The World for a Song

Kathryn Compton Bailey Puffett ’60 first came to Pacific University as a participant in Music in May. Her love of music has since taken her around the world, performing, researching and teaching. Today, she enjoys a quiet life in Cambridge, England, copyediting and writing books about and related to music.

But how she got there was quite the ride.

“[I was brought to Pacific by] Music in May, in which I got second place in my senior year of high school and, as a result, got to play a concerto with the Portland Junior Symphony.

“I spent a few days in Forest Grove, in the home of one of the professors of music, and got to know the place and the people and found both it and them attractive.”

She majored in music — obviously — focusing on piano, which she’s been playing since she was 5 to 6. However, she said, “I really started to learn about music when I was an undergraduate at Pacific.”

AnchorLike many Pacific alumni, Puffett recalls her college days with nothing but fond memories. She recalls spending her first two years living in the Annex — then a surplus Army hut that was previously used to house married soldiers in the war.

“I believe you have something called the Annex now, but it’s a far cry from our Annex,” she said. “Each apartment had three very tiny bedrooms with bunk beds, a tiny central room and a bathroom, and six girls lived in each apartment, two in each bedroom.”

Her house-parents at the Annex became great friends.

“Donald Thulean, who was dean of music, and his wife, both only about 10 years older than we all were, lived in one of the central apartments downstairs and were our house parents,” she said. “They were very dear people; I fell in love with them immediately, and we are still very close friends, 58 years later. They have visited me in Cambridge, and I have visited them in Seattle, where they now live.”

Puffett was a member of the Phi Lambda Omicron sorority, and, during the summer of her junior and senior years, went to music school in Aspen, Colo.

After graduation, she earned her master’s of music degree from Indiana University and immediately went into teaching.

“I decided to apply for a job rather than going on for the doctorate, and I applied to the University of British Columbia and was immediately accepted,” she said. “Jobs were very much easier to come by in those days; I feel guilty now, as I see the terrible difficulty that really able graduates have in finding positions. I wasn’t even called for an interview.”

At the time, dual-citizenship was not an option in the United States, so to teach and live in Canada, Puffett had to exchange her U.S. citizenship for her Canadian one. Later, when she moved to England with her now-late husband, she again changed her citizenship.

“I may as well confess also that when I started having children, I was very anxious that they shouldn’t be eligible in the U.S. draft,” she said.

(Her children with her first husband are now dual citizens of Canada and the United States. Her son teaches art history in Ontario and is a member of the Royal Society of Canada. Her daughter, Sara Gruen, is the author of the bestseller Water for Elephants.)

Puffett didn’t always want to be a teacher — she can’t quite pinpoint when that changed — but she’s never been happier with a decision.

“I taught at UBC for 12 years and at the University of western Ontario in London, Ontario (Canada), for 15 years. Then I moved to England and was a supervisor (tutor) at University of Cambridge for over 20 years,” she said. “That involved meeting many groups of two or three or four students at my house every week to analyze and study and talk about music, and it was extremely pleasurable.”

Puffett also spent a lot of time performing on stage, both individually and in recitals.

“I enjoyed giving solo recitals because I was playing music that I loved and doing it really well,” she said. “But most of all I loved playing chamber music with other people. Playing beautiful music well and especially with other people is a hugely satisfying and enriching experience.”

After a while, though, Puffett realized that her true passion was not in playing music, but writing about it.

“It occurred to me that writing would be a much more secure means of creativity, because if I wrote something, I could revise it and hone it and make it exactly as I wanted it to be and it would never change,” she said.

In particular, Puffett enjoys analyzing music, and has published several articles and books of in-depth musical research. She currently is working on a new book about three 20th century Viennese composers: Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg.

She has given up playing the piano.

“I don’t even own a piano,” she said. “This is a sadness I wasn’t expecting, but I wouldn’t be able to play it anyway, as I have had arthritis in my hands (and elsewhere) for many years now.”

Still, her talents live on in the memories of her countless students and in her permanent place in the Pacific University Music Hall of Fame.

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