Harry Freedman Interview

The following interview with Canadian composer Harry Freedman (1922-2005) appeared in the September 1, 1972 issue of the Vancouver Province. A couple of years later when I met Freedman again, he complimented me on this article, saying it was one of the best he ever had printed about him.

"Before I quit the Toronto Symphony, I was making quite a bit of money. Between writing and playing English horn in the orchestra, I was making somewhere around twenty-five to thirty thousand a year.

"Now I'm in a position where I simply have to write music, because I've decided that's what I'm going to do. Well, I'm doing it, but my income is less than half of what I was making when I was in the symphony.

"The question really is: how much money do you need? I don't need any more than that. Twelve, thirteen thousand a year is quite nice. I can live on that quite comfortably."

Harry Freedman relaxed in an office at the August-long Courtenay Youth Music Camp, where he was composer-in-residence.

Age 50, the debonair and good-humored Freedman is one of the few Canadians to make a living almost exclusively from composing non-pop music. Broadcasting and "other activities related to being a composer" brings in additional income.

How can a Canadian composer make a living? In Freedman's case, from commissioned new works, like the ballets Five over Thirteen, The Shining People of Leonard Cohen, and Rose LaTulippe, and film scores like these he has written for the two Canadian features directed by Paul Almond, Isabel and Act of the Heart.

Freedman is upset by the commercialization that permeates the entire North American musical scene, especially in relation to film music.

"I don't want to sound bitter," he said, "even though I am -- not so much for myself but for other composers because there are so many composers who could write good film music.

"In Hollywood, the hacks are doing all the studio work. They do good sound arranging and orchestrating -- but, as composers, they've never written an original note in their lives and they never will. They are hacks, and there's no other word for it. And this is what's also happening in Canada.

"Most producers and directors are in the commercial field, so commercial music is what they know. They've seen what Hollywood does, and a Hollywood score is what they're looking for -- either a Hollywood score, or a popular song, which will sell the movie and will sell because of the movie.

"A pop song in a film has nothing to do with music, nothing in the way a film needs in the way of music -- it's purely a commercial thing. People making films aren't interested at all in music that will contribute something to the film as a serious art form.

"In England, Ken Russell, who did The Devils, got Peter Maxwell Davies to do the score for that film. That would be like getting John Cage or Lukas Foss to write the music for a score in Hollywood.

"The same thing happens in Japan. When they're doing a serious film, they get the top composers in the country to write -- Takemitsu and Mayuzumi, for example."

The recording industry also came in for a blast from Freedman. "North American record companies are interested in money. They don't feel any responsibility to music. So more and more North American orchestras, chamber groups and so on are going over to European record companies.

"We don't have a recording industry here in Canada. The CBC does a lot of recording, but isn't set up to promote. All the record stores are controlled by the record distributors, which are subsidiaries of the American parent companies. The record stores get albums that they know are going to sell and they're mostly American and mostly popular.

"It's ironic the uses we have for these media like radio, TV, films and records. Radio and TV alone are the greatest inventions man has ever known for the spreading of knowledge and information, and in North America, where making money is the great holy of holies, that's all these media are being used for, not for disseminating all the great things humanity has done and is doing, but for spreading the cheapest things to the lowest common denominator.

"It ends up as a situation not of giving the public what it wants but the public liking what it gets."