In the third installment of the “One-on-one with a Professor” series, I chose to get up close and personal with Professor Page, lecturer of music and the director of Tufts Symphony Orchestra (TSO). As a member of TSO this semester, it’s not difficult to be charmed by Professor Page’s incredibly sense of enthusiasm during rehearsals. I decided to take this opportunity to get to know the man behind the conducting batons.
Jade Chan: When did you fall in love with music?
John Page: Music was always somewhere in my life. I grew up in a family that all played instruments and, being Irish, sang a lot. My Dad also had a huge vinyl collection of classical music that I delved into during my teens and of course, like most kids at the time, I was blown away by the film scores of John Williams whose brilliance as a composer and mastery of the orchestra are still breathtaking. Then, somewhere in my mid teens I discovered Mahler’s symphonies (and realized just where John Williams and others drew so much inspiration) and was hooked … much to my parents consternation.
JC: Which instruments do you play? For how long? If you had to choose one, what would your favorite be?
JP: I started as a boy chorister (in my illustrious singing “career” I’ve sung Mozart’s Ave Verum in all 4 parts) and then picked up my main instrument, French Horn at age 8 or 9. Along the way I learned piano (mostly self taught trying to play through musical scores) and organ and dabbled with trumpet, flugelhorn, cello and viola (I married a viola player) and I tried my sister’s clarinet a few times when I was a kid. I also played traditional music and traveled around Ireland as a student joining in music sessions with my bodhran with varying degrees of success… traditional Irish musicians are very wary of new bodhran players. I suppose my first love was horn (again, that’s probably John Williams’ fault) and it’s still is very close to my heart, but I can’t emphasize enough the human need to communicate through singing. I sing all the time in rehearsals, much to the annoyance or entertainment of orchestras, but sometimes it’s the only way to get across a musical thought – music continues where words end.
JC: Who is your favorite composer?
JP: This is always the most difficult question to answer because there are so many widely differing voices and ideas, but the composers who speak most directly to me right now are JS Bach, Beethoven, and Prokofiev. I’m sure if you ask me again next week that will have changed, although I think Bach is pretty constant.
JC: What is your favorite era, in regards to music?
JP: I’m a romantic at heart, so the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century is probably where I’m most at home: Brahms, Mahler, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Ravel, etc.
JC: Is there any type or style or era of music you absolutely do not understand/am not a big fan of?
JP: I’m naturally a curious person and am always looking to find a new sound or idea in music, so I don’t tend to think of eras or styles in that way. I’m trying to listen to the composer’s voice and the sounds and structures that they create. That said, I do believe that music has to be meaningful and that it needs to convey something to a listener. Music is a way of saying we’re not alone and for me, the most successful composers explore the universality of our experiences and emotions. So, to try to answer the question, I have trouble with the way some composers in the mid-20th century adopted an extreme and experimental approach to creating music. Experimentation is undoubtedly necessary – a little revolution in the arts from time to time is healthy for all of us – but as an interpreter, which is essentially my job, I sometimes find I have no purpose and that the composer doesn’t seem concerned with communication. That, for me, is alienating and although I appreciate the experiment it feels unfinished, lacking in a larger purpose – which, if you asked the composer may indeed be the point.
JC: What is your greatest pet peeve during rehearsals?
JP: Apathy! Which is thankfully very rare in TSO. Actually, something I never understand is why people continue to play in rehearsal after we stop. It happens in most orchestras and makes no sense to me. Perhaps it’s not at the level of a pet peeve but…
JC: Do you have any obsessions? Do you collect anything? What’s the strangest one?
Well, it’s not strictly my obsession, but I’ve been drawn deeply into the insane world of LEGO by my 9 year old. He’s totally obsessed with many of the different LEGO worlds – a far cry from my childhood experience of sticking bricks together in a seemingly random expression of imagination. We built the LEGO Death Star a few years ago (I use “we” in the broadest sense). I think after that I could have enrolled in a civil engineering course and strolled through it!
JC: Of every place you’ve been in the world, where is your favorite?
JP: Again, tough question. I love the beaches of north Donegal: miles and miles of wild, windswept golden sands where I spent so many childhood summers. Another place that grabbed me which is very different was Florence. It’s not the prettiest or most visually impressive Italian city, but there’s something so vibrant and historically connected about life there. Sitting in the Boboli gardens looking out over the city is one of those memories I find myself returning to over and again.
JC: What do you do in your free time?
JP: Free time is rare with young kids but when I can I try to get outdoors and collect my thoughts by cycling, walking, or spoiling a good walk by golfing (badly!).
JC: If you had to give one piece of advice to the students reading this, pertaining to music or not, what would it be?
JP: Yo Yo Ma was once asked why he was so positive all the time. He replied that in college he figured out it took the same amount of energy to be happy as unhappy, so he chose happy. That may seem simplistic, but being in a state of happiness was a form of discipline for him. So, I’d add: Make choices and have conversations that connect to your passion. Take your time! Explore ideas and places and engage with things that are outside of your comfort zone. Try to stay open to what makes you excited about life and enjoy the small things, the rest tends to take care of itself.
If you’d like to meet Professor Page, or hear the Tufts Symphony Orchestra perform, come to Distler Hall in Granoff this weekend at 3:00PM for their next concert.