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Fanfare Contributor Bio

Richard A. Kaplan

My destiny was cast early on: as my late mother used to enjoy telling people, other babies had a rattle in their cribs; I had a record. Born in New York and raised in suburban Philadelphia, I began studying the clarinet at age nine, and within two years, in 1962, I announced that my ambition was to be principal clarinet in the New York Philharmonic. It’s fortunate that my ambition ultimately changed, since the job has not yet opened up!

I have nevertheless had several careers in music. After completing my BA at Cornell University, I spent three years in the U.S. Army Band in Arlington, Virginia. Return to civilian life also meant return to school, and I completed MM degrees in music theory and clarinet performance, then the PhD in music theory, all at the University of Michigan. My first career, that of performer, continued through and beyond my years of graduate school, including three seasons with the Flint Symphony Orchestra, the last as principal clarinet, and six seasons as associate principal and bass clarinet in the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Toward the end of this period I started a mail-order business selling rare, out-of-print classical recordings—mostly 78s—along with a fellow TSO member.

The appeal of scholarship and the necessity of making a living led to my second musical career, that of university professor. I was a member of the music theory faculty at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for 17 years. During that time, my research focused largely on harmony, tonality, and form in late 19th-century music, concentrating mostly on the music of Brahms, Mahler, and Strauss. I published articles in several major scholarly journals, including Music Theory Spectrum, The Journal of Musicology, and 19th-Century Music; I was active in the Society for Music Theory, serving as the program chair for its 1996 National Meeting; and, I was a two-time fellow of the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory in New York.

In 2004, after 17 years in academia, I decided that it was time to move on, and took early retirement. I am still constructing my third and final career, writing for Fanfare (and other venues when the attractive opportunity presents itself) and reviving my record business, now as sole proprietor. I have developed a series of principles, “Kaplan’s Laws,” which have guided my behavior in my various yet related careers. They are constantly in a state of revision, but Kaplan’s Law for the free-lance performer is “Never admit you haven’t played something before.” For college professors, the Law is “When you assign something, remember who is going to have to grade it.” Laws applying to records include (1) “When you see it, buy it” (corollary: you will regret the records you didn’t buy much more than any that you did), and (2) “A man can never have too much shellac.”

I still live in Baton Rouge, with my wife Trish, a retired Human Services administrator, two cats, and several thousand records.


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