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from correspondence, winter 2011, between Hazel Terry (as part of her
dissertation that included Russell Peck - University of Nottingham,
U.K.) and Cameron Gordon Peck (Russell Peck's widow).
Questions & Answers:
HAZEL: I am hoping to offer a geographical dimension to my discussions.
Therefore I was wondering why you decided to relocate from the midwest
to North Carolina? Was it to do with Peck's compositional career or
was it simply a personal decision? Did Peck feel being out of the main
cultural centres, such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, affected
his music and his career? Did he like being outside of the mainstream
as it were?
had been at his first teaching position at Northern Illinois University
(in Dekalb, Illinois) for a year-and-a-half when he was offered the
opportunity to teach at Eastman School of Music for a semester to cover
for a professor who was taking a sabbatical. He decided to accept the
offer and we moved to Rochester, New York for that semester.
At the end of that
time we had the choice of going back to Northern Illinois University,
or doing something else. Russell looked around and found a position
opening at the North Carolina School of the Arts (in Winston-Salem,
NC). They were looking for a composer to assist with a redesign of their
curriculum. He was offered the position. It sounded interesting to us,
so we moved to Winston-Salem.
Russell was on the
faculty there for two years. In 1978 Russell embarked on a personal
mission that would shape the rest of his life, and also be the basic
reason for his death. I think you already have some information about
this, but let me know if you need more or would like a greater understanding.
Meanwhile I had
begun putting together a career for myself. I played French Horn in
two orchestras, private teaching, and free-lance work. So when Russell
left the School of the Arts, we decided to stay in the area for the
work I had. (That is when we moved to the neighboring city of Greensboro.)
The state of North
Carolina was terrific to Russell. Every orchestra in the state played
his music, and many of them played his music in many different seasons.
Our hometown orchestra, the Greensboro Symphony, commissioned one of
his most well-known pieces, the percussion concerto "The Glory
and the Grandeur." And the relationships he developed with the
conductors were a wonderful part of his life. It's a good place to live,
and it became our home.
Over the years we
often questioned ourselves as to whether we should move to a major city
and become involved in the orchestra and arts world there. We knew it
would make a difference in Russell's career. The question was whether
it was a difference we wanted.
He (and I) always
concluded that he really liked the professional life experiences he
was already having. Orchestras around the country often brought him
to performances to speak with audiences. He also performed often as
narrator of his pieces for student and young audiences. He thrived on
the fact that conductors and audiences of all ages genuinely loved his
For Russell, that
was what being a professional composer was all about. And it brought
him great satisfaction. He felt that if he got himself connected in
the main cultural cities he could have some performances with the major
level orchestras. But he loved having many performances with many orchestras
all over the country to genuinely enthusiastic audiences.
And I think to understand
this one needs to remember the time-frame in which I'm speaking. In
the mid-1980's and well through the 1990's the then current language
of contemporary American orchestra music was quite different than Russell's
musical language. So actually it was questionable, if he continued writing
in the musical language for which he had become known, as to whether
he could truly have gotten himself into the major orchestra world. And
that topic remains somewhat true today.
Life sometimes presents
choices. Those are some of the choices we made, and we never regretted
any of them.
HAZEL: What were the reasons for setting up Pecktackular Music? Was
there a conscious decision not to get his music published by other means?
in the early years of Russell's career, from his University days through
the mid-1970's, his music was published by several different companies.
It was in 1973, I believe, that Pecktackular Music was established at
ASCAP, the performing rights organization. [CORRECTION: Russell became
a composer-member of ASCAP in 1971, and Pecktackular Music became a
publisher-member of ASCAP in 1975.] Russell was handling his orchestra
music himself, and so he was represented at ASCAP as both writer and
career went on somewhat of a hiatus for a few years starting in 1978.
In 1983 his orchestra career began re-emerging and I was handling the
publishing-side of his music. I also had my professional performing
career and was personnel manager with an orchestra. In 1987 a decision
had to be made as to how to handle Russell's growing career and growing
number of orchestra performances. I couldn't continue doing everything
I had been doing.
various alternatives, together we decided I would leave my orchestra
staff position and focus my attention on Pecktackular Music. As much
as I enjoyed my management work with the orchestra, it was a decision
I have never regretted. I thoroughly enjoy publishing the music of Russell
Peck and enjoy working with conductors, librarians, music stores, and
HAZEL: What were Peck's popular music or jazz influences? I read on
the Albany Records website that he was very inspired by Motown. Do you
know of any specific artists or songs that were important to him?
loved most all of the Motown artists and their songs. I particularly
remember him mentioning The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes,
David Ruffin, and song-writer Smokey Robinson and all his songs.
Other pop-type music
he liked was the group Earth Wind and Fire in the 1970's; also Toots
& the Maytals and their Raggae music.
Russell also loved
the sound of traditional American folksongs and Gospel music. I remember
him being brought to sweet tears one time at a summer outdoor theatre
in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, where a young vocal quartet
sang a gorgeous a cappella rendition of the famous American folksong
"Oh Shenandoah". The rich four-part harmonies, the honesty
and nostalgia expressed in the lyrics.
And Russell loved
the energy and rich sound and harmony of many of the traditional American
Music like that
touched him deeply.
HAZEL: Do you know how much Britten's 'A Young Person's Guide to the
Orchestra' had on 'The Thrill of the Orchestra'?
admired that piece. He wanted to find his own way of exciting and inspiring
young people with the sounds of classical music. Russell wanted to create
a piece that would connect with the kids and take them on a journey
of learning and fun, and give them an opportunity to feel, even for
just a few moments, the powerful, uplifting and inspiring effect that
music can have on us.
A quote from Russell
himself about how music inspired him:
"The symphony makes you feel ten feet tall and gives you a sense
of grandeur in what's possible with being a human being. It's like looking
at earth from outer space."
Thank you for your
work on this, Hazel. I miss Russell more than works can say, but I am
greatly enjoying the memories.
Contact me any time.