Our conversations for Pride Month continue with musician and composer Adrienne Torf. She and a few classmates co-founded the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual MBA Students Group, known today as Q@Haas.
Adrienne has been a piano player her entire life, but after getting her undergraduate degree in Political Science at Stanford, she saw an opportunity to help fellow self-employed musicians build their businesses. She just needed to acquire the business skills before she could share them with her community of self-employed creatives. Getting her MBA at Haas sparked a second set of interests, and she spent the next 30 years in the for-profit and nonprofit worlds while still recording, performing, and composing music.
Adrienne and host Sean Li discuss her recent retirement from nonprofit CFO work and full-time return to music and composing, what it was like forming an LGBTQ student group at Haas in the ‘90s, and the current threat facing LGBTQ rights.
*OneHaas Alumni Podcast is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.*
Her tough decision to either stay in school or go on tour
My father, ever the entrepreneur and, I think, really an insightful parent, cut me a deal. He said, “You finish school. You’ve only got a year to go, finish your undergrad, and I will pay your rent for a year after you graduate. So you can work as a musician without worrying about where you’re gonna sleep at night.”
What drew her to business school
I wanted to come back to the community of artists, of which I was a member, with wisdom, with knowledge, with resources. And over time, I have been able to do that, but not as directly as I had intended when I started at Haas.
The challenges her student group faced in the ‘90s
When we wanted to get the word out that we were having meetings, many of the other men who were gay and who wanted to be connected to this group insisted that we not put announcements about the meetings in their mailboxes, which anybody could poke into if they wanted to. So we had to fairly clandestinely post notices about our meeting times and places on bulletin boards where these guys would sneak by and get the information.
What she hopes people will do this Pride Month
Spend half an hour reading about all of the legislation in all of the states that is designed to silence the voices of queer and trans people that is designed to deprive everybody of books and films and curricula that keep us visible, and that are already making it impossible for trans people to access the medical care that they need in order to be physically healthy as who they are. Read that stuff, and I hope you will be compelled to do something about it.
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Adrienne Torf. Adrienne is a composer and pianist, and she is a recently retired nonprofit and for-profit CFO. Welcome to the podcast, Adrienne.
[00:24] Adrienne: Thank you, Sean. It’s a pleasure to be here.
[00:27] Sean: Adrienne, my first question, as always, is, tell us your origin story.
[00:32] Adrienne: It’s an especially interesting question to me, as I was adopted. And so, there were always big question marks around my origin, including my, you know, sort of, cellular level identity.
[00:46] Sean: Yeah.
[00:46] Adrienne: I was adopted at birth, however, by a family in Boston, a progressive or liberal politically family. My father was an entrepreneur, a successful entrepreneur. My mother was an art collector who amassed one of the most highly regarded collections of fine art-20th century prints in the country, if not in the world. I grew up with an older brother.
My family’s values were really around education and the arts and travel, and so my upbringing was full of all of those. I started playing piano at three and a half, not because my parents had visions of raising a prodigy, but because the lady down the street was a piano teacher and all the kids on our street took piano lessons. My mother used to bring me along for my brother’s piano lessons, and they recognized that I was inspired, you know, sort of, engaged in what was going on there. So, the teacher agreed to take me on at the relatively young age of three and a half. And that’s why I’m comfortable saying that I have been a piano player virtually all my life.
[01:52] Sean: Wow, I love that.
[01:54] Adrienne: So do I.
[01:57] Sean: I love hearing that because I played piano. I started playing piano when I was five. I think my parents were a little different in the sense that they had bought a piano before I was born. So, I think they intended me to play piano. But luckily, they were very liberal, in the sense that they, kind of, let me grow into piano. I also think they heavily influenced me by playing classical music every night before I went to bed.
And before we started this conversation, I had mentioned to you that, as a classically trained pianist, I felt very fortunate and unfortunate. The fortunate part was, you know, I loved piano. The unfortunate part was I felt like I was trained to just memorize and play other people’s music. And so, I never took theory seriously enough early on to, kind of, train that aspect of my music. But I still have time.
[02:56] Adrienne: You do. You do. And all you have… do you have a piano in your home?
[02:59] Sean: I do, yes.
[03:00] Adrienne: Well, there you go. It’s only a matter of time, Sean. But I’ll tell you, I was also trained classically. Very fortunately for me, Beatrice Segal, this piano teacher who lived down the street, taught me both how to play the piano and music theory. So, I actually learned to read and write music before I learned to read and write English.
[03:19] Sean: Wow.
[03:20] Adrienne: Maybe because of that or maybe despite that, I also came to understand that a certain, sort of, ethos in the classical music world wasn’t what made me happy. You know, that kind of mastering someone else’s music and then playing it competitively or playing it to impress or, you know, for the reward, that didn’t bring me joy, as they say.
What brought me joy was bringing music into my life with other people. So, I was the kid that got tapped to play for school assemblies and got tapped to play for theater productions. And when I was in college, my side job was accompanist to the Hampshire College Glee Club, that kind of stuff.
And through that, I also learned to play by ear, obviously a lot. I played with dance companies. All of that led to the career that I then had as a recording and touring musician with other people and the recording and release of two albums of my own compositions and the 19-year collaboration I had with the late poet and activist and professor at UC Berkeley, June Jordan.
So, my relationship to music is certainly informed by the rigor that we get from being trained classically. But I’m happy to say that it lived way beyond the parameters of what is conventionally possible within the world of classical pianist, you know, pianist life.
[04:54] Sean: You just made me realize, I think the reason I ended up really loving piano was I had two piano teachers growing up. And the second piano teacher, at the time, especially in Michigan, actually, now I think about it, he was rather unconventional. First off, he was gay. And I remember actually now, that some parents back then, they didn’t want to send their kids to him after they found out that he was gay, which is really shocking to think about now, actually.
But the one thing he taught me was to feel the music. And even though we were playing Chopin or whatnot, [step C 05:38], but he taught me how to feel the music. And I think, ultimately, that’s what made me fall in love with piano and enjoy playing it for other people, because then you could feel that other people were feeling the music.
[05:53] Adrienne: Yeah, exactly.
[05:54] Sean: You could play the same notes. Everybody is playing the same notes in classical music, but when you really dig in and try to interpret and understand what the composer was feeling at the time, I think there’s something magical about that.
[06:06] Adrienne: I agree. It’s a language. It’s meant for communication, and communication only happens if there are at least two people involved.
[06:14] Sean: Wow, that makes sense. So, our introduction included you as a CFO. So, how did you get from pianist, composer, going to initially to… where were you going before? Smith College, right?
[06:30] Adrienne: I did two years of undergraduate at Smith College in Massachusetts and the second two years at Stanford.
[06:37] Sean: What did you study at Smith, first of all?
[06:39] Adrienne: At Smith, I studied Latin American politics. Smith, for people who aren’t familiar with it, is a relatively small women’s college. And at the time that I was there, the political science faculty included people whose area of expertise was Latin American politics.
At the time, which was the ‘70s, there was so much dynamism among the political scenes in so many Latin American countries. It was exciting. Governments were being overthrown. There were military coup. There were, you know, land-based revolutions. It wasn’t unusual, Sean, to get a textbook for the class that had a little, sort of, errata slip blown into the cover that said, “While this book was being printed, everything changed,” right? And at the same time, my parents took me on an extended trip through South America. So, really, I got a visceral understanding of, at least, you know, as you can, as a visitor, as a tourist of what it meant to live in a country that was really in the midst of so much change and so much exciting change.
I dropped out of school for a bunch of reasons. Mostly, because when I came out to my parents, we parted ways for a while and I couldn’t just continue to pay the tuition. So, I got a bunch of jobs, including playing in an all-girls disco band, you know, and pieced together a living and continued to play in the band and do other things, until I watched the news one night and saw that it was 75 degrees in San Francisco, it was 15 below in Northampton. Stanford had not accepted me out of high school, but they’d sent a very nice rejection letter that said, “Please apply again as a transfer student.” So, you know, everything lined up for me. I was freezing. I wanted to be warm. Stanford’s a great school, so that’s where I finished my undergrad.
[08:30] Sean: Did you continue Latin American politics there?
[08:34] Adrienne: I didn’t, Sean, unfortunately, because, except for one class, but Smith did not have distribution requirements across the different disciplines. Stanford did. So, I spent the second two years of my undergraduate education fulfilling distribution requirements in science and language and stuff like that.
[08:51] Sean: I see.
[08:52] Adrienne: So, I got, sort of, an inverted education where rather than starting out generally and then focusing, I focused and then generalized.
[09:01] Sean: That’s so funny.
[09:02] Adrienne: When I graduated, just before, actually, the year before I graduated from Stanford, I heard that a singer named Holly Near, political folk singer, was looking for a piano player. I auditioned. She offered me the job. Very excitedly, called my parents to tell them, “Hey, you know, I’m going to go tour the world with this singer, this big-deal singer.”
And my father, ever the entrepreneur and I think really an insightful parent, cut me a deal. He said, “You finish school. You’ve only got a year to go. Finish your undergrad, and I will pay your rent for a year after you graduate. So, you can work as a musician without worrying about where you’re going to sleep at night.”
So, I took him up on his offer. Fortunately for me, Holly Near was still looking for a piano player a year later when I graduated. And that began what turned out to be an 11- or 12-year career, starting with touring and recording with her, and then with a bunch of other people. And through that meeting June Jordan, the great African-American poet and teacher and activist, with whom I got to live the last 19 years of her life, both as life partners and artistic collaborators.
It was while I was doing that, living that life as a musician, found that it became clear to me that those of us self-employed as creative people in the American economy were actually running micro businesses, making business decisions all the time, but without thinking through them or without understanding them as business decisions.
So, I got this idea that I was going to start a national co-op for self-employed artists through which we could get access to services that we were paying for anyway, in those days, booking agents, travel agents, graphic artists to design the cover art for our recordings and our posters and, you know, all that kind of stuff. Hit a critical mass so that we could all start to subscribe to health and disability insurance, which none of us had, and in exchange provide a certain, sort of, baseline income for the people who offered those services. And we would all be living in a much more financially secure environment and getting to pursue our creative businesses that way.
While I was at Haas, the economy tanked. And the musicians’ union, the American Federation of Musicians, started offering health insurance. So, that impetus was, kind of, pulled away from me. And, I realized that, when I heard that 40% of my classmates had not yet secured a job the spring of our graduation, I, kind of, caved in and I thought, wait a minute, I gave up a lot to get this MBA. I really want to apply it. And that then sent me into the world of corporate America.
[11:59] Sean: Well, before we go there, we have to take a step back. What made you go to business school as an artist?
[12:05] Adrienne: I wanted to learn how businesses flourished, and I wanted to apply that knowledge to the world of self-employed creative businesses.
[12:16] Sean: Got it. Okay.
[12:18] Adrienne: I wanted to come back to the community of artists, of which I was a member, with wisdom, with knowledge, with resources. And over time, I have been able to do that, but not as directly as I had intended when I started at Haas.
[12:32] Sean: One thing I wanted to touch upon was, you know, you had co-founded two or student organizations at Haas, Women in Leadership, and the at the time was called the Gay and Lesbian Group, now called Q@Haas, both of which are still around to this day.
[12:49] Adrienne: Yeah, it’s a good feeling.
[12:51] Sean: Some 20, how many years now, 30 years later?
[12:55] Adrienne: Yes, you know.
[12:59] Sean: Time flies. Tell us a little bit about that. What pushed you to start these two groups? And what do they mean to you?
[13:05] Adrienne: I think the simplest answer to what pushed me to start was an instinct for leadership, but also I was not the only one founding those organizations. When I was at Haas, 30% of the people in the school were women. And no one was really paying attention to that. You know, the leadership, for the most part, had male identities, male faces. They were men. Most of them wonderful, but we were very conscious of our minority status and wanted to respond to it in positive and productive ways.
So, five of us got together and started Women in Leadership. In fact, the friend that’s going to be ringing my doorbell in about an hour is one of those five. So, that was a lasting bond.
It’s interesting to recall that, during the conversation the five of us had about what to name the organization, Sean, one or two of the other women were really not comfortable with the name Women in Leadership. There was something too assertive about it for them. We had long conversations about it. And ultimately, we did end up calling the group Women in Leadership.
But I think it’s really telling about, you know, the tenor at that time. Most of us were going into corporate, and women were even more in the minority in corporate leadership in those days than we were at Haas. So, here were these brilliant women, still pulled to defer, in a way, to an inequitable structure around leadership.
I’m really thrilled that the group, and I’ve followed how the group has evolved over time, and I am ever grateful that I got to be one of the people, one of the five women that founded that group. What was then the Gay and Lesbian MBA Students Group, mind you in the early 1990s, was formed at a very different time in this country, and certainly in corporate America.
AIDS was still a huge fear, fear in the sense that a lot of people believed that you could catch AIDS from a coworker if you touched the same doorknob in the bathroom or if you shared a working space with somebody who was HIV-positive. The assumption was that any gay man was likely to be HIV-positive. People did not feel comfortable having a photograph of their family on their desk if that family included a same-sex partner.
And I want to name two other people that started the Gay and Lesbian MBA Student Group with me, Ben Burbridge and Garrett Hornsby. At the time, Sean, when we wanted to get the word out that we were having meetings, many of the other men who were gay and who wanted to be connected to this group insisted that we not put announcements about the meetings in their mailboxes, which anybody could poke into if they wanted to. So, we had to fairly clandestinely post notices about our meeting times and places on bulletin boards where these guys would sneak by and get the information.
They didn’t want to be known. They really did not want to be known as gay. In fact, we had a huge event in collaboration with the law school, then the Boalt School, where we had a panel of half a dozen or so representatives of corporations that had gay and lesbian in those, you know, in the nomenclature of those days, gay and lesbian affinity groups among employees. It’s telling that the guy who came to talk with us who was from Apple, who was very high up in their leadership structure and who was a gay man himself, let us know that he was not out at work. This was 1990, ‘91, ‘92.
Ben and I were invited by Queer@Haas about five years ago to come talk at the 25th anniversary of the founding of the organization. And Ben and I went back through videotapes and documents that we had of that time and were really struck by how frightened so many people were at that time to be out in any way and how they lived secret parts of their lives in order to not jeopardize their career opportunities.
So, the fact that Queer@Haas has flourished and the fact that it is now so fully populated, not only by people who identify as queer or gay or lesbian or trans, but also by people who consider themselves to be allies, I think, is a really good indicator of how much has changed in the last 25, 30 years.
[17:56] Sean: You know, student groups these days, to officially start a student group, you need a faculty sponsor. Did you have to do something like that back then? And was there any pushback from the school itself?
[18:07] Adrienne: You know, we probably did. And I know who the professor would’ve been, I’m pretty sure. He was a highly regarded professor in the accounting department. I don’t know that he needed to publicize. I think it was just on some internal documents that we needed to show that we had a faculty sponsor.
[18:26] Sean: Yeah, yeah. Was there any pushback or resistance against a gay and lesbian MBA group?
[18:33] Adrienne: If there was, it wasn’t to our face. I can tell you that, for what it’s worth, I don’t know if they still do this, but there was a, sort of, a popular vote for outstanding MBA. And five outstanding MBAs were selected, and I was fortunate and really moved to have been one of them. And people knew that I was lesbian, and they knew that I was one of the founders of this group. So, that might be evidence-based confirmation of the fact that, if there was resistance or discomfort, it was not from the majority of people.
[19:07] Sean: I only ask this because we are talking about Berkeley after all.
[19:12] Adrienne: Mm-hmm.
[19:13] Sean: But at the same time, you know, this is the business school. I’m trying to think of my time at Haas. I felt like some of the students that come to Haas, that come to business school in general, have a certain mindset about, say, what corporate America looks like. I felt like not everyone that came to Haas, at least for the time that I was there, was as open-minded as I expected them to be for coming to Berkeley. And I, kind of, just rationalized it as, “Oh, they came here for the business school, not for the Berkeley culture,” right, so much so. I do have to say that was very much in the minority of students that I came across, but I was a little bit surprised. I was just wondering what the business school was like back then.
[20:01] Adrienne: I think the fairest answer I can give is that it was very diverse in people’s thinking about the world.
[20:09] Sean: Yeah.
[20:10] Adrienne: There were, as I said, 30% women. That’s not a predictor of political or social attitudes at all. 30% of our class were from other countries. I think that made a big difference. I think 25 or 30% of our class were people coming from technology who wanted to, sort of, jump-track from a technology track to a management track.
I can tell you that one of the people that I was absolutely fondest of was a guy who was a Dartmouth frat boy. And if somebody had said to me that I was going to be friends with a Dartmouth frat boy, I would’ve said, “You’re crazy. How could that possibly be?” This speaks to something that I think is so important right now in our country, is that we’re being asked to stereotype, basically, based on what part of the country people live in, what political party they affiliate with, how they identify in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, all that kind of stuff.
I think we do ourselves a huge disservice as a country and as a corporate sector to run on those kinds of very superficial assumptions. You know, the greatest political activists, the people with the greatest impact in the world are people who recognize that you have to reach across identities and affiliations in order to craft real change in the world.
So, I am sure that there were people at Haas at that time who were not thrilled that there was a lesbian and gay or a gay and lesbian group or even a women in leadership group. But we rolled on. And hopefully, along the way, some people changed their thinking because of the fact that we made ourselves visible.
[21:53] Sean: I think that’s a good segue into my next question, which is, you know, what were some of the proudest moments in your career outside of Haas, obviously?
[22:02] Adrienne: Well, I have two careers. I have a music career and I have the career that I got to enjoy because I went to Haas. I can tell you, on the music side, just a few weeks ago, I was awarded the Helen Hayes Theater Award for a production that I co-developed with a guy named Raymond Caldwell from Theater Alliance in Washington, DC built on the work of my late collaborator, June Jordan.
It was one of those big deal things, you know, where everybody gets dressed up and they pull the envelope and “…the award goes to…” And it was us, you know, which was no small feat, given that one of the other nominees in our category was a Kennedy Center production. Big, exciting, proud moment.
I think, in the career that I got to engage in because I got my MBA, I don’t know that it was a moment, Sean, so much as an ongoing dynamic, which was that dealing on the finance side, particularly once I started in the nonprofit world, I had an opportunity to do something in that setting that was very parallel to what I do in music, which is to provide stepping stones for people to not only learn about but see themselves as having agency around, in this case, finances.
You know, in the nonprofit world, there tends to be a pretty big wall between the finance people and the people in the program areas who have brilliance around the programs, the services, the people that they’re serving, and all that kind of stuff. I am very proud of the fact that, over and over again, through approaching people in the program areas collaboratively and giving them a chance to learn about finance, to overcome their own sense of intimidation, they then got to assume greater roles of leadership in those organizations. They were no longer confined to just being experts on the program side of things. It’s like the blinders came off and they could see a much fuller picture about the resources that were available to them that could then lead to their having even greater impact in the work that they were doing.
I am very proud that, over and over again, people in the nonprofit organizations that I worked with expressed appreciation to me for giving them that opportunity and for letting them learn about finances in a way that they felt much more capable in the work that they were doing and much more informed about the work that they were doing.
[24:38] Sean: What are some projects that you’re working on right now that you’d like to share with others?
[24:42] Adrienne: I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around this because, as someone who retired recently, I don’t have the advantages of other people structuring my time or work structuring my time. So, I can tell you I’m doing a lot of board work or considerable board work. I am engaged in music projects that run the gamut from my picking up pieces that I started to compose that I haven’t finished composing, but I want to make progress on those, to collaborations with people I have not collaborated with before, to theater projects. This theater project that I was telling you about in Washington, DC that won the Helen Hayes Award might very well go on the road or might get performed by other theater companies around the country. So, I’m working on that.
I have a house that hasn’t gotten as much attention and needs some infrastructure investment. That’s one of the things I’m doing. And I’m really just enjoying my friendships. I’m of an age when a lot of my other friends are retiring now, too. So, we don’t have to squeeze it all into an evening after work or a weekend. Like, when you and I finished this conversation, one of my friends from Haas and I are going to go spend a day at the de Young Museum, you know, just relishing the fact that we can do that.
[25:56] Sean: If you don’t mind me asking, how do you compose music? Do you manually write it? Do you use software? I’m just curious as a fellow musician.
[26:05] Adrienne: I’m old school. I have a pencil and an eraser and a ruler and staff paper.
[26:13] Sean: As you’re writing it, I imagine you can hear it in your head.
[26:16] Adrienne: I do. And most often if I, you know, in a moment get a musical phrase or some increment of music in my head or while I’m sitting at the piano, I will either pull out my phone and record it in the Memo app or I’ll jot it down on staff paper. But going back to the first part of our conversation, because of the classical training that both you and I have, I have a really clear understanding of music as an idiom, as a language with syntax, with certain rules of grammar, if you will.
Mine go beyond the conventional Western European idiom, but I still am very deliberate in composing. There is a reason that one thing follows the next, one section follows the prior one, or that a modulation happens where it does and as it does. I’m very conscious of the overall structure of a piece. So, I actually compose in my head. And then I commit it to paper as certain things make sense to me.
You know, there’s a gut feeling, as well as an intellectual understanding, that, yeah, this is it. I have written this part. You know, I’ve been talking recently with colleagues about software. And the consensus is that, if you play, you know, say you have, you know, a MIDI capable keyboard and you play into some software and all that, that the amount of fine-tuning you have to do once it’s in the software is something that we just don’t want to deal with. We’d rather take the time and get that syncopation right on paper the first time, rather than putting it in software and then clicking and dragging and that kind of stuff. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
[28:01] Sean: You might be right. I mean, when I try to write something, sometimes, it visually just gets distracting seeing stuff on the computer.
[28:09] Adrienne: Yeah.
[28:10] Sean: And you’re absolutely right, because there’s so many things to tweak and tune and whatnot. But I’m going to dig into this question a little bit more.
[28:16] Adrienne: Okay.
[28:17] Sean: Because I’m just curious. I never interviewed a composer before. So, you know, how do you… as you’re composing, when you’re composing, something that I struggle with is I get ahead of myself. How do you not get ahead of yourself? Let’s say you had this lyrical phrase sentence in your head, how do you not get ahead of yourself and still remember to write what you had down? Or is it just a continuous… like, how does that work?
[28:47] Adrienne: That’s a really interesting question. And I’m hearing it two ways, Sean. One is, if I’m sitting at the piano and I come up with something that I think is a keeper, how do I not lose it? And that’s where the Memo field on the iPhone comes in really handy for me.
[29:02] Sean: Got it.
[29:03] Adrienne: If the question is, how do I not jump ahead in the composition in a way that means I’m not paying enough attention to a transition, for example, from one section of a composition to the next one or to another one, that comes back to bite me. And when I say I have a bunch of pieces that are in progress, I actually sat down not too long ago and took an inventory of all the stuff that’s on my iPhone and the stuff that I’ve jotted down notes about that’s sitting on the piano. And there are over 40 works in progress.
I have a feeling that, once I dig in, I’m going to realize that some of those are the same piece that I thought was a brand-new thought, you know, musical idea. When I came to, you know, I was like, “Oh, this sounds great,” I think I had that same epiphany, like, you know, two years earlier, go, “Oh, this sounds great. Well, wait a minute. It’s the same as the one I came up with then.”
But some of it is, I think, not letting the compositional process happen the way it needs to. For a while there, I was writing for industrial stuff, meaning, you know, like, somebody was doing a marketing, like a commercial for a pharmaceutical company that they were sending out or whatever to doctors in a certain field and they wanted music in the background and it needed to fit with the narrative, the voiceover and stuff, you know, and it had to be 29 seconds here and, you know, all that, I didn’t fret that much over that stuff. But the stuff that is much more meant to be an expression of my experience in the world or something that I want to communicate to people in the way that you were talking about earlier, I think the most important thing, and maybe the most difficult thing is just letting it happen.
Creating an environment, both physically and, sort of, in one’s head and in one’s heart and with one’s ego, in a way, to know that, just because I think I’m going to get this done today because I’m at the piano, doesn’t mean it’s going to. I might get a mediocre version of it done, but I need to not settle for mediocre. And I don’t. And I bet you don’t, either. So, you know, it’s allowing for the fact that it could take months of reiteration to actually finish a piece.
[31:20] Sean: Yeah. Do you have, like, a set schedule every day, a time of day that you write music?
[31:26] Adrienne: No. Maybe I should.
[31:29] Sean: I’m just wondering because, you know, writers, they purposely say, “Oh, mornings only, you know.” The other question I had actually around this was, you had mentioned about music being a language, there’s grammar rules and things like that, but when a writer writes they have a theme or they have a story that they already have in mind; when you’re writing music, is that, kind of, something similar that you have as well?
[31:55] Adrienne: Yeah. I tend to write very visually. I really wanted to write for film. And even today, certainly there are women writing for film, but if you look at, for example, the last 10 years of nominees for best film score coming out of the academy, the Academy Awards, so there are five nominees each year, 50 nominees, one has been a woman of the 50. She actually won in the year that she was nominated. There are a couple of men, John Williams, notably, Thomas Newman, who have each been nominated six, seven, eight times over the last 10 years, they’ve won in some of those years. And 50 nominees, one female, and two or three guys who have then garnered, say, another 20 of those 50 nominations.
I really wanted to write for film. And I allowed myself to be cowed by the obstacles to that. What I can do is write not for film, but I can just write music that I intend to portray something that’s visually evocative or certainly emotionally evocative about the experience of being some place. Example, I wrote a piece that’s on my first recording, my first album called Rain, and it’s about what it feels like to be in Northern California and, you know, live in endless weeks and months of rain.
You know, it’s a lot of upper register flowing 16th notes, which I intended to convey raindrops, in a way. But it’s also, kind of, dark. It’s minor. It’s got a lot of mid- and lower-range stuff happening, which to me is an expression of what it feels like to be in, you know, what used to be a classic Northern California winter.
[33:54] Sean: Yeah, I’m surprised you haven’t come out with an album called Snow. You know, you’re from the East Coast. I’m from the Midwest.
[34:00] Adrienne: Yeah, I left the East Coast for that reason, actually.
[34:06] Sean: You’ve been doing music all these years. It’s not like you stopped when you were an active CFO. Can you talk a little bit about that? How did you manage, kind of, your work career, and then also keep music in your life?
[34:18] Adrienne: I did a lot less music than I wanted to, but, you know, I moved from thinking, I want to do this much, I want to spend this many hours a week at the piano, too, I want to spend this many hours a month, to, at the end of each year, I want to look back and feel as though I’ve done it. I’ve spent a just amount of time with music.
I’ve given it what it deserves, given all the joy it gives me in my life.
And at one point I thought, okay, this is going to be one of those death bed things where I get to look back and feel like, did I do enough in my lifetime? And since I started playing the piano way before I started working, you know, in non-music stuff, I, kind of, figured the odds were pretty favorable that I could strike that balance.
Then, I stopped worrying about it. You know, one of the greatest, actually, one of the happiest things that’s happened to me since I retired was that people still see me as a musician. They want me to be a musician. They want to do theater stuff with me. They want to do two piano stuff with me. People I know through the community and musicians don’t ask me, “You know, so how’s that budget development going?” They ask me, “What are you working on? What are you doing? What do you want to do?”
And I think that’s also part of creating the environment. For people who are both in, you know, sort of, conventional work lives and creative lives, whatever that creativity is, I think it’s really important to stay in touch with people who see you as the creative person. Because even without conveying expectation, you know, that feels lousy, if you’re not living up to it, they see you as the creative person that you are. That’s who they want to interact with. So, they’re going to ask you, “Hey, what are you doing? Share with me. Do you want to do this project together?”
I think it’s absolutely lifesaving and soul-saving for creative people who do what I did, for example, and go and get a business degree, an MBA, and then go work in the non-creative sector. Otherwise, half of us is slowly dying.
[36:25] Sean: Yeah, I think that’s really astute to manage, to maintain that community outside of your work community, you know, having your creative community as well. And that’s something I should do a better job of. Because you’re absolutely right. Even if you’re not actively writing or doing music, at least, you still have that community you can interact with. And it’s still extremely meaningful.
[36:49] Adrienne: Yeah.
[36:51] Sean: For our any listeners, all listeners who are listening right now, who are curious where they can find your music, where can they find your music, Adrienne?
[37:00] Adrienne: Thank you for asking. It’s on all the streaming sites. I get royalty statements periodically. And it’s on all the streaming and download sites. I also am right now getting a new website put together. And soon, it will be at adriennetorf.com. But in terms of accessing the music, it’s all out there.
[37:21] Sean: Okay. And so, for listeners to search for, are there any other handles or bands or groups that you go under other than Adrienne Torf?
[37:33] Adrienne: There is. Actually, Collaboration is the name of the recording that June Jordan and I made, along with other people of the stuff that June and I wrote together. If people search under June Jordan, Adrienne Torf, they’ll find that, you know, I worked on a bunch of other people’s recordings. The woman I mentioned, Holly Near, is one of them. So, I think sometimes when you actually search for Adrienne Torf, you end up also getting some of the recordings that are Holly Near recordings that I worked on.
[37:59] Sean: I see.
[37:59] Adrienne: Maybe because I co-wrote a piece on it or whatever.
[38:03] Sean: Where would listeners find any of your theater work?
[38:07] Adrienne: I don’t know that it’s possible at this point, but once my website is up, if we are fortunate enough to get the theater alliance production that won the Helen Hayes Award to other locations, it’ll certainly be announced on my website. And any new stuff that I do will be on my website.
[38:27] Sean: And on that note, any new albums that we would be expecting?
[38:33] Adrienne: See, you just did it, Sean. You just did me the huge favor of being another musician asking, what am I up to?
[38:41] Sean: Yeah.
[38:42] Adrienne: Thank you. I think I will. I just have to finish about a dozen of those 40-odd pieces in progress. And then, I will feel ready to do that.
[38:53] Sean: You know, as a fellow musician, I do have one final question on this. I think I know the answer, as I hear from most of my musician friends, but how do you know when a piece is done?
[39:04] Adrienne: How do I know when a piece is done?
[39:07] Sean: I think the answer is it’s never done, but…
[39:11] Adrienne: Well, it is. I think it is, at least the way I write. I know that a piece is done when, as I’m playing it, there’s not a moment as I’m playing it where I hear myself, my ear or my mind, step back a little bit and go, hmmm, you know. There’s an integrity, I mean, I suppose an honesty, but sort of an integrity, a design integrity, structural, harmonic, melodic, an integrity in the narrative, if it’s a piece that’s meant to convey something narrative.
When I’m playing it, if I never have that experience of a moment of, “hmmm, that’s not quite right,” I didn’t let the compositional process have enough time and space in that moment. I forced something, because I knew what was coming next and I just didn’t want to be bothered with getting there in the right way. That’s how I know.
[40:03] Sean: I see. Yeah, I like that. On this last note, you know, being Pride Month, are there any thoughts or messages that you wanted to share?
[40:12] Adrienne: Yeah, and this is for people who identify as gay, lesbian, trans, bi, anything queer, as well as people who don’t. Spend half an hour reading about all of the legislation in all of the states that is designed to silence the voices of queer and trans people, that is designed to deprive everybody of books and films and curricula that keep us visible and that are already making it impossible for trans people to access the medical care that they need in order to be physically healthy as who they are. Read that stuff. And I hope you will be compelled to do something about it. And that could be, you know, make a donation to your local PFLAG organization chapter or the National PFLAG or Transgender Law Center. You know, find a place that’s doing work that is so badly needed, National Center for Lesbian Rights, whatever it is, a local support system.
Go to a school board meeting when there’s a debate about whether certain books should be made available, whether teachers should be allowed to talk about certain things. This is equally true about racial justice. Please, educate yourself and do not let this happen. Read about the suicide rates among young queer and trans people. And if it doesn’t move you to do something to make queer and trans people feel safer than things are becoming in this world, then please go back and read those pieces of legislation again.
Certainly, I can tell you, from the time that I came out in around 1970 when the American Psychiatric Association still classified us as abnormal, we are very quickly going to go back to that. We’re going to go back to a time when Queer@Haas would’ve been impossible. Absolutely impossible.
We’re going to go back to a time where queer students at Haas are going to be afraid that, if they are open about who they are, that they are not going to get the professional opportunities that they not only want, but to which they can bring a tremendous amount of talent and intelligence and impact and leadership. That’s what I feel compelled to say, Sean, this month and all 12 months of every year. This is serious.
[42:40] Sean: Yeah.
[42:41] Adrienne: I don’t want to end on a down note, but I would say this is gay pride month. This is also a time of tremendous soul-searching and activism around racial equity and racial justice in this country. I think it’s really important to celebrate. And so much of celebration comes with music and dance and murals and theater, you know. These are the moments where we can all get together and celebrate and fuel ourselves for everything else that we want to do in the world.
So, I really appreciate your inviting me to be a part of this podcast. I am proud to have been a graduate of Haas. And I thank everybody who had something to do with my getting an education there, all my friends, colleagues, teachers, for the two years that I got to spend there and everything that it gave me. So, thank you. It’s been fun.
[43:32] Sean: And we’re proud and appreciative of you taking the time.
[43:34] Adrienne: Thank you, Sean.
[43:35] Sean: Thank you so much, Adrienne.
[43:36] Adrienne: You bet. Stay well.
[43:43] Outro: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please hit that Subscribe or Follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review.
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OneHaas Podcast is a production of the Haas School of Business and produced by University FM. Until next time. Go, bears.