Although not a performer, Tim Page's voice resonates with originality, elegance, and authority.
A widely recognized music expert, Page is a presence in both the musical world and the nation's mainstream print and broadcast media. Connoisseurs of the arts know Page as the Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic for The Washington Post. He has also served as a music critic for The New York Times and New York's Newsday, been a radio host (WNYC-FM) in New York and a record producer (BMG Catalyst), served as an artistic adviser to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and written or edited a dozen books, with a research focus on pianist Glenn Gould and author Dawn Powell.
Page first discovered the power of music as a young boy growing up in Storrs. "My mom, more or less, let me ruin her record collection by letting me play it when I was a small child" he jokingly recalls. "She didn't have a large record collection or a good stereo, but it was enough." It was enough to capture Page's imagination and spur him toward a life devoted to music. "It was opera that did it first," he recalls. "It just seemed like a completely alien world from the world that I was used to in Storrs in the 1960s." "There was something very special about hearing these voices from the past and these recordings."
Some of the early opera singers Page had heard were still alive, so he began to correspond with them. Among those Page wrote letters to were two early 20th- century Metropolitan Opera stars, Rosa Ponselle and Geraldine Farrar. Both replied. "I think they were happy to hear from a 10-year-old kid," Page observes. "They were certainly nice about it." The response from such illustrious performers served to whet his musical appetite. In grade school, rather than interact with classmates at recess, Page instead retreated to the school library where he devoured entries about opera and another interest—silent film—in the World Book Encyclopedia. "I came across things on film and things on music and became very interested and focused on the period right at the beginning of the 20th century, which is roughly the beginning of both records and film," he says.
In fact, learning about silent films launched Page on a six-year foray into film as director, actor, and producer of numerous 8 mm and Super 8 mm films with friends. His efforts were later chronicled in a short film by documentary filmmaker David Hoffman, entitled A Day with Timmy Page, which won top honors at the Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta film festivals, was shown on network television, and was seen as a theatrical short subject in movie theaters.
Once he had exhausted the film and musical resources at home and school, he directed his search to the University of Connecticut, located mere steps away from his Willowbrook Road home. His quest began in the library, where he searched for information about old movie stars before turning his sights to the music collection, then housed in Music Building in the Fine Arts complex.
"I was going to school in the Audrey Beck building and after school, I remember walking over to campus, going up to the second floor where the music library was located, and meeting librarian Gloria Sterry," Page recalls. "I introduced myself and must have said something that impressed her because, to my amazement, I was able to take out three books that first day."
Among the volumes the 10-year-old Page brought home that day were an autobiography by world-renowned soprano Nellie Melba and a biography of legendary operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. "The soprano Frances Alda's autobiography, Men, Women and Tenors, was by far the best," Page recalls. "It was full of juicy anecdotes about people I was fascinated by."
Not only was the library a source of inspiration for Page, but the university itself was, too. "We had a fabulous concert series here at Jorgensen," he recalls. "Leonard Bernstein came with the New York Philharmonic, George Szell with Cleveland, Arthur Rubinstein, and right after she became a star, Leontyne Price. It was actually a very good place for me to grow up."
Not content to merely read about and listen to music, Page took steps to become a performer. At the age of nine, he began to study the piano and five years later delved into the study of composition. All the while, he continued to borrow books, listen to recordings, and review scores at the Music Library. "I came here again and again," he recounts. "Once I got to be about 12, I would spend most of my evenings here. They recognized my hunger. I was a sort of driven, intense personality. I was just fascinated by learning."
Interested in applying what he had learned in his lessons, as a teenager, Page founded an experimental rock band, Dover Beach, which performed his compositions at nightclubs in eastern Connecticut, including a 45-minute rock symphony that he had penned in one of the listening rooms of the Music Library. He would later expand his musical reach even further by playing classical and cocktail piano at the local restaurant, Blood and Bones.
Page's appetite for new musical experiences never waned, but his interest in subjects outside the field did. "It was easy for me to learn and memorize all the dates of old films and musical personalities but impossible to learn two or three little theorems in algebra, which might have earned me a passing grade," he says simply of the reason why he eventually left high school.
After earning his high school equivalency degree, he spent a brief time as a student at the University of Connecticut. Searching for a place that was better suited to his interests, he began formal music studies at what is now the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts and moved on to New York to study composition at the Mannes College of Music before earning a degree in music and English from Columbia University in 1979.
Weeks after graduating, he purchased a new recording of the complete music of composer Anton Webern, was captivated by it, and spent three days putting his reactions into words. He submitted his unsolicited thoughts to the Soho News, an arts-oriented weekly newspaper published in lower Manhattan. They accepted the story, printed it, and paid him the grand sum of $30, launching Page on a career as a music critic.
His reviews and views have appeared in myriad national and international publications such as the International Herald Tribune, The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and Opera News, to name just a few. In addition, he has made numerous appearances on National Public Radio and network news programs. He currently serves as culture writer for The Washington Post and shares his insights with his readers though his reviews and reports and participation in the newspaper's Classical Music Forum, a live Internet chat room.
Although now based in Washington, D.C. and living in Baltimore, Page maintains contact with friends living in eastern Connecticut, and still manages to visit the area. In fact, one visit coincided with Willimantic's Fourth of July Boombox Parade, which he chronicled in one of his pieces collected in the book Tim Page On Music.
Page has always remembered the institution where it all began. According to Music & Dramatic Arts Librarian Tracey Rudnick, Page has been donating brand new recordings and other musical materials by the thousand to UConn's music library since 1984. "Librarians from earlier times speak of lean times when Tim Page's donations outnumbered new library purchases," Rudnick notes. "Not the usual cast off book or LP donations, they are recently published, relevant materials that the library would very likely have chosen to purchase. They were—and remain—instrumental in building UConn's fine collection of musical sound recordings."
Page intends to move beyond his existing largesse and donate his papers, which include correspondence with many major contemporary figures in the world of music, to the library. Until that happens, he will continue to perform in his role as one of most authoritative voices in music today. How does he hope his body of work will ultimately be regarded? "I hope that my work is lively," he says. "I hope that it's accurate, and that my opinions are clear and fair. I hope that they're sometimes funny and that my affection for my art comes through."