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Letters I Never Mailed: Clues to a Life (Eastman Studies in Music) Hardcover – November 30, 2005

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews


Alec Wilder was one of the great composers of modern times. He wrote a suite for me with concert band. Nobody could play the last movement. When I asked him about all the difficult notes in my part, he said, 'That's what you would have played if you had improvised!' In this new edition, David Demsey has been responsible for allowing people to understand some of Alec's equally mysterious letters, helping readers to better know one of my favorite people. --Jazz Trumpeter Clark Terry This memoir is as odd, curmudgeonly, imaginative, funny, and charming as its author, who was one of the glorious eccentrics of American music. First published in 1975, five years before Wilder's death, it has now been annotated by David Demsey, who has managed to identify almost everyone addressed by Wilder. --Wholenote

(This) is an excellent book that may well rekindle a broader interest in the composer, a Rochester icon. . . . The letters in Letters I Never Mailed were, of course, a literary device. Wilder hated writing about himself and used supposed correspondence as a way to discuss his life obliquely. For that reason, Demsey's introductory biography is helpful since it clarifies details that Wilder often left deliberately vague. The new edition includes one other welcome addition, the photos of Wilder's dearest friend, Lou Ouzer, the famed Eastman photographer. --Democrat & Chronicle (John Pitcher)

In Letters I Never Mailed: Clues to a Life, Alec Wilder wanted to reveal himself, but not entirely. And so he left unidentified the individuals to whom many of the letters were written. The detective work of David Demsey gives us a much better understanding of the enigma that was Alec Wilder. ----Marian McPartland, renowned jazz pianist, recording artist, and host of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz (National Public Radio)

About the Author

David Demsey is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University.

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Product Details

  • Series: Eastman Studies in Music
  • Hardcover: 332 pages
  • Publisher: University of Rochester Press; Annotated edition edition (November 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580462081
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580462082
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,319,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Alec Wilder was a prolific composer in a variety of musical genres, from jazz and popular songs to formal or "classical" music spanning the greater period of the twentieth century. Hard to categorize, Wilder's music reflects his playful nature and flexibility. With song titles like "Neurotic Goldfish", and the admiration of musicians like Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Marian McPartland, Wilder has some unusual opinions and doesn't hesitate to share them. Taking the urge one has to tell people what one has always thought but didn't dare say, he turns to the art of the letter in order to let his readers snoop into his intimate thoughts and "secret" observations.

His memoir, "Letters I Never Mailed," is a sneaky and subtle pleasure to read -- a clever composition by a man who wrote music and words with equal parts lyricism and whimsy. Wilder presents sidelong glances into his somewhat mysterious personal life in the form of letters he never mailed to various people who touched his life. He tells-without-telling the reader about the importance of each of his ersatz confidants, cleverly revealing hints here and there about the scandalous tidbits that make a memoir fascinating without making it trashy or cliché. Wilder writes with startling frankness about his confused sexuality, about his frustrations with racism, and even his own insecurities as a composer. Letter after letter portrays with sensitivity and charm a portrait of an unusual man in a rapidly changing world.

Reading this book is like coming across a delightful stash of surprisingly honest and entertaining observations from a favorite uncle.
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