Diane Thome’s memoir “Palaces of Memory” chronicles the groundbreaking career of the composer and University of Washington faculty member. Thome discusses her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, at Folio: the Seattle Athenaeum.

Share story

‘Palaces of Memory: American Composer Diane Thome on her Life and Music’

by Diane Thome

Friesen Press, 108 pp., $22.99

Intimate, thought-provoking and deeply personal, this memoir by longtime University of Washington faculty composer Diane Thome is the chronicle of a lifelong pathfinder. The first woman to earn a Ph.D. in music from Princeton and the first woman to become a professional composer of computer-synthesized music, Thome made the majority of her career at the University of Washington, where she influenced the development of generations of young composers. Her lifelong door-busting philosophy empowered her students and inspired the region’s music community.

Thome’s biography takes its title from her 14-minute electroacoustic chamber work of the same name (“Palaces of Memory”). Listening to that subtle, richly scored amalgamation of lyrical instrumentals and otherworldly computer-generated sounds is an excellent preparation for reading about the author’s musical journey. That journey began in Thome’s crib, when her mother observed the 6-month-old baby laughing as she sang scales that rose higher to the top of her voice.

Piano lessons started at 7; composing at 8 (“little piano pieces with fanciful names”), composition lessons at 12 with Robert Strassburg, then scholarships, music camps and the Eastman School of Music. Thome worked with and encountered a long slate of distinguished composers, including Darius Milhaud and Howard Hanson (who wished her success, “… but I hope you won’t write any of that terrible electronic music!”). Then came an early marriage to fellow musician Joel Thome, and a scholarship to graduate school at Princeton, where she worked closely with Milton Babbitt.

Author appearance

Diane Thome

The author of “Palaces of Memory” will discuss her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, at Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum, 314 Marion St., Seattle. Tickets are $10 at the door; $5 for members and students. Information: 206-402-4162 or folioseattle.org.

Along the way, Thome encountered a pervasive sexism, epitomized in a condescending statement from composer George Rochberg (“I don’t think you have the intellectual grip” for a composition doctorate). But she also notes that male colleagues gave her generous encouragement.

A second marriage, and a few relationships, are briefly and tactfully discussed, as are religion, philosophy and poetry. One of the most profound sections of Thome’s book deals with her creative process, in which she “tries to induce a kind of spaciousness and silence in my mind … It is almost as if I am listening attentively for the composition to reveal itself.” Hers is a beautiful world of “amazing coincidences, serendipitous connections, and unforeseen events” that have made possible her shared passion for music.