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Classical 101

'Gay Guerrilla,' And The Julius Eastman Studies

amazon.com book cover
The cover of 'Gay Guerrilla (Eastman Studies in Music)' by Renée Levine Packer (Editor), Mary Jane Leach (Editor)."

I had never heard of Julius Eastman (1940-1990) until I turned to last Sunday's profile of this enigmatic composer by Zachary Woolfe in the New York Times.

I've come to the minimalist school of composition recently, thirty years after its heyday. The relentless ostinatos, the repetition, the granitic movement were all too much for my younger self. When the down-towners were banging on their cans, I was bored. 

But in recent years I've been sinking into music by Glass and Reich and I've long had a soft spot for John Adams and Nixon and China

I was receptive to learning about another composer, who seems to have gotten on the minimalist bus before most people, but fell off, in many different ways, by the time of his death at the age of forty-nine.

Julius Eastman, born in Ithaca, N.Y., was black, gay, unapologetic, energetic and seems to have been a creative Force. Capital F.

Many of his scores are lost. Eastman scholarship today is the result of his music being championed by citric Kyle Gann, and due to a new collection of his writings, Gay Guerilla: Julius Eastman and His Music edited by Renee Levine Packer (Boydell and Brewer/University of Rochester Press)

Several of his works are available on Youtube. I was intrigued reading about a work for 19 cellos, inspired by Carl Dreyer's great film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.


Stay On It, Gay Guerilla and Evil N----r are a few of his titles. These works are written for four pianos or other out of the ordinary instrumental and vocal combinations. His use of titles is clearly provocative.

Eastman worked to place himself as a black, gay man in classical music in the 60s, 70s and 80s. In doing so he reinvented music, not himself.