into the arts, politics, philosophy, literature, and read just all the time and was inventing and making things up and drawing and writing and playing guitar. I didn't fit in at my large public high school, so Shimer was great for me. It was the first time I felt that there was a place for me in the world, where I actually kind of belonged.
For more information on Laurie Spiegel’s music, writings and art, go to her website: http://retiary.org