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Michael Daugherty and Niagara Falls

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Michael Kevin Daugherty (born April 28, 1954) is an American composer, pianist, and teacher who has been influenced by popular culture, Romanticism, and Postmodernism, and is one of the most widely performed American concert music composers of his generation.   Daugherty was born into a musical family on April 28, 1954 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His father Willis Daugherty (1929–2011) was a jazz and country and western drummer, his mother Evelyn Daugherty (1927–1974) was an amateur singer, and his grandmother Josephine Daugherty (1907–1991) was a pianist for silent film. Daugherty’s four younger brothers are all professional musicians: Pat Daugherty (b. 1956), Tim Daugherty (b. 1958), Matt Daugherty (b. 1960), and Tommy D. Daugherty (b. 1961).

During his developmental years, Daugherty’s mother encouraged him to paint, draw cartoons, tap dance, and play basketball and his father and uncle, Danny Nicol, taught him how to play rock and jazz drums. From 1963-67 Daugherty played bass drum in the Emerald Knights and tom-toms in the Grenadier Drum and Bugle Corps where he competed against other Drum and Bugle Corps throughout small Midwestern towns. From 1968-72, Daugherty was the leader, arranger, and organist for his high school rock, soul, and funk band, The Soul Company. This band performed a variety of Motown charts and music by James Brown, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Sly and the Family Stone. Because accessing sheet music was almost impossible, Daugherty learned to hand-transcribe the music by listening to vinyl recordings. With the help of his father, who drove the band across the state, The Soul Company became a locally popular group that performed at high school proms, dances, and other events.

During the same years, Daugherty was a piano accompanist for the Washington High School Concert Choir and a solo jazz piano performer in nightclubs and lounges, and he appeared on local television as the pianist for the country and western Dale Thomas Show.  During the summers of 1972-77, Daugherty played Hammond organ at county fairs across the Midwest for various popular music stars such as Bobby Vinton, Boots Randolph, Pee Wee King, and members of The Lawrence Welk Show.  Daugherty studied music composition and jazz at the University of North Texas College of Music from 1972-76. His teachers of composition included Martin Mailman and James Sellars. Daugherty also played jazz piano in the Two O’Clock Lab Band.  It was after hearing the Dallas Symphony Orchestra perform the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber that Daugherty decided to devote his full energies into composing music for the concert stage.   In 1974, conductor Anshel Brusilow programmed a new work with the University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra when Daugherty was 20 years of age. After his premiere of Movements for Orchestra, the composition faculty awarded Daugherty a fellowship, which allowed him to continue his musical studies at the university. Daugherty received a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition from North Texas State University in 1976.

That same year, Daugherty moved to New York City to experience the exploding new music scene. While there, he studied serialism with Charles Wuorinen at the Manhattan School of Music for two years, and received a Master of Music in Composition degree in 1978.  To earn money for his studies, Daugherty was employed as an usher at Carnegie Hall and a rehearsal pianist for dance classes directed by the New York City Ballet dancer Jacques d’Amboise.  Daugherty frequently attended “uptown” and “downtown” new music concerts in New York City; this is where he became acquainted with composers such as Milton Babbitt, Morton Feldman, and Pierre Boulez.  In 1978, Boulez, then the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, invited Daugherty to apply to his recently opened computer music institute in Paris: IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). A Fulbright Fellowship enabled Daugherty to move to Paris to study computer music at IRCAM from 1979-80. During his time at IRCAM, he met many composers such as Luciano Berio, Gérard Grisey, Tod Machover, and Frank Zappa. In Paris, Daugherty had the opportunity to hear contemporary music by the leading European composers of the time performed by the Ensemble l’Itinéraire and Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain. He also attended analysis classes given by Betsy Jolas at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris.

In the fall of 1980, Daugherty returned to America to pursue doctoral studies in composition at the Yale School of Music. During that time, Jacob Druckman (who was one of America’s most influential composers) was chair of the composition department at Yale and composer in residence with the New York Philharmonic. Daugherty studied with Druckman and other Pulitzer Prize winning composers at Yale, including Bernard Rands and Roger Reynolds. He also studied improvisational notation systems and open form with experimental music composer Earle Brown.  Daugherty’s composition class at Yale included student composers who would later become unique and important voices in contemporary music: Bang on a Can composers Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe; along with Robert Beaser, Aaron Jay Kernis, Scott Lindroth, and Betty Olivero.

At Yale, Daugherty wrote his dissertation on the relationship between the music of Charles Ives and Gustav Mahler and the writings of Goethe and Ralph Waldo Emerson.   He also continued his interest in jazz where he worked with Willie Ruff and directed the Yale Jazz Ensemble. It was Ruff who introduced Daugherty to jazz arranger Gil Evans, who, at that time, was looking for an assistant. For the next several years, Daugherty traveled by train from New Haven to Evans’ private studio in Manhattan. Daugherty helped Evans organize his music manuscripts and complete projects. The most notable project was the reconstruction of the lost arrangements of Porgy and Bess, which was originally used for the 1958 recording with Miles Davis.  During the summer of 1981, Daugherty studied composition with Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Mario Davidovsky as a composition fellow at Tanglewood, which, at that time, was renowned as a bastion of abstract and atonal music. It was at Tanglewood that Daugherty met the composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein. After hearing Daugherty’s music at Tanglewood, Bernstein encouraged Daugherty to seriously consider integrating American popular music with concert music.

One year later, in the summer of 1982, Daugherty traveled to Germany to attend the Darmstädter Ferienkurse (Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik – Darmstadt International Summer Courses in New Music).  Darmstadt was one of the leading centers for new music in Europe, where the musical aesthetics of Theodor W. Adorno were still of great influence. Daugherty attended lectures given by composers, including Brian Ferneyhough and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and performances by the Arditti String Quartet. At Darmstadt, Daugherty became friends with Karlheinz’s son, the trumpet player Markus Stockhausen. Together they formed an experimental improvisation ensemble (Markus Stockhausen on trumpet and electronics and Daugherty on synthesizers) that, over several years, performed in concert halls and clubs across Europe.

In the fall of 1982, Daugherty was invited by composer György Ligeti to study composition with him at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg. In addition to attending Ligeti’s composition seminar (which took place at his apartment in Hamburg), Daugherty traveled with Ligeti to attend concerts and festivals of his music throughout Europe.   At the time, Ligeti was interested in the music of Conlon Nancarrow, who lived in isolation in Mexico City and composed complex polyrhythmic music for player pianos. The player piano (by now an antique) was a familiar and nostalgic musical instrument to Daugherty. Daugherty met Nancarrow in Graz, Austria, when Ligeti introduced Nancarrow and his music to the European intelligentsia at the 1982 ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) World Music Days.[14] During the following two years (1983–84), Daugherty continued to study with Ligeti while employed as a solo jazz pianist in night clubs in Cambridge, England and Amsterdam. To create “original” music, Ligeti encouraged and inspired Daugherty to find new ways to integrate computer music, jazz, rock, and American popular music with concert music. In the fall of 1984, Daugherty returned to America and devoted his career to doing just that.

Daugherty is an active educator of young composers and advocate for contemporary music. As an Assistant Professor of Composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (1986–91), Daugherty organized guest residencies of composers with performances of their music; these included Luciano Berio, John Harbison, Christopher Rouse, Roger Reynolds, Kenneth Gaburo, Morton Subotnick, Herbert Brun, and Salvatore Martirano. Daugherty also organized the 1988 Electronic Festival Plus Festival, which took place at Oberlin and featured music from over 50 composers. At Oberlin, Daugherty (playing synthesizer) also performed and recorded with jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd who taught there from 1987-89.  In 1991, Daugherty was invited to join the composition faculty at the University of Michigan School of Music (Ann Arbor).  He replaced Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Leslie Bassett, who retired after 40 years of service to the university. Daugherty was co-chair of the composition department with composer William Bolcom from 1998–2001, and chair of the department from 2002-06. As a Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan, Daugherty has been and continues to be a mentor to many of today’s most talented young composers.  At the University of Michigan, Daugherty has organized residencies of guest composers with performances of their music; these include Henryk Górecki, Louis Andriessen, Michael Colgrass, David Lang, Tania Leone, Michael Torke, Joan Tower, Betsy Jolas and György Ligeti.

Daugherty is active as an advocate of new music with numerous orchestras throughout America. He has been Composer-in-Residence with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra (2000), Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1999-2003), Colorado Symphony Orchestra (2001–02), Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music (2001, 2006, 2011), Westshore Symphony Orchestra (2005–06), Eugene Symphony (2006), the Henry Mancini Summer Institute (2006), the Music from Angel Fire Chamber Music Festival (2006), the Pacific Symphony (2010), Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra (2012), New Century Orchestra (2014), and the Albany Symphony (2015).  He is a frequent guest composer at American universities and schools of music, where he gives master classes on his music and works with young composers and student ensembles.  In 2001, Daugherty was invited to present his music with performances by the United States Air Force Band at the Midwest Clinic “The Midnight Special” in Chicago. Also in the Chicago area, Daugherty has frequently participated in the Ravinia Festival Community Outreach program which is designed to promote and encourage new music by student ensembles in the Chicago Public Schools. Daugherty continues to work with many youth orchestras, wind ensembles, and bands across the country.

Daugherty’s notable works include his Superman comic book-inspired Metropolis Symphony for Orchestra (1988–93), Dead Elvis for Solo Bassoon and Chamber Ensemble (1993), Jackie O (1997), UFO for Solo Percussion and Orchestra (1999) and for Symphonic Band (2000), Bells for Stokowski from Philadelphia Stories for Orchestra (2001), Fire and Blood for Solo Violin and Orchestra (2003) inspired by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Time Machine for Three Conductors and Orchestra (2003), Ghost Ranch for Orchestra (2005), and Deus ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra (2007). Daugherty has been described by The Times (London) as “a master icon maker” with a “maverick imagination, fearless structural sense and meticulous ear.”  He has also composed many new works, including Niagara Falls (1997) and Bells for Stokowski (2002), for the University of Michigan Symphony Band and its two most recent conductors, H. Robert Reynolds (directorship 1975-2001) and Michael Haithcock (directorship 2001–present). Daugherty’s music is published by Peermusic Classical, Boosey & Hawkes, and since 2010, Michael Daugherty Music/Bill Holab Music.

The following work by Michael Daugherty is contained in my collection:

Niagara Falls.

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