Thomas J. McGah

Professor

"The Composition Department offers a number of concerts so that our students, when they go out into the world, don't have the shock of suddenly hearing their music played for the first time. It can be startling—'Did I write that?' We try to give them an opportunity to experience that moment of terror when you're on the line. In composition classes, I tell students that I've been there. I've been at performances of my music that I felt didn't really capture what I had imagined would happen. I think that happens all the time."

"The composition student is generally a highly motivated person. Because, let's face it, making a living by writing music probably isn't going to happen. It's a field that has to be approached realistically, and I try to explain that. Teaching and performing are avenues that many composers often pursue—to eat! The student who's not aware that the world is not waiting for your next piece—you've got to get out there and plug away, and in the meantime probably be doing something else—is probably going to be very frustrated. So I try to explain that, yes, there have been times I wished that I had had a better performance or more performances. But they happen sooner or later."

"It's very easy sometimes in academic settings to begin to live in an unreal world, especially if you're talking to other composers all the time. It's the rockers, the jazzers, and the business majors who are going to keep us healthy and keep us in the real world. I firmly believe this: a composer is one who should have wide horizons. The great masters of the past were very involved in the popular music of the day. Beethoven didn't look down his nose at writing a good waltz. Even Schoenberg composed and arranged cabaret music in Berlin."

 

Career Highlights

  • B.S., University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • M.M., Boston University
  • Performances with the Arlington/Belmont Chorale, Arlington Symphony Orchestra, Boston Chamber Ensemble, Boston Saxophone Quartet, Boylston Trio, Chamber Ensemble of Rhodes (Greece), Concord Concert Band, Lyricum Woodwind Quintet, M.I.T. Concert Band, and Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston
  • Recordings for Concordia Records and Denouement Records
  • Commissions and grants from the Arlington Arts Council, Chamber Ensemble of Rhodes, Concord Arts Council, Harvard Musical Association, Massachusetts Council for the Arts, Meet the Composer, M.I.T. Concert Band, and various solo artists