Terry Riley: Letter to S. Ryan

Terry Riley
Letter to Suzanne Ryan

August 12, 2011
Suzanne Ryan
Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Dear Suzanne Ryan,
Please let me say first of all that I am very pleased that a comprehensive biography is planned to cover the life and work of La Monte Young.
I read with great anticipation a 2009 draft of Mr. Grimshaw’s writings as I am one of the oldest friends and colleagues of Mr. Young and have worked with both him and his life partner, the light artist Marian Zazeela, for many decades.  My association with La Monte Young goes back to the late 1950’s when we were both graduate students in the music composition department at UC Berkeley.  We have remained in very close contact since those days and have shared a lifetime of profound music experiences and creative work together.
During our time at the University of California in Berkeley we performed often together and were music directors for the noted dancer, Anna Halprin.  We were both disciples of the great North Indian vocalist, Pandit Pran Nath, and studied with him continually over a period of 26 years.  I joined Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music in 1965 and performed often with the group.  These were extremely formative experiences in my own development. For me, La Monte is colleague, mentor and cherished friend.
I have always felt that Mr. Young’s contributions over the last 55 years have been among the most significant and quite possibly embody the most radical and influential concepts in contemporary music. I am convinced that when his role is understood, future generations will look back and acknowledge that La Monte Young was that important “fork in the road” where a profound and lasting change took place in the world’s music.
For this reason, it is important to look at his life and work in a balanced way. I feel that Mr. Grimshaw fails to recognize some of the very important associations and key elements contributing to La Monte Young’s evolution. I was quite stunned to find how little mention was made of the 26-year long relationship that La Monte had with his Guru, Pandit Pran Nath.  This could have easily occupied one half of the volume alone.  Since Jeremy had very privileged access to La Monte’s archive there is no reason for this omission.  It seems he simply turned his back on these epic chapters of their long and intimate association.  This greatly deprives any reader of this book knowledge of the great importance a central character like Pandit Pran Nath played in Young’s life and the great stories that were there to be told.  The extended and central role my life and work have played in this long association with Young were also barely mentioned.  It would be like writing a book on Debussy and not mentioning Ravel!
La Monte has tried to help Jeremy Grimshaw correct errors and omissions in the work before publication. He has reached out to Jeremy on repeated occasions as have some of Young’s associates.  I was asked by La Monte to write a foreword to the work but after reading it, I only partially recognized the La Monte Young that I know.
With great respect I ask that you very seriously consider the issues I have raised here before going ahead with the scheduled publication date.
Sincerely yours,
Terry Riley
PO box 955
North San Juan
CA 95960


Copyright © Terry Riley 2011 PDF version