Born in Baltimore in 1937, Philip Glass began studying the violin at age six but reports that his serious interest in music didn’t begin until he took up the flute two years later. After his sophomore year in high school, he entered the University of Chicago, where he studied mathematics and philosophy. He graduated at age 19 and determined to become a composer, moved to New York in order to attend the Julliard School. A few years later he was in Paris for intensive study with Nadia Boulanger, and at that time he was hired by a filmmaker to transcribe the Indian music of Ravi Shankar. For the next ten years, Glass composed a large collection of new music, some of it for the Mabou Mines Theater (Glass was one of the cofounders of that company) but most of it for his own performing group, the Philip Glass Ensemble. In 1976 Einstein on the Beach initiated a series of Glass operas that include Satyagraha andAkhnaten. He has written music for the theater and for dance as well as scores for movies, includingMishima, The Thin Blue Line, Koyaanisquatsi, and Powaqqatsi. He lives in New York City.

In 1966, Glass made the first of many trips to India. His Buddhist study and meditation practice began at that time.

This interview was conducted for Tricycle by Helen Tworkov together with Robert Coe, author, critic, and playwright, whose book Post-Shock: The Emergence of the American Avant-garde will be published next year by W.W. Norton. Lynn Davis’s photographs were taken in August 1991 at Glass’s summer home in Canada.


Tricycle: As your Buddhist studies followed an interest in yoga, let’s start there. That puts us back in 1962, when even a yoga teacher was hard to come by.

Philip Glass: I found one in the Yellow Pages, under the Y’s. For the next three years I studied with Indian yoga teachers, including one who started me being a vegetarian.

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