Joan Tower: The Comprehensive Bio-Bibliography

By Dougan, Kirstin | Notes, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Joan Tower: The Comprehensive Bio-Bibliography


Dougan, Kirstin, Notes


Joan Tower: The Comprehensive Bio-Bibliography. By Ellen. K. Grolman. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007. [vii, 221 p. ISBN-10: 0810856530; ISBN-13: 9780810856530. $60.] Bibliographic references, index, discography, illustrations.

Composer Joan Tower's bold and colorful personality is readily apparent in her music. Her life has been anything but dull, from an upbringing in South America to a long career as a performer, which overlapped with an equally impressive career as a composer (one that isn't over yet!). Hallmarks of her work include the prominent role of rhythm (p. 36) and the influence of South American cultures (p. 38). Tower often writes for a specific performer, with his or her abilities and style in mind (p. 10). Her history as a performer with the Da Capo Chamber Players gives her the enviable opportunity to see the musical process from both sides-creation and performance (p. 10). Ever conscious of the role of women in music and more specifically the role of women composers, Tower has been an advocate for her female colleagues throughout her career.

In Joan Tower: The Comprehensive Bio-Bibliography, Ellen K. Grolman draws from almost 600 sources concerning Tower, including interviews previously conducted with Tower by six separate interviewers and a seventh one Grolman conducted herself. Grolman also utilizes solicited reflections by Tower's peers to illustrate her career and body of work, at the same time painting a picture of her practical, down-to-earth nature. This ability to obtain the direct input of a composer's contemporaries is a wonderful addition to scholarship, and a reason why more research should be done on living composers and performers. Too often scholars must piece together the reception of a figure by his or her contemporaries from historical correspondence and reviews, whereas the approach used by Grolman is much more direct.

Given the prominence Tower has enjoyed in the last two decades, I may not be the only one surprised that no full-length monograph had yet been published. There have been several doctoral dissertations, but otherwise no books solely about Tower. Grolman uses Tower's own words to explain the disparity of attention given women composers-or AWAGs (American Women Above Ground) as Tower calls them, in contrast to DWEMs (Dead White European Males, p. 43), at least on the concert stage. Because she is still actively composing, at almost 70 years of age, one hopes that once Tower's oeuvre is complete, a full-length bibliography or guide to research will be written.

This bio-bibliography includes five sections: biography, Tower's musical voice, works and performances, discography, and peer reflections. The appendix consists of an alphabetical list of published compositions. The bibliography contains articles, scores, books, and interviews in one section, and dissertations and theses in another. It might have been more readable if the scores were in their own section, which would have then served the same function as the existing appendix. Because the peer reflections section is narrative, the book would have flowed better had this section been situated after the second chapter, so that all of the narrative sections were grouped together. It also would have been more useful to have had a separate list of awards and commissions, rather than only including them in the works list.

The biography section reaches back three hundred years before Joan Tower was born, to the early days of the Tower family-1637 to be exact! It traverses from the seventeenth century through Tower's childhood and education, her early career, and on to her current events. The coverage is balanced across the time span, and the information provided serves to exemplify Tower's personal and musical development. Although the constraints of the biobibliography format likely prevented it, more extensive information about Tower's formative musical training, education, and early career would have been valuable, especially in light of the book's later discussion concerning the acceptance of women composers. …

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