Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 58

Ruth Hertzman-Miller, Physician and Composer

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Show notes

Ruth Hertzman-Miller, a member of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992, graduated with a degree in biology and went on to a career in medicine, completing a residency in internal medicine at Cambridge City Hospital and a fellowship in health services research in Los Angeles. After returning to the Boston area, she worked as a physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and then at NewBridge, a retirement community. Ruth discussed her journey since graduating, reflecting on the unexpected twists and turns it has taken. Ruth made the difficult decision to switch from medicine to music four or five years ago. She took catch up courses at a conservatory in Boston and is now doing a master’s in composition. Ruth is a pianist and choral singer and was inspired to pursue music again when her seven year old daughter joined North Cambridge Family Opera.

An Education and Career in Medicine

She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life when she went to college, but her dad and grandfather were both psychiatrists, so she figured she’d take some premed courses and see what happened since she liked science and helping people, but she also got to take electives in other subjects like music. In medical school at Case Western, she was interested in the clinical aspects of the program where she was assigned to a pregnant woman and followed her through delivery and the baby’s first year of life, but along the way, she had many doubts about how much she wanted to be in the program. At the end of her internship year, she went to her residency director and was considering quitting, but he talked her into staying.

Balancing Family Life and Work

After the birth of her first child, she found it difficult to focus on both the intense schedule of work and study and family, but she finished her master’s and eventually made the decision to pursue a master’s in music and wrap up her medical career. Ruth balanced work and motherhood for many decades. Initially, she worked at Cambridge Health Alliance and then various medical but non-clinical jobs such as the Joslin Diabetes Clinic and the Hearst Company, and then at EBSCO Publishing. While she was in non-clinical positions, she worked clinically one day a week at Cambridge Health Alliance and then at various sites within Hebrew Rehab, finally landing at the NewBridge retirement community. When she decided to cut down on her work and dedicate more time to music, she kept her one day a week job at Hebrew Rehab and started studying for a certificate in music.

Studying Musical Composition and Theory

Ruth discusses her experience studying composition and writing music and what was included in the coursework. As a composer, she is interested in exploring the form of music. She studies what has been done in the past, the many options and choices available, and considers how she can create something new. She refers to Mozart and Haydn, who approached their compositions differently and how they did so. Ruth is not expecting to make a professional career out of her work, as it is difficult for a composer to make money, but instead, is more interested in exploring new forms and having her work performed. Video game music and film music are some of the biggest markets for composers; however, Ruth is not particularly interested in these areas. She is more interested in writing for small ensembles such as string quartets, for which she can find performers without much difficulty. She also talks about the place of AI in composing music, and how it can provide inspiration but needs human intervention to create a finished product.

The Creative Process of Composing Music

When asked if composing music feels three-dimensional, or if it has different mental qualities, Ruth answers that this is subjective and depends on the individual, but it is likely that the experience of composing music entails a combination of physical and mental elements. It requires both the ability to think in abstract terms, as well as the creative ability to visualize and construct musical ideas. It is a process that is both intuitive and analytical, where the creative elements of music are balanced with the technical aspects of composition.
Ruth talks about the creative process behind composition. She explains that she typically has a broad idea, such as writing a piano piece with two players starting at opposite ends of the piano, and then breaks it down into smaller details such as melody and harmony. She then works on generating variations on the material and figuring out the logical progression of the piece. She explains that she usually isn’t trying to express something that can be explained in words, but rather it is usually a feeling or an exploration of the music itself. She uses the example of a recent project to explain the process. Ruth also talks about conveying emotions through music. For some pieces of music, the goal is to introduce the theme to the audience and have them understand it through the different changes in the music. At the opposite end of this, there is writing an opera scene where the focus is more on portraying the emotions.

Professors and Courses of Influence

Favorite professors and courses from Harvard include Luise Vosgerchian’s course on the Development of the String Quartet and John Stewart’s course on Introductory Music Theory. She also talks about her more recent professor, Lyle Davidson, who happens to be in the same tradition of Luise Vosgerchian. Other favorite courses include Biology of Fishes with Karel Liem, Scientific Ethics with George Whitesides, Moral Reasoning with Thomas Scanlon, and Marjorie Garber on Shakespeare.



01:41 Pursuing Music After a Career in Medicine 

05:19 Motivation and Commitment During Medical School 

09:57 Medical Training and Fellowship 

16:28 The Process of Studying Composition 

20:28 Composing and Making a Career in Music

25:32 Reading and Generative AI in Music Composition 

28:03 Exploring the Creative Process of Composing Music

36:05 Music Study and Harvard College Professors 




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Ruth Hertzman-Miller


Ruth Hertzman-Miller, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host, will Bachman and I’m excited to be here today with Ruth Hertzman-Miller. Ruth, welcome to the show. Well, thank you. So Ruth, tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard, it’s taken a least one one big turn.


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  00:25

Indeed. So I graduated with a degree in biology, went straight to medical school at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, went straight to an internal medicine residency back in Cambridge at what was then the Cambridge City Hospital, did a fellowship in essentially in general internal medicine and in Los Angeles. And then my husband and I moved back to the Boston area, and I worked as a physician, first for many years back at Cambridge Health Alliance, and then at Newbridge on the Charles, which is a retirement community. And about it’s been a long journey, but I guess I would say, four or five years ago, I decided that medicine had never been my absolute passion and music was and I wanted to get back into that. So I did a I sort of did catch up courses through a continuing education program at one of the conservatories in Boston, and then got together a portfolio applied for a master’s program and I’m now doing a master’s in composition.


Will Bachman  01:41

That is amazing. Now, I’d love to go through. Let’s start with the more recent stuff. So what is are you an instrumentalist? Do you perform what what instruments are you in?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  01:56

I do. So I am, I’ve always been a pianist. And I’m a choral singer. And actually, kind of what got me back on the back on track to music was that our oldest daughter is now 24. And when she was seven, she and I joined a group called North Cambridge family opera, which is a really wonderful group that has adults in their children singing together. They call them operas, but they’re deliberately written in very popular styles, and to be accessible to people with a wide range of voices, including untrained voices. So I very much have enjoyed singing in that, and then started writing for that group. And that was sort of what got me back on the path toward music.


Will Bachman  02:44

Amazing. So there’s so many different places to go. So maybe, tell me a bit about this idea around how medicine was never really your passion. It’s a pretty big commitment, right to go to medical school and get, you know, qualified as a physician and to practice. Wow,


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  03:07

big commitment. And it feels kind of astounding, and maybe even a little embarrassing to me to say it was never my love. But it really was. My dad was a psychiatrist, his father was a psychiatrist. When I get got to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. But I had this idea that I liked science, and I liked helping people. And so maybe medicine would be a good thing. And I just kind of went with that. I looked at a number of different majors. I chose biology because I could get all my pre med courses in and still take a bunch of electives in other things that interested me like music. And then we got towards senior year, and I thought, well, I don’t know what I’m going to do next, I guess I’ll apply to med school. And then I got toward the end of med school and thought, well, I don’t know what I want to do next, I guess I’ll apply to residency program, you know, and at each step, it was kind of like that a fair amount of thinking about it and some hesitation and some not loving where I was at various points, but never, I was never bold enough to say, I give up. This is not what I want to do until you know, age 48 or so. 


Will Bachman  04:23

Oh,my God. So the official 92 report. I’m not sure what I want to do after college path is law school. So we have not yet had some as well, you know, wasn’t sure what to do. So I figured might as well go to eight years of education become a doctor. Wow. So it was like okay, well, I guess I’ll become a doctor. And then how did that what was it? What was your motivation like and maybe plotted for me over time, in terms of your commitment and motivation if you feel we’re drawing a graph over time You know, did it kind of feel steady through medical school? And then at some point stop dropping down? Or did it increase at points where you thought, Okay, well, maybe this is the right path for me. And then what tell me about the ups and downs, and what finally brought you to, to actually put make the decision?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  05:19

Right. Um, I’m just, I’m thinking through it. So the first two years of medical school were just a slog, it was a lot of memorization, which as it happens, I’m good at it. And some, the nice thing about Case Western was that they had a fair amount of clinical involvement from the beginning. So, for example, when you first come in, you are assigned to a pregnant woman as her medical student, and you follow her through her delivery, and then you follow the baby through their first year of life. 


Will Bachman  05:59

Oh, what amazing idea,


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  06:00

which is quite amazing. So smart. Wow. So that kind of stuff always excited me I loved the aspects of it that had to do with meeting and healing other human beings. But you know, I didn’t love the kind of memorize this. And why do I even need to know the Krebs citric acid cycle? It’s not as though I’m ever actually going to use it in medicine. So you know that that was the first couple of years. And I definitely had various thoughts along the way about how much I wanted to be there or not. And then actually, third year, I was doing my clinicals. And that was more fun in terms of the patient care, but it was hard in a different way, in that the schedule was really grueling. And, but but I had a roommate, who was a couple years ahead of me in the education cycle, he was actually a physician from Germany, who was doing a year of research at Case. So he and I roomed together, he was just a fantastic guy, and was very passionate about what he was doing, which was neurology, and so I think I credit him to some extent, at that point for sort of keeping me in it and making it you know, given me an idea that once I finished the training, it would be something that was exciting. And then actually, my internship here, so the medical residency was three years, the first year, the internship year, toward the middle to end of the year, I went to my residency director and said, it was really small program, there were only eight of us that were what are called categorical interns, that is eight who were going to go through the whole three years that we had other interns, but they were going on to other residencies in other areas. And so I went to him and said, I’m really not loving this, I’m thinking, maybe I’m gonna quit, I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. And he kind of talked me into it, which, I mean, he is an amazing human being, and he is very dedicated to the human side of patient care. But I also discovered later that two of the other eight interns had also come to him and had the same conversation. And in fact, one of them did end up quitting. So I think he was kind of panicked.


Will Bachman  08:40

Doesn’t look very good when No, three.


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  08:43

Yeah, you know, of all the, I mean, it was an incredibly humane program, there was a lot of about us, and what it felt like to us to be becoming doctors, and what it felt like to be dealing with the patients we were dealing with, some of them were quite difficult for various reasons. They were immigrants and non English speakers, or they had various kinds of, you know, psychiatric or substance abuse problems. So they put a lot of thought into it. And they really tried hard to make it humane. And I think it’s just the nature of it, that it was really rough. And you know, and there were so many skills to learn there. There were all of the medical skills, how do I do this, that or the other exam, but then there were all the interpersonal skills of how do I interact with the patient? How do I interact with the family? How do I interact with the nurses? How do I interact with the doctors who are training me? How do I interact with the consultants? What happens when I call a consultant in the middle of the night and I don’t have all the information the answer is she yells at me, well, that’s a way of learning but it’s not a very nice way.


Will Bachman  09:57

So So, um, you


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  09:58

Yeah, so so that was residency. So I kind of, I guess, year one was kind of the worst point. And then by years two and three, I felt a little more comfortable. I got more outpatient time, which was what I really wanted to do. And I got one of the things that you did as a second and third year was you took on a second clinic. So I had a clinic in geriatrics, which was a lot of fun. Yeah, so I kind of got through that. thinking, Okay, this is all right. And then the fellowship was a whole other thing. So I, I had my first child in the middle of my last year of residency, and then went off to this very high intensity academic fellowship in a city that neither David nor I had ever lived in with a six month old. And I just was really struggling. And it became very clear to the program director that I was struggling and he actually offered, he said, Look, you know, you can, because the idea was that you were supposed to develop a thesis proposal. And then you would get funding from the program, and you would work on whatever your thesis was, you know, over the two years of the program, and possibly even turn it into something larger, like a PhD thesis. And my thesis proposal just bombed because I had been spending a bunch of time with my six month old and I was not ready to propose, you know, 10s, of 1000s of dollars project. So, at that point, the director of the fellowship program said to me, Look, you know, part of the program of this program is that we pay for your master’s in public health, why don’t you just finish out your master’s, and don’t do the thesis, and we’ll just quietly graduate you. And that’ll be that. But But I actually got lucky in that there was another faculty member who had some data that he had already collected and needed to be analyzed. And I took that on, and it actually turned out to be a really successful project, I did a really kind of nifty analysis that showed some things that they hadn’t been expecting, it got published in a fairly major journal. So you know, so again, it was like, you know, dip followed by, okay, I turned that around, that went all right. But it feels like it’s, it’s been just a series of these ups and downs.


Will Bachman  12:45

So you overcame the sunk cost fallacy, you’d made this big investment. And Seth Godin talks about how all of our qualifications and education and certifications they’re a gift from our past self to our current self, which we can choose to accept, but we shouldn’t feel forced to accept. And at some point, you actually had the courage to make the decision to say, Okay, I’m going to move on. Tell me about what that was, like. Was that something that you thought about for several years? Or was it finally got to a point where it quickly came together? How did you finally decide to go and get a master’s in music and wrap up your medical career?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  13:30

Um, I mean, I guess the first question is, Have I made that decision? Or Oh, yeah. Because I’ll just give you a brief. You know, there’s still I still have a toe in the medical thing, okay. I redo on one day a week or something. I’m doing fewer than what less than one day a week. 


So So you see some patients though? 


Yeah, the progression went. I was part time physician and part time mom for many decades, first to Cambridge, actually, at Cambridge Alliance, period. Then I had a series of jobs that were medical but note mostly non clinical, first working for the Joslin Diabetes clinic, helping them develop educational programs, then working for the Hearst company trying to spin up a new product that they had in mind that had to do with prior authorizations for pharmaceuticals. And then at EBSCO, publishing working on a product of theirs called Dynamed, which is an educational product for doctors. So during those that was about a six year period where I was only working clinically one day first I was doing it at Cambridge Health Alliance and then I moved over to Hebrew rehab and had a number of positions there that ended up with me at Newbridge, which is their retirement community in Dedham Mass. So I had already been working one day a week for about six or seven years. When I decided, You know what? The latest job, the dot job at Dynamed probably was the closest, the best fit for me in the sense that it was fairly academic it was, you know, constructing chapters about various topics in geriatric medicine, and doing research to make sure that all of the advice that we were given was evidence based. But I still just wasn’t loving it. And I liked the idea of being able to spend more time on music. So that was the point at which I said, Let me you know, and my husband and I looked at the finances and we decided it would be okay if I stopped working at Dynamed, kept the one day a week job at Hebrew rehab, and started doing certificate in music, which is the it’s sort of like a post baccalaureate would be for an MD. It’s a continuing ed program where I did kind of the, the undergrad series of courses that I would have done if I had gone to conservatory earlier on.


Will Bachman  16:28

Tell me about the process of studying composition, and maybe how does your brain think differently when you are working to compose a piece of music?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  16:47

So just thinking about the studying first, right, studying composition. A good big piece of it always is writing music, and then sitting down with an individual professor and getting comments on the music. And in service of that. there’s a whole bunch of coursework, right? What is the history of music, and what kinds of changes have happened over time in terms of how people present music to each other? What kinds of instruments are used, how people think about creating music, what kinds of music are being created, and what kinds of harmonies and melodies are being used? So there’s all that history aspect of it. There’s a theory aspect of, okay, if you say you’re going to write music, you know, in the Western tradition, what does that mean? Well, we have these 12 notes, how have they been used at different points? You know, what’s the development of the piano or the violin or the other instruments? And then there is, well, so I actually just merged two things. The theory focuses more on kind of melody, harmony, you know, what’s common practice for how those are constructed? But then there’s a whole other side, which is instrumentation and orchestration, right? What are the materials that you can use to make music? So right, so that that’s the learning process. In and among that is, how do I write. I could write any piece for any collection of instruments or voices, and it can be any length and I can use any materials I want. And I can write it in any style I want. That’s a little overwhelming. So the learning about different options, helps. Studying what other people have done helps something that I’ve gotten very interested in in the last couple of years is thinking about the form of piece. Right? What if you present an idea at the beginning? What happens to that idea over the course of the piece, and that all by itself is something that has changed radically over the years? That question. I do a lot of this in a really methodical way I one of my history teachers liked to, he made a really nice comparison between Mozart and Haydn, he would, you know, they were both writing about the same time and the kind of late 18, late 1700s. And he would say that Mozart was one of these people who just would be sitting there and a whole symphony would come out of his head, you know, and he’d scribble it down. And Hyden was much more sort of a craftsman. Haydn would get one little idea for a theme. And he’d be like, Okay, what can I do with this? Can I slow it down? Can I speed it up? Can I try it in a different key? Can I run it backwards? So Haydn is kind of my hero in that sense, I am not somebody out of whom invention just spins and more a person who thinks carefully about something and and then looks at it from all the different angles.


Will Bachman  20:28

To what degree are you hoping or expecting to kind of make a professional career out of this, in terms of that? Is the direction tell me about? What’s kind of the market look like for, you know, hiring, you know, composers or engaging composers to, you know, custom write things? Or is this more purely a personal you know, goal, you know, like learning do this. Tell me about that a little bit. But sort of how you think about this from a sort of professional career perspective?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  21:06

Yeah. It’s much more, it’s not about making money.  There are very few composers who are both composing exactly what they want, and making money at it. Right. So either to make money at it, you have to do what somebody else wants compose movie music, compose for video games, or you have to get lucky. Or you have to decide that you’re going to make money doing something that’s adjacent to composition, you’re going to teach, you’re going to perform, you’re going to do I know a lot of people who do audio work, you know, who will run sound for theatres, let’s say and that that’s how they make a living, or they do arts administration, and they help to run festivals. So yeah, actually, making a living as a composer is quite hard. And I’m not expecting to do that. And then of course, the question is, well, okay, so what will the balance be? And, you know, and how much can I afford to kind of do the work that I want, even if that’s not making me money, if that makes sense?


Will Bachman  22:38

aside from even for making money, just setting that aside for a minute, like, what are the opportunities available to composers to even compose and have their work performed? I imagine it. And maybe tell us a bit about the genre that you’re working in? I imagine. If you’re doing like, yeah, like what are even are those opportunities and maybe say a bit more about the video games? Like in the world of composition? Is that one of the biggest, you know, places that are hiring composers?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  23:11

This is my understanding. I honestly, because I’m not particularly interested. I have not looked into that much. But I have a nephew who’s an undergrad at a conservatory. And yeah, he is talking about things like video game music and film music. Yeah, it very much depends what you want to do. Right? If you are, it depends on the size of the group to write if I want to write a string quartet. And I’m not too picky about who plays it. There are plenty of people, you know, who are good players who will be willing to play it, you know, on a sort of collaborative basis. If I want to read an orchestral piece, it gets more difficult. So one of the nice things about being in conservatory is that you have access to things like the conservatory orchestra, which, you know, every year they hold a competition, but but they the conservatory that I’m at Boston Conservatory makes a point of offering several student composers the opportunity to have their orchestral pieces played. So that kind of thing is harder. And I as an example, one of my teachers will do, you know, essentially something like a GoFundMe and, and, you know, he offers people, whatever kind of sponsorship opportunities to, you know, for his upcoming orchestral piece, and then he gets contributions and that’s how he manages to Pay the players pay the recording studio, get the piece recorded. So yeah, it’s you kind of have to hustle. There’s not. And that’s one of the things, honestly, even in music school that happens, right, is there are a small number of opportunities that are, here’s a group, please write for them. But there’s a lot more opportunities that are, feel free to write a piece, you’re gonna have to find people to play it, go.


Will Bachman  25:32

I’m curious, what is kind of the discussions right now? What are you thinking about in terms of generative AI? And these tools that are coming out? Is it exciting to you? Is it depressing? Like they’re, you know, certainly tools that will generate text, images, I think music as well. How does that feel that you know, and some of them are pretty good, right? They can generate pretty decent pieces of music. How does that strike you?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  26:05

Well, I mean, I will say they’re decent is not the same as good. Right, is have I heard things that are convincing? Yeah. Have I heard things that are exciting? Not really. So I guess that’s the first thing is I think that there’s a long way between the computer being able to imitate different human styles in the computer actually being able to do something that is innovative. I actually have played around with this a little so that there’s a very, very simple program that’s about 20 years old that I happened to discover online, when I was sort of out of inspiration and looking for melody inspiration. And what it lets you do is put in a number of different parameters, like, how long should this melody be? What notes should it start and end on? What key should it be in? You know, how much should it be sort of small steps between notes versus jumping all over the place? You know, where? Where should the major emphasis, you know, does a major emphasis have to be on the beat? Or can it be off the beat, et cetera, et cetera. And I have been playing around with that and finding that that is actually a very good aide to me, as a starter, you know, as a starting point, in other words, that I’ll I’ll generate five or six melodies from that, and look at them, and pick something out of one of them and say, Oh, this random assortment of notes that the computer gave, you know, based on these parameters actually is interesting in AI, a human can do something with it. But that’s for me, I think that’s where the state of the art is right now, I don’t, I don’t think composers are in any danger of having their job taken by computers at this point.


Will Bachman  28:03

I’m curious what it feels like in your brain when you’re composing, and how that might be different from what it feels like to be thinking, maybe for medicine or for other parts of life. And sort of what’s behind my request is, when I’m working on designing some outbuilding that I might build with my dad, like, it’s, it’s very three dimensional kind of drawing it out, you’re thinking about kind of three dimensions even. I’m not really a coder anymore, but took one computer science class at Harvard. And that was also felt very architectural, like, whereas other things, if I’m doing consulting, often it’s more of a mind map sort of 2d, but like drawing connections between things and circles and trying to chart it out. What does it feel like in your brain? When you’re composing? Is it does it feel very three dimensional? Does it feel like you’re actually like designing something physical? Or what’s your kind of your mental model for what that experience is like?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  29:00

Thinking about it. It kind of depends what I’m, what aspect of it that I’m doing. If I’m if I’m writing, right, a typical project might have several phases, and they’re all kind of interconnected, right? I might have the idea of what I might have. What I want to do might be a very broad one, like, I want to write a piano piece that’s a duet that involves the people starting at both ends of the piano, you know, the very high and the very low and then moving together toward the middle. So there’s that conceptual In part, then there’s the very small detail of all right? Well, that means that I need some material, let’s call it a melody, or a melody plus harmony. What is that material going to be? And I usually spend a while thinking about what the material is, and setting a sort of, okay, this is my basic material and want to use. And then step three is generating very variations on that. And then step four is, alright, now that I have all of this generated material, what’s the logical progression that I can use? Right? Am I really going to start at both ends of the piano and move toward the middle? If so, am I going to use the same theme in the, you know, in the top of the piano in the bottom of the piano? If I start with a theme, is it going to come back at the end? What kinds of things are going to happen to the theme in the middle? So it’s, it’s looser, I mean, it’s it’s not architecture is not working from the outside in, right? It’s rarely, I’m starting with a big picture and then filling in the little details. It’s almost like both and there’s a piece of it, that is, what is the large thing that I want? And then there’s a piece of it, that’s Oh, now I have all these small things. Let me sort of hang them on different parts of the framework as it were. And okay, now I have now I can see enough of a structure that I understand that I’m going to need to get from place A to place B, and how do I fill that gap?


Will Bachman  32:00

When you sit out to make a composition? Are you trying to steal a story that you could express in words, the same way that someone who’s making a film or writing a novel or short story would be maybe starting with a broad theme, not just the detailed plot, but oh, I want to tell a story about the alienation of man or I want to tell a story about missed connections and how you know, life can take two different turns or something or? Or is it much more of just a feeling that you’re trying to get across, but not as specific? Like, tell me about kind of what the mood the motive the motivation for a particular piece feels like for a composer, which is very alien to American? Curious what it feels like to want to express something and what is it that you’re trying to express?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  32:53

Yeah, for me, it’s about it isn’t. It’s almost never, that I want somebody to come away with a particular thought. It’s almost never something I can express in words. It is, honestly, it’s different for different projects. So right, as an example, here are two very different recent projects that I did. One was a theme and variations where I did what I was talking about, I took one of these randomly generated melodies, changed it a little bit so that it was more to my liking, and then harmonized it for three instruments violin, viola, and cello. And then I just did a number of different variations on that. Hmm, the melody has this one long held note, what if somebody just held that note, you know, for a really long time, and the other instruments good stuff around. So that one is is really about? It’s about exploration of the music itself, if that makes sense. I there was humor in it. And there was playfulness. But I don’t know that I was trying to get across a specific emotion, it was more. Let me introduce my audience to this theme and have them further understand the music itself, the theme by the different changes I’m making to it. I’m right at the opposite end of that I just wrote recently an opera scene based on the biblical story of Hannah who is childless woman who goes to the temple to pray for a child and the priest sees her praying silently, as soon as she’s drunk starts to, you know, to sort of yell at her for that. And she says, Hey, I’m not drunk. I’m actually really sad and I have this, you know, prayer, and then he says, oh, okay, sorry about that. I hope your prayer is granted in Oh, so, so writing that scene. You know, first of all, there are words involved, which makes a difference. But that also because it involves a human drama, I think I very much there was a lot more of, I want people to understand the emotion of the absolute sadness and regret that she has not being able to have children and her anger and the priest’s anger. So, in that case, it becomes much more about how do I portray emotions. And in fact, I had a whole conversation with my professors at the end of the semester about what kinds of additional things one can do to establish and portray those emotions. I think I used a lot of talking a lot of singing a lot of having the characters speak. And I could have relied a lot more on the music itself and even the silences in the music.


Will Bachman  36:05

How has your listening to music changed since you started studying in earnest recently with the with the program that you’re going through? You kind of approach it more as a craftsman of really looking at the technique and say, Wow, I really Oh, that’s impressive what Haydn did there. Just tell me a little bit about what that experience is like now that you’re a practitioner?


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  36:29

Yeah, it definitely is. There’s more listening to technique. And, you know, it’s funny, every time that I am learning something in school, and I go to a concert, I can focus in on that thing. So I just took another advanced orchestration course this semester. And all of a sudden, if I go to an orchestra concert, I’m like, Oh, that’s a really interesting use of the horn there. And oh, listen. No, remember how our teacher Tim told us that often? Something starts in the oboe, and then it goes to the brass. And then it goes to the strings. Yep, Brahms did exactly that. Just there. And what effect did that have? So, you know, I noticed, yeah, those kinds of craft things more. And I know, I think I also noticed the form more, right. That what I was talking about where, you know, there’s a theme and what, what happens to the theme? And what parts of the theme come back? And how how does the composer use the material? So yeah, it makes it much more exciting to, to listen, and and at the same time, I don’t think it diminishes my enjoyment that was a bit of a fear is oh, if I’m just thinking about it all the time, I’m not going to love it as much. But in fact, I think the opposite is true.


Will Bachman  38:05

I want to turn to college. Tell us about any professors or courses that you had at Harvard that continue to resonate with you.


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  38:16

Yeah, um, lots and lots of them. So just to talk about a few I will start with Louise Vosgerschian, who was in the music department taught a course called the development of the string quartet. And, you know, that that was a an opportunity for me to learn about music history, it was an opportunity actually, for me to compose. And I loved learning with her and I loved learning with John Stewart, who taught music 51, which was the the Introductory Music theory course. So I then, you know, that was when I was whatever, 19 now I’m in my late 40s, I go to New England Conservatory. And I meet a professor called Lyle Davidson. And he says, oh, yeah, I studied with Louise Vosgerchian back in the day, you know, and, and he’s telling me about all the things that he studied with her and I’m thinking, wow, this is, you know, I, Lyle and I are in the same tradition. There was a specific set of composition exercises that Vosgerchian used and John Stewart used and those are the composition exercises that Lyle Davidson, you know, who became a professor at New England Conservatory, also used. So you know, they’re very powerful. A teaching tools. It’s a whole teaching set of teaching exercises developed by Nadia Boulanger, who was a early 20th century I guess, composer. But yeah, so those stuck with me and the memory of the specific people stuck with me. And it was it was extraordinary to find somebody who sort of, had had, as it were grown up in that same tradition. So, that’s on the music side. And then I there were just, there was so many people who were so passionate about what they were doing right on the science side. You know, I took biology officious with Karel Liem, who was also the master of Dunster house, and my brother, who was in Dunster house, got to know him that way. And he was, he loved what he did, and he loved teaching people about what he did. I took a scientific ethics course with George Whitesides, and again, you know, just something that he was passionate about and dedicated to and wanted to impart to us and it felt like there were so many professors that, that had their own their own enthusiasms and were really eager to impart those and you know, and sometimes they were the big lecture courses, right, so, so, right, Tom Scanlon and, and his moral reasoning course, or Marjorie Garber and her Shakespeare course, you know, and sometimes they were the tiny seminars, but but I always have a blast hearing from somebody about what they are passionate about, and what they think is important in the world.


Will Bachman  41:47

It’s amazing. So that seed that was planted back in when you were 19, is finally germinating. At the new conservatory, yeah, that’s, that’s amazing how it’s come full circle, and you’ve returned to that. Well, this has been an amazing conversation. Where can listeners go? I don’t know if any of thing you’ve composed is available to listen to online or not.


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  42:15

Yeah, the best thing to do is to search me on YouTube. I have a series most of my recent pieces are up on YouTube. Just look for Ruth Hertzman-Miller. And you should be able to find, you know, at least half a dozen things or so under my name and hopefully more soon.


Will Bachman  42:33

Amazing. Okay, well, we’ll include those links in the show notes. Ruth, thank you so much for joining. And listeners. If you go to 92 You can read the transcript of this and every episode, you can also sign up for an email where I’ll let you know about the latest episode and give you some show notes and links. Ruth, this was fantastic. Thank you so much for joining.


Ruth Hertzman-Miller  42:57

My pleasure. Thank you