Tui St. George Tucker
|Born||25 November 1924|
Fullerton, California, U.S.
|Died||21 April 2004 (aged 79)|
near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, U.S.
|Alma mater||Occidental College (1941-44)|
|Partner||Vera Lachmann (1947-85)|
Tui St. George Tucker[n 1] (born Lorraine St. George Tucker; November 25, 1924 – April 21, 2004) was an American modernist composer, conductor, recorder virtuoso and creator of unique musical instruments. Her compositions often feature microtonality and are strongly influenced by jazz, Buddhism, the music of Medieval Europe, and more. She would develop special recorders with extra holes, in addition to unique fingerings for modern recorders to allow for the playing of quarter tones, typically in 24-tone equal temperament.
Her avant-garde disposition and unique compositional language made her a staple in the 1940s New York scene, being encouraged by musicians such as John Cage and Larry Polansky. After relocating to North Carolina in 1947, however, she fell into obscurity – but continued to write a large number of works for various ensembles. The exact size of her ouevre is debated, but is believed to be around a hundred works in length, a few being unfinished.
Tucker was born in Fullerton, California, the daughter of an English father and a mother from New Zealand. Her family often referred to her as "Tui"; named for the eponymous bird native to New Zealand, where her mother was born. She attended Eagle Rock High School in northeast Los Angeles, California, graduating in 1941. She then attended Occidental College in Los Angeles from 1941 to 1944.
Tucker relocated to central New York City in 1946, working as a composer, conductor, and recorder player, and spending most of her professional life in Greenwich Village. She had become a member of a circle of avant-garde composers living in the city, including John Cage, Lou Harrison, Virgil Thomson, and others. Her Indian Summer: Three Microtonal Antiphons on Psalm Texts written during this era, for two baritones and chamber ensemble, was among the first of her pieces to explore the use of quarter tones. Tucker met the German-American poet and scholar Vera Lachmann (1904-1985) in 1946, who she would maintain a lifelong relationship with.
From 1947 onward, she spent her summers at Camp Catawba, located near the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Boone side of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Lachmann founded the camp two years prior, and Tucker would serve as the camp's music director at Lachmann's behest. Under her guidance, the young campers would perform music ranging from medieval plainsong and organum to works by contemporary American composers. Pianist Grete Sultan also worked there during several summers.
Many of her best known compositions date from this era include the Peyote Sonata (1956), which experiments with polyrhythms and experimental subdivisions, including a phrase in 15:16; a chamber piece dedicated to Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, and the cantata Drum Taps (1973) in eight movements, set to a libretto by Walt Whitman.
In 1985, Tui inherited the camp grounds of Catawba from Lachmann after she died the same year. In accordance with Lachmann's will, Tucker sold the grounds to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, while retaining a life estate and maintaining a residence on the grounds from 1985 until her death in 2004, continuing to conduct and compose for local instrumental ensembles.
Her works have been performed by people and ensembles including the Kohon Quartet, pianists Grete Sultan and Loretta Goldberg, and recorder player Pete Rose. Her Little Pieces for Quartertone Piano, written in the style of microtonal contemporary Ivan Wyschnegradsky, is now considered part of the instrument's repertoire.