“I think that nobody has captured in music the essence of American life --- its vitality, its greatness, its strength --- so well as Roy Harris. I feel the genius of his art --- which is great because it so colorfully portrays the life of our people.”
Born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Ray Harris lived on a farm in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, until his family moved to California when he was five. It was here that he received his first musical instruction from his mother. He attended college at the University of California and produced several works for orchestra and chorus. At the urging of many instructors and fellow students, he eventually ended his college studies and delved head-first into training as a composer. He met his wife, Johana “Jo” Duffy in 1935 when they were both teaching at Juilliard School of Music. At age 12, Mrs. Harris was the youngest child ever admitted as a student to the school and became a faculty member at Juilliard at the age of 18. Throughout their careers, they not only supported, but encouraged, each other to excel in their own talents and to share the fruits of that excellence with each other as they often performed and taught together. Mr. Harris wrote many symphonies, concertos, orchestral works, and ballets, as well as works for band and choir.
His “First Symphony” was nearly lost for good when a thief ransacked his car and stole the 100-page manuscript. When asked by the desk sergeant to describe what the symphony looked like, Mr. Harris replied, “I can’t describe it. I’ll have to rewrite it.” Not too much time passed before the thief abandoned the sheet music in the subway where it was retrieved and returned to the rightful owner – just in time for the first performance of the score!
Harris was born in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, homesteaded during the Cimarron Oklahoma Land Run.