The first (and last) word, as is so often the case for me, is taken from Mr. Cage:

       of whaT
         is nOt
 what happeneD 
                      ———Composition in Retrospect (Cambridge: Exact Change, 1993), [5]

However, my memory is all that I have, and so I shall not be dissuaded: here is a brief account of that which is not what happened . . .

My first compositions were written in high school and were unashamed imitations of music I enjoyed—Gershwin, in particular. Then I went to Wesleyan, and my world changed: I came to love early music and I came to confront John Cage. These challenges turned me away from harmony, keyboards, and the nineteenth century, though not as much as I thought at the time. In any case, my college years produced a mix of incidental music (mostly written for the Wesleyan Glee Club), imitations of my new infatuations, and, occasionally, something of minor merit.

On to graduate school at the University of Illinois, where Ben Johnston helped me to learn serial techniques (at my request) and where Kenneth Gaburo’s “compositional linguistics” again changed my world. I discovered that my love of analysis, order, and system was not incompatible with my love for singing; and, times being as they were, I discovered that old music—particularly old music of no conventional value (like sentimental songs)—could perfectly well be repurposed with affection, not disdain.

I moved to California and started teaching. My interests (and my pieces) became even more interdisciplinary (my Illinois years had already engaged me with dance, in several ways). They also became more conceptual—a kind way of saying that my ideas weren’t really seen through to completion, except when required by a performance.

I quit my job and moved to England. There, from 1977 to 1980, I was productive, with especial attention to vocal music. My curiosity had been roused by my participation in EVTE (Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble) at UCSD, and it was stoked by Electric Phoenix, an English group that became my compositional and performative home for almost a decade.

I returned to the US late in 1979 and embarked on a series of free-lance positions. My compositional attention turned to instruments, though my affection for the voice remained steadfast. By the time I rejoined academia (1986), I was more scholar than composer; but this changed during my years at Illinois, in part because I was increasingly engaged with performance and with administration.

I left Illinois and moved to York in 2000. By now my compositional approach had stabilized: I still liked systems, and I still loved singing. At York nearly all my compositions were for voice, and they became increasingly unsystematic. In 2011, I was introduced to Yeats and his “chanting” by Roger Marsh, which led to a series of works that continue even now. At the same time, I was making encores, arrangements, and occasional pieces for The 24, the choir that I directed.

I was a journeyman, producing something that was wanted—either by me or by circumstance. I had become, I discovered, a nineteenth-century composer, fond of keyboards, harmony, and lyricism. And there I think I will remain.

It was a very good century, after all. Do you agree?