I think that the unifying element in my music is drama, not in a programmatic, storytelling sense, but in how it moves the listener through time.
Elements of tension and release create a sense of forward momentum. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. I rely heavily on gesture, rather than system. I’m not interested in manipulating tone rows or set classes; I want my music to be about something. Extra-musical elements I’ve tried to express over the years have included (not necessarily all at once) nature imagery, humor, and aspects of the human condition.
Nearly all of my music has been written for a specific person or group. I find this interactive element of the process to be very inspiring; in fact, I can’t imagine just composing a piece for myself alone. In collaborating with performers I strive to write music that is idiomatic for their instruments or voices. I’ve been lucky to be able to compose for many highly skilled musicians; thus my music is often technically difficult. I want my work to be a challenge for performers without being thankless. I always hope that they find it to be worth their time and effort.
John Clare interviewed Katherine in 2005 for a two-part program on Nevada Public Radio’s 20/20 Hearing. This is a transcription of that interview.
JC: Katherine Murdock is a talented composer, and a good friend. She was my first college professor.
JC: It’s a great pleasure to welcome Katherine Murdock to 20/20 Hearing. I happen to know that you collect postcards, so it may not be so odd to have a piece called Postcards from the Center. Tell me a little bit about this work.
KM: I was commissioned to write a piece for a Kansas Arts Festival that Jim Jones here at Wichita State organized. He wanted it to be a multi-media work, and there was some discussion of having it done in schools for kids. I thought about it, and at first I had the idea of doing some diary of a Plains woman with narrator or something like that. Then I thought, no, that might be too heavy duty, too serious for schools. Then it occurred to me that I had this, well I thought it was a huge postcard collection, but it’s nothing compared to what I have now. I collect postcards of where I’ve been and where I’ve lived. I realized that I had this huge wad of Kansas postcards, so I dug them out. A lot of them have titles, so I got the idea of using the titles on these postcards as movement titles; they could make slides of the postcards and show them on a screen as they were playing the movements. I chose five of them and wrote this piece around the Kansas postcard titles.