AAAL Prize

I am delighted to announce that I am one of the recipients of the 2013 Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters! I am particularly happy to join such wonderful company—not only of the other current honorees, but of all the past recipients as well (click on the title of any award to see its list of winners).

Back in 1995, I was lucky enough to receive the Charles Ives Scholarship from the AAAL. As a student of Ned Rorem at Curtis, it was sort of understood that, at some point in your studies (if you weren’t a complete slacker), you would likely get a Charles Ives Scholarship, which was then, and remains today, a cash award of $7,500. As then, and I suspect as it has always been, a letter arrives from the AAAL advising you that you’ve been mysteriously nominated to apply for a prize. So you bundle up two scores and a CD (or in those days, a super-awesome cassette tape), throw in your resumé and a work-list, mail it off to the Upper West Side address, and hope for the best. Back then, I submitted my first-ever orchestral piece (composed when I was 18) called Four Psalms, along with a duo for flute and oboe—my first essay for Rorem. Both scores are now lying in a steamer trunk deep in a closet so overflowing with yesteryear’s things that I’m not sure I could find them if I tried. It was the first award I ever won.

When word finally arrives by mail, you’re told that you’ll receive your award at the annual Ceremonial in May. In 1995 (as a tender 20 year old), I asked my mom to fly out to accompany me. That she did, coming to Philly first, then taking Amtrak with me up the lovely NE Corridor to New York’s Penn Station. Back in those days, the Academy’s home in the West 150s was not such a hot neighborhood. So when you surfaced above ground on Broadway, you would beat your way west as quickly as possible to the Academy’s beautiful Beaux-Arts home off 155th Street. The ceremony is preceded by a reception, then followed by lunch. I’ll never forget the first person I met in the coatroom who shook my hand and introduced himself, “John Kenneth Galbraith. A pleasure to meet you!” His handshake was all wrist, no forearm, and I’ll remember it forever. Ned then took me by the hand, leaving my mom to make small talk with the girlfriends of the other winners, and lead me around, introducing me to luminaries, known and unknown (to me). “Daniel, meet Stephen Sondheim. . . This is Edward Albee. . .” As a photographer edged up to snap a pic of Ned and Sondheim (with me looking on), Ned uttered one of his classic lines, “Send me a copy of the picture. I’ll put it in my next book.”

The ceremony itself was mostly a blur. The Academy assembled onstage, along with the winners of the big prizes, while the “kids” had to sit in the front row of the house. There were speeches and plenty of applause, but the mood seemed mostly to be of anticipation for lunch. The meal was good, in that comforting institutional way, but I have no recollection of what we consumed. Mostly, one spends the meal in awe of his dining companions. At my table: Ned and Jim Holmes, Allen Ginsberg and his companion (a boy no older than I), composer Louise Talma, countertenor Russell Oberlin, and my mom. Jim, Russell Oberlin, and my mom bonded over their Mid-west roots. I mostly spent my time trying to process that I was at a table with Ginsberg. It all felt like someone had made a huge mistake, like we’d snuck in and talked our way to the table.

When lunch was finished, we collected our coats and made our way back to Penn Station via the 1 Train, then on to 30th Street Station in Philly (still my favorite train station in all the world). A short cab ride, at which my mom marveled as I deftly guided the driver in a shortcut around Rittenhouse Square, brought us back to the apartment my parents subsidized on the corner of 18th and Walnut. And the day, as all days do, quickly receded into memory.

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