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Excerpts 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?

CAMERON: Russell 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 music.

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?

CAMERON: Actually 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 publisher.

Russell's orchestra 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.

After pondering 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 musicians.


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?

CAMERON: Russell 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 Gospel songs.

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'?

CAMERON: Russell 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."

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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. Best wishes,

Cameron

 

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