Donald McDonnell

Professor

"I love the material. I get excited in the classroom, particularly when students engage with me—if they're listening and they have questions. Often in the counterpoint classes I'll sing the melodies that are put on the board and then I have the students sing along. Then I'll play one melody at the piano and they'll sing the other melody. That's a tremendous musicianship-building activity."

"I tend to like to compose at the piano. The computer I use at the final stage for engraving, once I've made all the decisions. I encourage my students to do that, as well. Depending on the style of music that you do, the process is crucially important to producing a certain product. I know a lot of film music people who will compose at a MIDI keyboard and play right into the computer. But I think for the sort of music that I do, and that my students do [for class], it actually doesn't work out that well. It can be quite limiting. Sometimes students will play something on the computer and it'll go by so quickly that it won't register on their ear—they can't hear the wrong notes."

"A question that students sometimes ask is if rock stars—Paul McCartney is now a famous example—don't read music, why should I have to learn how to read music? It's a very reasonable question. What we're bumping up against here is a cultural difference. There is a culture of classical music that is absolutely deeply founded in musical literacy. There's another culture, rock and roll, and it's all about ear. And that's a tremendously valuable, essential skill, as well. In general I think that it's to the student's benefit to be able to function in both cultures."

Career Highlights

  • B.M., Berklee College of Music
  • M.M., Boston University
  • Ph.D., Brandeis University
  • Jazz performer, arranger, and composer
  • Electronic music commissioned by the DeCordova Museum
  • Performances by new music ensembles including Speculum Musicae and Jacksonville Symphony Chamber Players
  • Winner of the Reiner Prize in composition from Brandeis University (1985), Boston Chapter League-ISCM Composition Competition (1986), and National Composers Competition, League-ISCM (1992)
  • Recipient, Jory copying assistance grant from the American Music Center
  • Composer-in-residence, Contemporary Music Festival, Leukerbad, Switzerland
  • Chosen by Pulitzer Prize laureate Jacob Druckman as an associate at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Florida (1989)
  • Past chairman and board member, League-ISCM, Boston, 1987-1991