2017 Taos Living Treasures: Joanne Forman

Want to do something in your life? 'Do it'


When Joanne Forman comes up in conversation, people talk about the rides they’ve given her to and fro because she has never had a car or driven one. And they talk about her motto: “Do it.” Long before Nike athletic shoes started using the “Just do it” slogan, Forman had that one piece of advice for anyone who asked and plenty who didn’t.

A 39-year resident of Taos, Forman, beyond being a stubborn non-driver, is a prolific composer, writer and contributor to the community.

“I have a filing cabinet in which each folder is a musical project. About a year ago, I counted all the folders. There were 90 of them. I’m laughing because I’m not going to live that long [to complete the project of converting each composition for radio]. I sent some of them to the archives. Now, it’s down to about 40. I’m still laughing because I still don’t think I’m going to live that long,” she said.

She began composing music at the age of 16. Sixty-seven years later, she has written 10 one-act operas along with their librettos, two musicals, as well as orchestral, chamber and choral music. This includes more than 100 piano pieces. If that weren’t enough, she has also penned musicals for children. Much of her music was premiered in Taos, but has also been performed in California; Colorado; Texas; Alabama; New York state; Chicago, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Alberta, Canada.

She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts composer’s fellowship and awards from Meet the Composer, Maine Commission on the Arts and New Mexico Humanities Commission. She also was awarded four citations from the National Federation of Music Clubs.

Before there was a Tempo entertainment section in The Taos News, Forman was arts editor and a columnist for the arts page. She also was a columnist for the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle and has written for other newspapers and magazines in Northern New Mexico.

Forman has a deep love of the written word. She was a longtime volunteer for the Taos Public Library and was one of the founders of the Talpa Community Library. One of her interests is in speculative fiction, and for many years, she wrote and took part in a science fiction writers group in the mid-1980s and 1990s.

Forman was also a puppeteer for 27 years. She began in California with shows for the United Farmworkers Union, performing in English and Spanish, and then she toured all over the United States and southeast Asia. She conducted many puppetry workshops at the University of Maine, Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota and Rough Rock School in Arizona, to name a few places. 

She shows no signs of slowing down. Right now, she has a weekly classical music program on KCEI-FM 90.1, the Taos educational radio station operated by Cultural Energy, and is working on a musical adaptation for radio of John Nichols’ novel, “The Voice of the Butterfly.” She’s also working on a piece about Florence Nightingale.

“Radio is the great creative medium because you get to make up your own pictures in your own mind,” she said, noting she is old enough to remember the golden age of radio. Future projects include converting many of her compositions for the medium of radio.

“I always have to laugh when people ask me, ‘Are you still writing music?’ And I always want to reply, ‘Are you still breathing?’” she says and laughs. “I just wanted, you know, to do music. What else is there to do?”

Another facet to Forman’s interests and predilections are her politics. That’s reflective of another one of the octogenarian’s current projects, which is called “Voting: The Musical.”

“People don’t realize the history of what people have gone through for the right to vote,” she said.