- Synopsis: Introduction and Biographical OverviewKeywords: early life; education; music education; Army Band; Vietnam; french horn; composition; woodwind quintetTranscript: MCCORD: You ready? My name is Brock McCord. I'm here with my narrator Jan Bach. Today is Thursday, November 7th, 2019. I'm here today in the DeKalb Public Library located in Downtown DeKalb, Illinois, to conduct an oral history interview with Jan Bach for Northern Illinois University's 125th-anniversary Oral History project. Thank you, Mr. Bach, for participating in this project. To start, can you introduce yourself, state your birthdate and say a bit about your background, such as where you grew up and your life before you came to NIU?
BACH: My name is Jan Bach. I'm eighty-one years old. I was born in Forrest, Illinois, which is a hundred miles south of here. It's a very small farm town. Educated in the public schools there and then went down to the University of Illinois, where I eventually achieved all three of my degrees. The doctorate was interrupted by three years in the Army Band in Washington DC, which was quite an experience. Then my first year out of the army in 1965, I taught at the University of Tampa for a year. I came up here for a variety of reasons. One of them was that after experiencing my first hurricane in Tampa, I wasn't that interested in staying down there. I also had a young lady friend who was at the University of Michigan finishing her degree, but it was quickly obvious that seven hours apart was not very conducive to romance. My degrees were all in composition, but I played French horn and piano. I actually started on violin when I was about four years old and became very interested in writing music. The horn kept me out of Vietnam, actually. Of course, playing piano when I was in the army, I was able to accompany opera singers and do things like that. My performance tools have always been just tools really and means of actually having to earn a living, but those, I always tell people in my biography that I do have those two, French horn and piano. I'm really quite good at both of them. I started getting some recognition for composing. When I came up here, I taught French horn for the first six years or so, but at the same time, I was teaching courses in music theory, and composition, orchestration, and so forth, classroom courses, and gradually maneuvered myself out of the horn teaching business into just straight composing and teaching composition-related courses. As this time went on, I ended up serving on a lot of different committees. I got a couple of awards recognition from the university. One of them was Excellence in Undergraduate Education. Then four or five years later, I was one of the first date presidential research professorships here, largely on the strength of an opera of mine that was done in New York in 1980, and got a lot of reviews, most of them good. There were eight of us that were being considered as people who have done quite a bit outside of the university. I was there along with, I think, four physicists and a couple of mathematicians. Is that still rolling?
MCCORD: Oh, yes.
BACH: Then later on, of course, we were able to get more people instead of just calling it a research honor. Also, they included creativity and something else; research, artistry, and creativity, is I guess what they call it now. That pretty much brings me up to the present. I retired twenty years ago, '98. Yes, twenty-one years ago, but continued to teach a course for the next four or five years, so I stayed in touch. Then after, when my wife got a job at the Math and Science Academy, we moved to St. Charles to make it easier for both of us to commute, mainly for her to commute to Aurora. We were there for twenty years and then I moved back here in 2011, single at this point. One of the reasons I came back was to take advantage of all of the free concerts and the lectures and everything else going on here. I believe that will bring me up to the present pretty much.
MCCORD: All right. You mentioned your main instruments are French horn and piano, right? Can you talk a little bit about how you first got into that as well?
BACH: Well, when I was in grade school, I played the violin. It was during the Second World War and a lot of our teachers were frozen in position until the war was over. That was true of my music teacher, who was a violinist himself. He started me and his son on violin, but as soon as the war was over and he was free to leave, he and his wife went over to the Kewanee school system. The next music teacher we got didn't know strings at all. He was basically a saxophone player. While the band got better, the orchestra just fell apart, so I needed something to play in the band with. My dad said, "Well, don't you have something back there you can play?" and they said, "Well, we can always use a French horn." I just took to it like a duck to water. That became that instrument, but in the meantime, I'd also been playing piano since I was seven or eight. That's when I started writing music because I had, obviously, the melody and the harmony together, where with the violin and with the French horn I didn't. The horn, as I said, was really my ticket to a variety of recognitions, mainly the Army Band and then several different orchestras. I played first one in the Rockford Symphony for several years and a little kid who was a junior in high school at that time, who also played, has now been first touring the Lyric Opera Orchestra for almost forty years. He kept me hopping when we were both in the orchestra together. Basically, now I'm starting to play the horn again after ten years of a lot of dental work that made it impossible to keep up my tone and my range. I also am having some arthritis problems with my fingers in playing the piano, in fact even holding a pencil. This is what happens where you gradually give up everything as you get older. I've had to get used to that idea. Although I must say that over the last year, we've discovered a lot of old cassettes and open real tapes in the music library that had a lot of examples of me playing back in the late sixties and middle seventies. I've gone back and listened to them, and that's what's inspired me to join the DeKalb Kishwaukee band, which is really a town-gown affair. They give concerts three or four times a year. I'm playing the very lowest horn [laughter] in the ensemble. I do try to keep my hand and I'm still getting occasional commissions. I just wrote a piece for Liam Teague. I think it's the fourth piece I've written for him. He plays steel pan and he's a very, very fine player. I just finished that piece last month. It's a solo piece so he can take it around anywhere he wants to. The first piece I wrote for him was a concerto, about twenty, twenty-five minute concerto. He's played that all over the world with the orchestras, but he can't take orchestras with him everywhere, and so he has to depend on people hiring him for that. This new piece, he can play himself anywhere he wants to go. I still keep my hand in writing.
MCCORD: These cassettes, these old reels you found, can you-
BACH: Pardon me?
MCCORD: Can you tell me more about the old cassettes that you found?
BACH: Yes, as a matter of fact, I've been digitizing a lot of them because, especially the cassettes, you don't know how long they're going to last. Even the reel-to-reel tapes sag sometimes in the middle because the tape will stretch due to a variety of things. I'm glad that at least our building was climate-controlled to the extent that there wasn't more damage or flaking of the oxide off of the binder for the tape. When I first came, for five years, we were the main small ensemble or woodwind quintet: a flute, oboe, horn—horn is not really a woodwind instrument, but it's not really a brass instrument either. The ensemble's made up of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. I had five years. We must have given about twenty concerts in that time. Then the Vermeer quartet came in and they were a world-class string quartet, and two of our members left for other schools. That was the end of our quintet. It's nice going back and listening to those. Three of the people are gone. I'm not sure if the bassoon is still alive or not. He was in the Air Force Band when I was in the Army Band and we ended up coming out here at the same time, which was kind of interesting in '66. Then as far as performing activities after the Rockford Symphony, when I played in the DeKalb summer part band, played first tour there for twenty-five years until I started having all of my dental problems which led to neck problems and eventually a herniated disc which would have paralyzed me if they'd operate on it. That came from trying to find a different position for my—to accommodate the crowns that I had put in my mouth, I mean just a mess, but not of general interest. I don't think. [laughter].
- Synopsis: Social Changes in the 1970'sKeywords: Young Audiences; student activism; Vietnam; fashion norms; dress codes; Kent State Shooting; student riots; affirmative action; music event planning; Duke Ellington; DeKalb housing; student enrollment; Route 88; crimeTranscript: MCCORD: Are there any standout memories from playing with the quintet that these old cassettes are bringing up?
BACH: Well, if you think there's anything that would be of interest, there's reasonable history. Just that we belonged to a group called Young Audiences. We often went out on small, just daytime tours, we'd play for grade schools. I remember that Dick Sider, our bassoonist- You seem a bassoon can be taken apart into five different pieces. The kids always got a kick out of him doing that. He'd start out with the whole bassoon and they take one part off and he'd continue to play, a little bit like Monty Python, The Holy Grail, do you know that movie?
BACH: Where he gets his hands cut off and his arms and his legs and everything else. It was like that with the bassoon. They also played a Peace of Mind that I wrote soon after I came here, which I won't go into, there were some problems. The school was generally much more conservative than it became later during the Vietnam era. I think I saw something on one of your questions there about the upheavals of that time. Up to that time, this is a much more sleepy, laid back school. In fact, we had a double bass player from California come out here who was giving a lecture and we asked for some kind of response from the students. He said, "I'll tell you what, let's all join hands and try to contact the living." [laughter] He was from a much more fulminic environment out in California, and coming out here. But things changed. It became much more reactionary, more liberal, more progressive and certainly more concern was with Vietnam back in—by '68, '69, Woodstock and so forth and then by the early seventies, everything became much more—well, we lost a lot of discipline here, I think. Four letter words were heard much more frequently around the University Center than we did before. This is where it might get some things interesting. When I first came here, the students basically dressed up. The girls went to beauty shops and had these high beehive hairdos and a lot of makeup. You didn't know what they really looked like under the makeup. By the early seventies, all that had changed. They had long hair apart in the middle, they didn't wear makeup, some of them didn't wear undergarments and in a way, it was a much more natural look. I was a sponsor of my first couple of years of the music fraternity, along with Dick Sider, my friend from the Air Force band. They wore suits and ties at their smokers and at their other functions which they put on with Sigma Alpha Iota, which was a women's music fraternity. All that changed. In fact, if you look at some of the old pictures of the faculty meetings, we were all in suits and ties up until around '72, '73. If I give a little bit of self-promotion, I was pretty notorious. I had to decide between cartooning and music. I was always kind of a loner anyway and I decided, well, before I went to college, I really needed to go into a field where I would at least associate with other people. That was through the band or the orchestra and the chorus, and the other things I was involved with but I was also very interested in drawing. One summer, my mother took me up to Chicago twice a week on the train for lessons at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in Michigan. In 1971, I drew a caricature of the whole music faculty, and you can see it in the junction restaurants over there. It's right across from the men's restroom. I still get people talking about it. If you go back and look at that cartoon, you'll see practically all of us were dressed, women wearing high heels, men wearing suits and ties. That was still sort of standard for that time. I was working basically from pictures that have been taken at our last faculty meeting of the year, May of '71. That summer when I drew all these caricatures, I preserved the dress that we were wearing at the time. That's an example of just how different—what a contrast it was between the dress code before. In fact, when I came up here from teaching in Florida, we had to not only wear a suit and tie, or at least a tie and a short-sleeved shirt because it was very hot down there. We weren't allowed to have any—Well, maybe a little mustache, but no beard. When I came up here for the interview, the first thing I asked the Dean was, "Would I be allowed to grow a beard here?" They said, "Yes. Why would you ask such a question?" I said, "Well, because Tempa was a very conservative community and it was a private school that struggled for their existence, so they had to make sure they've stayed on the good side of the parents that basically sent their kids down from New Jersey." New Jersey probably has fewer state-supported universities than any other state in the country as far as I know. We had recruiters that would go up to New Jersey, and entice these kids to come down. To put our best foot forward, we had to dress well, I think, which is kind of crazy because it was so hot. Every day I just wanted to rip my tie off. Anyway, that's nothing to do with NIU. That's why I need this crutch here.
MCCORD: Well, as you mentioned, Vietnam was a big issue, obviously on campus in the '60s and '70s. Can you talk about any memories you have of student activism and protests and what was going on campus then?
BACH: Well, I already mentioned the dress code changed. There was no dress code suddenly. Students, somewhere along the line, forgot they were students who were still in the process of being formed. Many of them had already formed, of course, their political attitudes, largely because they were forced into it by the war. In the late 60s, underground comics became very popular. We had a lot of—well, I wouldn't call them smoke shops, but all along Lincoln highway, there were these notion shops. We knew that there were people that were indulging in pot smoking and so forth, which—they smoked, they always smoked but this was something new for me and I'm talking about 1969 to 1970. I remember that because that was the only time I ever took a puff of marijuana cigarette. Burned my lungs too. It felt like it burned my lungs but anyway, that's how I can date that time. There were several riots. The students took over the campus on a couple of occasions. In 1969 when the Kent State disaster happened and four students were killed by National Guardsmen at a school that was very much like ours, there was a terrific outcry. A school was closed down with the intention of opening up later for finals but it didn't open. A lot of students were shortchanged because they had grades based on two out of three hourlies and no final exam. That was a very sad situation. There were some good things that came out of it too. For instance, the Roden-Smith scholarship was set up for African American students, and for people that were disadvantaged in other ways, so, they could afford to go to school. Of course, on the other side, we had affirmative action that came in and that was not always handled appropriately, I didn't think, because the United States Government got involved in it. University of Michigan had some lawsuits because they felt that some of the qualified people were being passed over to make the quotas of the other disadvantaged students. The University allowed the students to take over the budget for the outside events. That had always been a sort of combination of students and faculty, choosing orchestras, jazz bands, a variety of things up to that point. That had a very misfortunate outcome because a lot of the bands, the rock bands and so forth would spring up overnight and be gone the next year. In some cases, when the students got control of that budget, they would sign contracts for a group that didn't exist the next year when they were forced to be coming to campus, but on the other hand we had—jazz was still very popular at the time. It wasn't considered classical music as it is today. We had Don Ellis and we had Maynard Ferguson and we had, of course, the Duke Ellington ballroom was named for him because that was his last appearance before he passed away, was at a university ballroom. We also had opera stars coming in. Some famous pianists, the whole variety of things. All of that changed once the students got hold of the budget. They didn't really know what they were doing to a large extent. They were pretty easily enticed by the public relations people that represented these rock groups mainly. We also struggled quite a bit with the fact that in our own department, we shared our area with theater, with dance, and with art. We even had in one end of the Stevens building over here, which is where we were, the anthropology museum on one end of it. We were bursting at the seams until we got our own building, I think around 1971 and then the music building in ‘74 and at that point it alleviated some of the congestion. I think that may have also had to do with the fact that when you put too many mice in a maze and they started biting each other, we were in that same situation. I think a lot of that problem was alleviated when we had more room to move around, and as far as I am concerned, it may have also affected the student's attitudes because the dorms were full from 1968 or so. We were growing at a rate of about three—I think they were about 17,000 when we came and it grew at the rate of about 3000 a year until, I think it was around 1975, The University of Illinois said, we have to put our foot down. We can't allow you to be taking all of these Chicago students out here to NIU. At that point we had no choice, but for several years we had to get all of our students from Rockford area and the small towns here and downstate, even those in the Holman and places close to Urbana, because Urbana wanted to draw them from Chicago where possibly there—I don't know, maybe they had had a better high school education I don't know. I know The University of Illinois and I think NIU here had to accept anybody because of being land grant colleges but after coming in of course you could flunk out just as easily. My best friend from high school and I went to school at Illinois in 1955 and he flunked out of the end of the year, but they couldn't deny him admittance, to begin with. That's some of the things—one of the problems of the town generally was it was very under built for people with homes or wanting to buy homes. I had a lot of faculty members. I was single at that time in the late '60s, lived at James' court, which you may know on the Northside, North First Street, was built with non-union labor and very poorly constructed, but we didn't have any other place to go. My dad said, "Why don't you buy a house?" and I said, "You find me a house, I'll buy one," because I just wanted to be heard. Then they started building more and of course the campus started building more buildings like our art, music buildings, Davenport Hall—I think, is that what it called? No, Anderson hall, which was at that time women's PE building after that was built. That area was just a field for a long time. In fact, in the spring we would have a picnic and a baseball game to end the year. That's another big change too, at least in our department. Everybody lived on campus or lived in town. We were all going toward tenure. We were all full-time. While we weren't exactly a happy family, at least we did have a lot of parties and got to know each other very well. Then now, you can see after several years of this, what's happened is that in our own department, almost all of our applied teachers, bassoon, French horn, flute, they all come in one day a week and then leave. It's not just our schools, it's true all over the state except I think for The University of Illinois because they're so isolated anyway. But we can draw from Chicago. We do get some fine performers who teach here, but it's not like it was—there's just no feeling of esprit de corps, there was no comradery to speak of because we just don't see each other that often, so that's another change but that doesn't affect the students. Students, of course, they had mixed feelings. I think many of them would not have had any interest at all in the war if they didn't have the drafter breathing down their necks all the time. In my case, I was working on my doctorate when I got drafted and because I happened to know the recruiting sergeant who hung around the campus a lot in Illinois, he mentioned that if I got in the Army Band, well he would not only get a $500 bonus, but he could switch things so that I put in for a three year enlistment instead of the two year draft situation. A friend of mine and I—another French horn player and I, we drove out to Washington DC and auditioned and got into the band, which was very—at that time it was '62, so they were just sending advisers to Vietnam. It didn't really start accelerating until after Kennedy was killed and Lyndon Johnson became president. They were sending more and more people over there and we don't know exactly at what point it became a war, but I know that we were—people had been drafted I think straight through from the Korean war up through Vietnam. You can imagine it was very hard to be idealistic. If you were a student here and say, I'm only interested in it because of the cerebral aspects of what's right and what's wrong and should we be conscientious objectors and so forth. They didn't have that choice. They were all going to be drafted. The women wouldn't be drafted. That was something that I don't believe has ever happened has it? Now it's suddenly all-voluntary army so women are just as free to join as men are, but they're not drafted into it and that was a big, big difference. I also had to get used to things like, for instance, some young women. At one point it must have been about ‘74, ‘75. I actually saw women wearing vests with nothing underneath and you could see part of their decolletage showing under their vest and the four-letter words were just rampant. It was hard to get used to that. Maybe it was partly my fault because I always thought of college as kind of a place away from like real life. I didn't feel like it would encroach on it like it did probably reaching its zenith when Saint Valentine's Day murders here ten years ago now. People coming in from outside, agitator, that happened basically I think when 88 (Illinois Route 88) was completed. When I first came here, you had to drive to Elgin to get onto any road that—it was usually 90 (Illinois Route 90) you'd had to take to get into Chicago. Are you from around here or?
MCCORD: South Elgin, actually.
BACH: Okay, so you know where we picked up the highway there—but once 88 had been built all the way out here, suddenly there was a real rise in houses broken into, especially right along that path, south of 88, but where I live now near Gerber Road, it made it a lot easier. They started the Dekalb Village over here where there's always going to be something going on. Every weekend there's some kind of an incident and over there. We lived only a block from there on Russell Road which used to be really quite safe, I thought. DeKalb in a way has opened up I think to a whole variety of influences that simply were not there when we were detached and—they used to say Route 47 was sort of the dividing line and what stayed east of 47—what happened east of 47 stayed at 47. I know that even when I was in high school, I had an uncle, a family in Barrington and I stayed with them, Elgin was already developing a kind of a blue—I shouldn't say blue-collar, but kind of a rough reputation at that time. Aurora used to be a Mecca of restaurants and clothing stores and so forth. Now, thanks to Amazon, everything is disappearing. Not just in Elgin and Aurora, but Rockford too and variety of places. Okay, I'm out of juice here. Is there something else you want to ask me there?
- Synopsis: Experiences in the US Army Band, JFK FuneralKeywords: US Army Band; Elvis Presley; Steve Lawrence; Eddy Gorme; Eddie Fisher; Jim Self; John F. Kennedy funeral; Keith ClarkTranscript: MCCORD: Sure. You mentioned your involvement in the Army Band. Did you complete your three years?
BACH: Yes, I had. I was in the reserves, but they never called on me, which was good. As far as ever concerned, I've been discharged. We had several career men that were in the army, who had been with the band ever since, hard to believe, since the end of the Second World War, so they were nearing the end of their enlistment. There were some very interesting—they wanted to put Elvis Presley in the band because they had a chorus with the band. They said, "Absolutely no." They were not going to use, because he was very big at that time. Some of the other people earlier, that I don't know if you would have known, but Steve Lawrence, do you know that name? Steve Lawrence and Eddy Gorme became very popular on television shows. He was in the Army Band. Eddie Fisher, he married Debbie Reynolds and that was a big scandal when he left her for Elizabeth Taylor. He had been with the band in the chorus. Then there were several people in my band that really would only be known to other bandsmen but for instance Dan Perantony, who was a tuba teacher at Indiana University. Jim Self was actually what they call the voice of the mother-ship because he played the tuba in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Did you see the movie? Are you familiar with it?
MCCORD: At some point, yes.
BACH: At one point when a mother-ship comes flying over this mountain and it goes [mother-ship sound] and blows the glass out of the control booth up there, that was Jim playing the tuba. I thought it was an electronic music effect, but no, it was him playing. Then, I don't know why so many tuba players, Chester Schmitz was first tuba of the Boston Symphony after he got out of the Army Band. Several people went to teach at Juilliard and to Temple University in Philadelphia. Of course, the most striking thing about that was that we were in the band when Kennedy was killed, and we were the only band that didn't march in the funeral cortege. We stood in front of St. Matthew's Cathedral and saw all these other dignitaries coming, saw a famous picture, John saluting, and Jackie Kennedy put him up to that. We saw that. She'd been over him and went psst, psst, psst and went like that. He was only three years old. We never thought that was going to become a famous picture. I'll tell you a couple of funny stories about that too. That is that everybody was there. All the congressmen, senators and so forth, and they all came in black limousines. After the service was over, we were standing right there and a couple of Secret Service men said, "We can't find Harry's,"—and they were talking about Harry Truman—"We can't find Harry's limousine anywhere," and the other one said, "Well, put him in with Ike and Mamie," that's Sr. Eisenhower and his wife, "Put him in, but make sure Mamie is between them," because they were just like this. Sure enough, the next day in the paper it showed some photographer must have crawled into the front seat and showed, here is Mamie and here's Eisenhower and Harry Truman, and of course, the caption read, "Old enemies united in grief," which was a bunch of bullshit. [laughter]. Kennedy had not made any plans at all for his funeral. He was only forty-six or forty-seven years old. It fell to a young captain who was about twenty-eight years old, who had to plan the whole damn thing from start to finish, from the funeral march to the cathedral to the burial out there at Fort Myers. I don't know how many people even know this, but I learned that the day after everything was over he dropped dead of a heart attack. He was twenty-eight years old and had two young children, and it was just- Can you imagine being put in that position, and being probably like this all the way through and just not being able to take it? He was no doubt in very good physical shape. It was very funny. We were part of what they called The Third Herd, the Third Infantry. Everybody else in our outfit other than the band were the ones that carried the flags, and presented arms, what were basically plastic rifles, except for the ones that were shooting thirteen gun salute. After the funeral, I think or maybe it was even, no, it had to be after the funeral because everything happened so fast. We were suddenly all fingerprinted, by these whacks that were there on the base Fort Myers, and we were giving them a real hard time. We were giving girls really hard time. Those were the most attractive WACs (Women’s Army Corps) as you can imagine because that was where General Wheeler had his office and he was the chief of staff. They made sure that everything was higher level and just like you see some of the Congressman's aides. They're all beautiful young people. Anyway, we said to them, "Third Infantry gave you as much trouble as we are?" and she said, "Oh no, they're not being fingerprinted," and we say, "Why not?" Well, she said, "Well, they carry plastic white rifles, they're not any dangerous." Do you ever think that maybe they would sneak a real rifle in there and kill somebody? Oh, God. I could spend the rest of the time just talking about that. For instance, Keith Clark, who was the tuba player who played Taps on the bugle for the end of the funeral out of the cemetery. Missed a note playing Taps, and I don't know whether people even know that anymore, but are you familiar with that?
MCCORD: Oh no.
BACH: No? Good. He'd be happy to know that. He's in his grave now, but he'd be happy to know that because mere fact when it was the—see, Kennedy died in '63, so it was, what would have been the anniversary most recently? Fiftieth anniversary. For the fiftieth anniversary, trumpet players came from all over the country and convened in Washington in memory of Keith Clark missing that note. Trumpet players all know that. It's on YouTube, you can see it. It wasn't even the highest note, but the reason why he missed the note was because they had a thirteen gun salute. It was about twenty-two degrees or so. It's very cold outside, the day of the funeral. They had not rehearsed the twenty-one gun salute, and he had not played Taps. What they generally do, is they say, "Sound Taps," and Keith would say, "Taps completed." They'd say, "Sound the twenty-one gun salute." "Twenty-one gun salute completed." It's called a dry run. They don't actually do it until they're called upon to do it. At the last minute, the TV director said, "Wouldn't it be a great shot to have the rifle squad over here, and have Keith right up here in front of the television camera?" He was very close to the fire squad, and when they had the salute, he was completely deafened. He couldn't hear anything. He had to play the whole Taps just on the field with his lips, but there's only four notes on the instrument, four notes in Taps, so there's a pretty good chance that he's going to hit all the notes. Well, he thought he had hit all of them, but he came home and he had three teenage daughters that were rolling their eyes at him, and they said, "Daddy, you missed a note in Taps. Oh, duh." [laughter] Poor Keith. Then the next morning—Now, you won't believe this, but the next morning he was in what they called Charge of Quarters. Each of us had to take turns answering the phones long in the days before they had voicemail. He's sitting there on the desk. It happened to be his turn the day after the funeral, that he was the one we call CQ, Charge of Quarters. He's sitting there and he gets a call from Life Magazine. So a reporter said, "Hey, we want to do a feature on that guy that missed the note in Taps." If that would have been me, I'd say, "Wow, me? You want to do a feature?" Keith was a very quiet shy guy, and he said, "Oh, I'm sorry. They shipped him out of here last night, right after the screw-up." He ended his life teaching at a college down in Florida. I saw him once before he passed away in 1984. He was still keeping his hand in as a trumpet player, teaching the instrument, came to Bloomington Indiana for a kind of International Brass Congress. It was nice to see him again because it had been twenty-five years since I'd seen him. There are a lot of stories like that. Then when I came back, of course, getting used to the fact that I was now being called Sir, teaching in Florida, when I was the one that had to call everybody Sir when I was in the army, it was quite a cultural shock to suddenly be promoted after being demoted for three years.
- Synopsis: NIU Music SchoolKeywords: NIU Music School; Ron Modell; Vermeer Quartet; teachers' experiences; music education; Fareed Haque; John Boland;Transcript: MCCORD: To shift gears a little bit, you talked a little bit before about the music department here. Over the years there have been a number of fairly successful, prominent musicians who have come on as faculty here. Yourself, Ron Modell, a number of others.
BACH: By the way, have you interviewed him. Was Ron available?
MCCORD: I don't think we have.
BACH: Because he's gone back down to Fort Myers again now. He spends only about half the year up here. Go ahead.
MCCORD: Can you talk about what it was like in the music school? What was the community like there while you were there?
BACH: As I mentioned, in the earlier days we were all in a way of family. Just like any family, sometimes they fight with each other but we were still all here on campus and we supported each other and went to the events. Most of us did have some outside activities. It was required of us. It's interesting that in most departments as we learned later there's only two out of three activities that people are required to do. Teaching, of course, is primary and it could be anything from 60% to 75%. Most of the other departments of the faculty made a choice between doing local committee work and things like that or developing a reputation outside, in research. Ours was one of the only schools where you had to do all three and that created some real tension. Also, when the Vermeer Quartet came in they were already so well-known individually. That we discovered one time, when I was on the personnel committee, that the department chair had decided to overrule us and give them a much larger share of whatever money was available for raises. He almost lost his job over that because they were still faculty members who were already only teaching half time. We had hired assistants to take care of the students while they were touring Europe and that started creating some kind of animosity. There was also always a little bit of a friction between the fact that we had started here as a teacher's college. There were people in the department that represented music education, teaching people how to teach. Eventually, that became a problem because the College of Education started demanding more and more hours. I know that I've talked to several students who came back after they graduated, and they said, "We got a music education degree and we started teaching in the public schools and we realized how little we really knew about music because we had to take thirty or forty hours in education courses which taught us how to teach but not what to teach." That friction spilled over between the applied faculty and the teachers that were teaching music education. Even there, there were some funny stories. For instance, some of the football players who were actually in physical education degrees where they had to take one music course. There was one big hulking football player that was sitting in his chair sweating bullets, while this little woman who is saying now you've got to learn to play the recorder by the end of the semester or you're not going to be eligible for football. [laughter] There were some strange things like that. There was some friction between the applied staff who was teaching people how to perform and, in some cases, maybe to head for college careers. The other people who were there basically to teach high school band directors and choral directors. I had started that way at Illinois after I had my first education course. I said, "That's it. I'll make a living the rest of my life, I'm going to get out of education altogether." Even though my high school band director was a hero to me. one of the few people that I knew knew something about music when I was in high school and because we were a state, it was called State Normal University here at one point. It had almost always had its largest number of graduates in education in public school teaching and so forth. Some of the other schools, later on, I don't know when things like the College of Business came in. That's obviously, always been considered one of the best colleges or strongest colleges in the university. Some things more recently that bother me. We've had our audiences cut into quite a bit by these streaming media, which our former department chairmen set up as a means of joining the twenty-first century. That's cut very deeply into our audiences. Now, as we lose more and more money at the state level we've had to start charging for concerts. I just saw today in the paper they're talking about the steel band concert next weekend. It's going to cost five dollars for everybody except students and senior citizens and everybody else is going to have to pay. I'm surprised they can get by with it because this is a land grant college. Just as I said, the University of Illinois had to accept everybody that came into school when I was a freshman in Illinois. Things just keep changing. What was the original question? About the well-known people. The only real friction there is the fact that the people that are best known do have lives outside the university. That means that we have to come up with the funding sometimes for people to take their place while they're gone. One famous example is Fareed Haque, who's an internationally known guitarist, who could play anything from jazz to classical music and so forth. He just retired this last year. Traditionally, they've also had a graduate student that had the chops to take over and teach his students while he was gone and he was gone very frequently. The same thing with the Vermeer Quartet, graduate students were brought in specifically to teach other students while the quartet was off on a junk halfway around the world. That drained money that should have gone to some of the programs we had. Something else there.
MCCORD: What do you think it is about the music school at NIU that has drawn so many fairly prominent musicians?
BACH: The most probable ones are the ones that have a life in Chicago. We've had quite a few people who either had been in the Chicago Symphony or were going to go into the Chicago Symphony. John Boland, I mentioned earlier had been first horn in the Lyric Hop Orchestra for nearly forty years. He was a high school student that I knew in the Rockford Symphony. He taught for us for a couple of years. Gail Williams who was an assistant in the Chicago Symphony, a French horn player there, she taught here. I know of course more of the horn players. I know some of the others. I don't know what their careers are. Cathy Purtell, for instance. She jobs all over Chicago. She was a clarinet teacher here for a while. We're going to have to get used to more and more of our faculty. Right now we only have three or four faculty who are full time that teach instruments. Let's see. Who are they? Clarinet teacher, our main percussion teacher. They're full time and they live here. Some people that are associated with the instruments like some of the music history faculty, they live here. History and music education. First was the oboe player. He plays Lyric Opera. He plays in the ballet. He plays in the Ice Follies. They all do jobbing and they also are responsible for some of our students getting footholds here in Chicago as well. That was one place I felt like I couldn't help students very much because I didn't have any real connections with Chicago's professional community when I came here to teach. I didn't come here expecting to teach french horn either. Certainly, not to teach it to the extent that somebody whose whole life is wrapped up in the instrument would do. To give you an example, we have our French horn teacher teaches at four different schools. She comes here one day, she goes someplace else the next day. I just learned the night before last, that our tuba teacher here is teaching at five different schools. I knew he taught at Roosevelt and he's in a brass quintet but I didn't know that he taught at three other schools. There's no esprit de corps. I said that before, I'm just blabbing. I'm just going back over what I said before.
MCCORD: That's all right.
BACH: I'm getting scattered aren't I? I'm getting off the subject. Like if I was on Facebook, I'd be off the thread.
MCCORD: [laughter] You could say that, but that's perfectly all right.
- Synopsis: Professional Achievements and Final ThoughtsKeywords: Broadcast Music Incorporated; Broadcast Music Incorporated Award; Aaron Copeland; American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers; Grammy Nomination; Pulitzer Prize Nomination; Libby Larsen; Benjamin Britten; Amazon Music; Beverly Sills; New York City Opera; Peter Davis Dibble; Grant Park; Distinguished Presidential Research Professorship; Bill Monat; Bruce Lincoln; Nehring House; DeKalb growth; The House Cafe; campus development; Nixon resignationTranscript: MCCORD: Let's see here. Getting towards the end, we'll do some wrap-up questions. You mentioned before, some awards, some excellence in teaching awards that you've received and a number of non-academic awards you've received. Can you talk about, maybe some of your proudest moments of your career or anything that stands out?
BACH: Yes. When I was nineteen years old, I won the Broadcast Music Incorporated Main Award. Broadcast Music was established by Aaron Copeland as an alternative to ASCAP. Everybody knows ASCAP, American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers. BMI was Broadcast Music Incorporated because a lot of the music that was being performed over the radio in those days, and we're talking about 1935 or so, when they started it. ASCAP was not paying residuals or royalties for performances was over the radio. Copeland and several other composers started BMI with that express objective in mind. In order to encourage more people, more high visibility, they had the student composers contest and I won it that year. A lot of very distinguished composers, much more distinguished than I am, have won that award. You can only win it up to twenty-six years of age, something like that. It was very interesting that in 2002, they had an afternoon buffet set up smorgasbord or whatever you want to call it at the Plaza Hotel in New York for past BMI winners and I went there and I was amazed at the number of really well-known composers or people much more—people who had devoted their lives specifically to composing, not teaching a public university or private, but for the—I've always enjoyed teaching. I always was very stimulated by my students and especially when I'd be teaching them one on one, I'd got ideas for pieces from working with them. For those who work entirely on their own. I don't know where their inspiration comes from, but many of them lived in New York and the one—six times, I was nominated for Pulitzer prize, never did get it. [laughter] Nominated for a Grammy last year, I didn't get it. I'm just a bridesmaid all the time, and we had Libby Larsen here on Tuesday, actually, all first through four days of the week and she's a very established composer, sixty-eight years old now, she's written four-hundred pieces, twenty operas. It's just absolutely staggering and raised a family too in Minnesota. I can't get over it. That really encouraged me with my writing because I was already a sophomore in college. In fact, it gave me a swelled head for a while and later on I won other competitions. Other things that stand out for me was in 1979, I had a piece that I had written for flute, a harp and viola played at the festival in Aldeburgh, England which is the town where Benjamin Britten lived. Benjamin Britten, the very famous composer who I wrote my doctoral dissertation on. I was quite honored. He had passed away by that time. He died in '74, but I had been to three of his festivals before and it was great to go back and have a peace of mind. Actually on the festival, broadcast by the BBC and then on the streets of that performance, get it published and it's now out on three or four CDs. Remember CDs? I don't know what's going to happen with streaming. I've got some of my pieces that are being streamed on this new Amazon Music, but who knows what that they are there? Unless you actually ask for them specifically, you'd never know that we're there. We have a CD that was put out now 12 or 13 years ago of music of mine. It's nothing but music of mine. We spent a month getting even just the right kind of artwork, thinking it was going fit in the bins of your main record stores but the moment it came out, Tower Records went under, Borders went under. Best Buy started mixing up their CDs with their DVDs and Barnes & Noble started putting only the names of the artists in the bins, not the names of the composers, so you can't find Beethoven there, but you can find Yo-Yo Ma or somebody who's a famous performer. It came out at the wrong time and then of course on top of it, now we've got this streaming video. You can go to Amazon and find this CD and you can download each individual track. In fact, I got an email just yesterday. I thought you were going to call me back today. A woman who said that, "We have some royalties for you from Amazon now, we don't know where to send them, so please send us your address." I will be very interested to see what I get because as far as I knew, I had an agent that was handling this and he told me last year that I'd made thirty dollars and when it galloped to fifty than he'd send me a check. I told this woman, I said, "I don't know if you should be dealing with me or with this—Frank Coons is his name, out in Arizona." That was a highlight. In fact, in a ten year period, I had a lot of things happening. In 1974 I had a one-act opera that won a contest. It was produced in New York and got quite a few reviews. On the strength of that, I wrote another one in 1980 that was advertised with the New York Opera Company to advertise Beverly Sills, who was a very famous soprano who had taken over directorship of the New York City Opera, and I won that contest. For that one I got like sixty reviews. Most of them were good, but I was riding a real roller coaster because the first two that came out were very good. One was Time magazine and they said, "Mr. Bach has only written one opera before, but he knows very well what he's doing." This was an evening of three one-act operas, each one last few about an hour and they panned the other two and gave me the highest rating. The New York Times too both of those came out right away and I was on cloud nine. The next one came out and said, "This is the worst thing I've ever heard in my life. Doesn't Dr. Bach, even out there in far off Illinois, know that this particular device has been plumbed to the depths of the bottom of the garbage can.", and it was what they called the commedia dell'arte. It was supposed to have been like clowns used to perform out in the streets in Italy back in the 1800s and so forth. It was intentionally written that way, but I also rhymed every line and they didn't like that either. The worst one was from Peter Davis Dibble. There's a name for it. Peter Davis Dibble was the music editor or music critic of Women's Wear Daily. Who knew that they even had a music critic. He wasn't content to put down my opera. He put down, but the critics didn't like my opera, that was a real winner. Anyway, but that was still a highlight. That was fall of 1980 and then in 1981, I had both my piano concerto and along work for narrator and orchestra played at the Grant Park Summer Concert series and that was when they were in the old building, which they use it now I guess basically for jazz and the Taste of Chicago. I don't know if you've been there, it's the Old Square Building. It's not the Pritzker Pavilion, which is really state of the art. If you're at '74, I had that performance of the opera. '79, I had a performance in England I went to. Nineteen-eighty, I had another Opera performing in New York and in '81 I had two pieces done by Grant Park and also that summer right afterwards, I took my family to Europe for a couple of months. My wife's brother lived in Belgium. We had a kind of a base of operations and from there we drove to France and Italy and Spain and Switzerland. That was quite a lot of stuff happening at once and right after that, came to this professorship, called, Distinguished Presidential Research Professorship, it was called. It's very funny because I was on sabbatical that semester, and Bill Monat, who was the president, called me and asked if I would serve on the search committee and I said, "I'm sorry I can't." I said, "Because I'm on sabbatical." It's very interesting because of the eight people that were chosen for that award, four of them were already on the committee. [laughter] I can declare myself innocent of that. Matter of fact, Mary Lincoln, whose husband, Bruce Lincoln, was a very acknowledged Russian expert—she goes to our church and she mentioned, she says, "Weren't you one of those people on the committee that chose yourself?" I said, " No, I wasn't. Your husband was, but I wasn't, I was on sabbatical." That led to about twenty, twenty-five years of commissions, just all of that notoriety that I got through those three or four different things made my name quite well known. I started getting publications. I had a few publications, but I got lot more, started getting CDs. This is supposed to be more about the university and than it is about me? It's just my memories of the university and my memories of myself.
MCCORD: You can talk about yourself. You're part of the university.
BACH: You're welcome to go. I still have a kind of an antiquated website that I built myself. You're welcome to look at and see some of the stuff that I've done because I've always been very busy despite knowing my handicaps, my arthritis and T's and so forth. I'm still in pretty good health. I like to keep in touch with a few faculty members that are still around that I worked with. Most of them have retired by now of course, because I've been here some fifty-five years. Twenty years we lived at St. Charles and I came back, as I said earlier. We also actually came back here for church for a while because my wife was a choir director, for about ten of those twenty years, we lived in St. Charles. We still came back here on the weekends to church or the Episcopal church. Couple of other things that I was thinking about when I came over and then the way the town itself has looked differently than what it did when I came. When I first came in '66 and you drive on Lincoln Highway and as you approach DeKalb, the first thing you saw was this really ugly big red brick building on the east side of town. It was just such an eyesore. It took forever for people to tear it down. It was called the Nehring Factory and the big house directly south of the Ellwood mansion. It was also called the Nehring Building House. The Nehring Home or Nehring Mansion, maybe they called it that, they were connected somehow. I have no idea what they produced could have been screens, anything but barbed wire. I don't know what it was they produced, but it was such an eyesore. Also, most of the stores were on Lincoln Highway. Lee Hans is where the House [The House Cafe] is now what could be—they're going to open up again. I know the guy that owns it or what Fareed Haque did on it, but he was supposed to be selling it to Peppy Robinson. They had doctors’ headquarters upstairs from there, the two doctors Smith. You can still see their name engraved in the bricks above the first floor. A lot of restaurants, clothing stores and so forth. There was really nothing out of Sycamore Road. There were no shopping centers and all this big about. Everything was located right downtown. Cirrus had their store downtown. The banks were all downtown, there were sort of spread out into Sycamore until now it's all sort of filled in but when I first came, Sycamore was like another town far away like Malta.
MCCORD: Before we conclude, is there anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't touched on yet?
BACH: Just, for instance, we didn't think that one time they would ever finish the stadium out here, because when I came only the west side had been built. They didn't have anything on the east side at all except bleachers. The dormitories, they had just been built before I came, Grant South and all of those skyscraper dormitories and there seems to be more and more building all the time which is all to the good. The one thing that I do feel a loss for is the lagoon area because they used to be all undisturbed wilderness out there and then they started using some of the land to build the science building there I think just south of—was it Davis. You know the buildings better than I would. What is that building there? That's where the chemistry department is. This is another thing that happened I think as a direct result of Vietnam and the changes in society here is we literally had students chaining themselves to the bulldozers that were trying to knock down all these trees and as a way of placating them, the administration said, "Look, you let us tear these trees down and build these two or three buildings by the lagoon and then we'll let you plant trees on the Northside of campus." They did follow through with that. The only problem was the students ended up planting those trees in the spring, which was the worst time to plant, the fall is really the best time to plant. A lot of those trees died but I remember a french horn student of mine, Sally Wagoner was her name. My God, that kind of Sally Wagoner and she was just a cute little girl. She actually chained herself to one of those bulldozers. She was so politically active as a lot of people were at that point and not just about the war, but just generally, things like that. At college, it became important. I remember the first time I heard the word, we had a guest composer here in '67 and I was driving him back to the airport in a blinding snowstorm and he started talking about ecology and I never even heard the word before. I thought, "What's he talking about?" I got him to the airport. Thank God the plane had been grounded so we weren't late. [laughter] I came in about a half-hour too late because it was snowing so badly. Thank God the plane was grounded, he got on but he was talking about ecology and just people started talking about, "What's in the food that you're eating?" All this started in the seventies, kind of odd. That's just one thought I had. I feel like this has been a total waste of your time.
MCCORD: No, not at all.
BACH: [laughter] In fact, I started getting all wound up about this and my wife would say, "Why don't you put all these things in a book?" I said, "Yes, so you wouldn't have to listen to them or read the book.", [laughter] I actually am writing. I spent too much time by myself, so two or three days a week I'll drive over to Starbucks on Sycamore road and with my laptop and type up all these things. I'm trying to get them out of my brain because there's just—ss you get older, a neurologist explained this to me, he said that, "Think of your brain like an onion and it starts shedding more and more layers, it gets down to your earliest memories as you get old." Thank God, haven't forgotten, for instance, this appointment today, but I do forget things like, where do I put my car keys, where are my glasses or am I wearing the right pair of glasses? Some of these really early memories, for instance, just one more thing. Last year my older daughter who lives in Downers Grove and has a very successful decorating a business did well enough last year she took her family to England and she had her picture taken in front of the house that we had when we were there for the whole summer of '74, which was only five years old. Now she's just turned fifty. She was five years old and just seeing that picture of her in front of that building and remembering the way she looked when she was here instead of here and she's like five, seven or something brought back that whole summer. I had two memories. One of them was my wife went to a two-week singers convention because she was a singer. I was with Dawn by myself. I was her only parent for two weeks. Now I look back and I think, "My God, what a responsibility. Suppose I got hit by a double Decker bus. I didn't have any identification for her or anything.", I thought, but why am I kicking myself about that now? The one thing I did remember was that every night about eight o'clock or 8:30, she laid down in this little anti room off of the living room and I'd pat her to sleep, pat her stomach. That was also during the two weeks that Nixon was going to resign any moment. And all I could think of when I was patting Dawn to sleep was, "I wish this kid would get to sleep because I want to find out if Nixon's resigned yet." Because it seemed like it was like nine o'clock there, was two o'clock in the United States and I thought we talked about seizing the moment, I don't know if you have a family or kids but if you do and this is like pontificating but you want to try to grab hold of that as long as you can because they grew up so fast. To see my fifty-year-old daughter standing there in front of a building where she had been there only when she was five years old, and thinking of the fact that, "How can I let Nixon that son of a bitch take over memories that should have been reserved for my daughter." That's all because it triggers these early memories. That's it. [laughter]
MCCORD: Thank you very much for sharing this.
BACH: You're welcome. End of Interview
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