Jan DeGaetani Juilliard Student 1951-1955


Some more work on the Juilliard years:

If you encounter a great teacher once in your lifetime, you are one of the blessed. I can count many, many, among them Henry Brant, Norman Lloyd, and from my earliest years, Cleo Ressler and Florence Boyer.*

*The italicized text is from Jan’s writing begun in 1988. She was working on a book about singing and pedagogy during her spring sabbatical to London. She never finished it. I found these pages, handwritten on 81/2 11 lined notebook paper in that attic.


Choral Sight Singing with Norman Lloyd for one. (Norman Lloyd [they would be friends a very long time] who was a very big part of my early Juilliard years.  Lloyd who would have snatched her up for his Saturday morning madrigals group soon after meeting her. Someone said, “He could sniff talent a mile away.” Six singers—Lynn Clarke, Bud Burrows, Barbara Crouch, Alan Baker, Ray DeVo, and Jan together for four years; they’d become the Riverside Chamber Singers, perhaps her first professional ensemble, singing well into the early 60’s


Norman Lloyd

I learned the intricacies of madrigal writing, the incredible beauty of Dufay, Lassus, Monteverdi, Gesualdo, and great modern, too, like Hindemith and Poulenc. This group repeatedly talked about such things as tuning, use of vibrato, and attack, dynamics, etc. Now these are all things you would certainly expect any musician to be dealing with as a matter of course, but the sad truth is that much of vocal teaching doesn’t address them at all. The repertoire is exclusively classics and romantic (occasionally a little Baroque). The emphasis is on sound, its beauty and quantity. The skills of craftsman and artist are separated.


Each Saturday morning, I climbed the grand winding staircase at the front of the building to the second floor, pushed open the heavy brown door to a small classroom filled with table top desks, a piano, a lanky middle-aged man whose face melts into blur now who was—memory tells me—dis-passionate and brutish. I felt stupid in his presence. Or blank. For an hour, I’d sit in this austere room with high ceilings, peeling paint, next to one other student, a boy, who seemed to get everything I did not. This was theory class. I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and I was totally in the dark. The pad of staff paper damp under my clenched and writing fist, my pencil marks deep and crude, cave man. I tried to follow. Time signature. Key. Bass line response to treble. Theoretically, I knew they must speak to each other, with each other. I couldn’t hear a thing.

You must hear the pitch in your mind, first.

He played lines we were to notate. My legs stuck to the chair in the early fall, my armpits, wet. He said counterpoint, chord, mode. He handed us pages of music. I really remember only one day: test day, sitting in the hard wood table top chair, pencil in my right hand, sweat, staring down at the paper, the light purplish-blue mimeographed staff lines, the commands underneath: notate…

Greek. Greek. Greek. I stare and nothing happens. No connections. No synapses going off. My mind a total wipeout. The agony of not knowing, not comprehending, of the grade at the end of all this. I would fail. This is torture. I am not here. Not here at all, this isn’t me in this straight back chair, how can one be so foreign to one’s own self? Imposter. Cannot act or fool myself out of this one.  Not this.


At the start of his career, Norman Lloyd played piano for silent movies. He dubbed himself an “artistic gadfly.”  He believed teachers must “try to make the study of music and dance deeply felt experiences.”  He admonished critics of his pedagogy to look for purpose, not flash. What do you have to say? And why have you come to say it?

He was connected to dance. On the faculty of Bennington school of dance (He is probably Jan’s initial connection to Bennington where she first taught voice, where she encountered Jane Bryden!), and besides composing for dance, widely, he would have also instilled in Jan a commitment to the physical—the body—the body in response to music. The music’s dependency on body.

Music is language. Music as language. He argues

“Learning a language means learning the meaning of a sound, not just the production of the sound.”

Gadfly, Definition: an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.

He is one of the architects of a new theory pedagogy begun at Juilliard in 1947, Literature and Materials of Music. And Janice Ruetz falls right into the lap and root of this curriculum.

He’s using this to ask if students ever get the chance to know the new language of the classical music they study. It’s the difference between learning and playing notes and playing the music contextually. It’s about musicality. It seems he argued that it was through the act of improvisation, repetition of riffs, learning the clichés and repeating them to freedom that would help students know the context, become musical beyond good sound proficiency.

What did play-ing to know [freewriting, journaling, writing in the margins] look like initially at Juilliard to Janice Ruetz?  Lloyd’s classes, his Madrigals group. An introduction.

The gift? She learns “to trust music of all periods with respect, to keep her mind open and alert to how her own talents might best be used.”


When I am 27, newly married, I will spend a lot of time with Maria Lambros, my roommate and dear friend from Eastman who lives outside Boston. I am less than an hour’s drive away living in Southern New Hampshire.

We attend a weekend workshop with a woman famed in self-realization techniques to free the body, to free the holds keeping us from moving forward. I wish I could remember her name.

On the second morning, we gather in the large circle and this woman’s first question is, “Who had a dream last night?” My hand flies in the air, and she can’t not pick me.

I go to the center of the circle and tell her my dream about Jan and bunnies. It is a dream about regret and shame and longing. But what the facilitator hears is this: I was in a room—an apartment living room? A house? with Jan. She was fully there, no eerie floating head, not young but the age I knew her as; she was kind and smiling and talking to me. [She’d died that year.] We were surrounded by bunnies. Shapes, colors, sizes, length of fur. Hair. She may have held one, petting it. They hopped and lounged, were only happy in their dispositions, and she was standing there saying, “Play. You have to play with them.”


Dimension Four

“Henry Brant was a [crazy crazy man ] whose classes made me deal with improvisation and orchestration.”

Composer and teacher at Juilliard.

A photograph from the 50’s or 60’s: Intense look: dark hair, thick, dark brows, round spectacles.

“Experimented with living stereophonic music.” Would set players and singers all over the concert hall.

Composed with taped music.

Taubman review in the New York Times, 1960. A concert of Brant, Boulez, and Luening conducted by Bernstein: “Different, but no more terrifying than a paper tiger.”

Joined faculty in 1947. [Birth year of L&M; where Jan most likely meets him.]

Inspired by Charles Ives. The multiple settings for ensembles.

In the early 1950’s, he began to find “that as his music became more texturally complex, the details of the individual lines within a work became more difficult to hear,” says Kozinn in the New York Times.

Brant used space as a compositional element calling it the fourth dimension: pitch, timbre, duration, space.

Black and White from 1951: at a table, score on stand to his side. Eye-level. Young and bent over with intensity. Intent. Not unfriendly or approachable. Serious. Dark under his eyes. Thick hair almost standing up straight, almost mad scientist. Spectacles lay on papers before him.

He died at 94.

Won the Pulitzer prize in 2002 for Ice Field. Inspired by his crossing the Atlantic by ship at age 12 in 1926. He said, they were a “field of ice bergs.”

“Collage artist. Works with large-scale forces, everything dependent on wide open spaces from which comes clarity,” says Neely Bruce for the Associated Press in 2008.  [Because then he can hear.]

In 1953, when Janice Ruetz is in her second year at Juilliard, Brant’s first  spatial piece Antiphony 1 premieres at Carnegie Hall. His five orchestral groups placed throughout.

[I wonder if Jan saw this.]


Henry Brant

About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
This entry was posted in Excerpt from Book, Fun Research Tidbit, Images, Reflecting on Jan, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jan DeGaetani Juilliard Student 1951-1955

  1. Mary Baron says:

    Great post, Dawn!


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