Joan Tower: Composer as Teacher

Multiple Grammy-winning visiting composer shares wisdom with students. By Greg Ryan '08

The lecture Joan Tower gave during her February visit to campus was a welcome revelation for composition student Dillon Kondor ’08. Recent visiting composers had stressed the importance of networking and entering competitions, he says, but Tower preached a more aesthetically centered message that appealed to the young composer and seemed to lift rather than add stress. “Joan said, ‘Don’t worry about any of that stuff. Just write music,’ ” Kondor says.

Tower might be onto something--a day after she visited the College, a recording of her Made in America won three Grammys. The composer came to Ithaca through the School of Music’s Enduring Masters series, and IC ensembles performed her music in a Ford Hall concert in her honor. Tower, whom the New Yorker has called “one of the most successful [female] composers of all time,” won the Grawemeyer Award in Composition in 1990. Dana Wilson, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Music at IC, says Tower is a musician’s composer — unlike many of her contemporaries, she writes music with the orchestra’s tastes and preferences in mind. “She knows what players like to do on their instruments,” he says.

Tower will turn 70 in September, but her words and music resonate with a younger generation of composers. “She gave me a sense that things will work out,” Kondor says, “if you trust your musical instincts.”