Ohio State To Host Festival Honoring Donald Harris

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In tribute to his 80th birthday, the OSU Contemporary Music Festival celebrates the music of Donald Harris.(Photo: handout photo)
In tribute to his 80th birthday, the OSU Contemporary Music Festival celebrates the music of Donald Harris.(Photo: handout photo)

Donald Harris is Professor Emeritus of Music at The Ohio State University. He was Dean of the College of the Arts for many years, and has held top administrative posts at the New England Conservatory and the Hartt College Of Music.

In tribute to his 80th birthday, the Ohio State Contemporary Music Festival turns its sights on Donald Harris’s music.

The festival includes screenings of the 30 minute documentary film, Sonata 1957, about music Harris wrote in Paris as a young man.

WATCH: Pianist Daniel Beliavsky performs the first movement of Harris’s Sonata 1957:

Harris’s career as a composer, mentor and teacher is easy to celebrate. As Gunther Schuller comments, Donald is a kind, humble man-wonderful to students and not always comfortable in promoting his own-remarkable-talents. Hot-shots learn lessons in humility along with the craft of music. Not just the art, but the craft – the work of being a musician.

Harris learned from Nadia Boulanger, Aaron Copland, Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc. I imagine he’s honest enough to say he’s learned from his many pupils as well.

He’ll tell us about his work with these remarkable people next Sunday, April 24 at 6 pm as Music in Mid Ohio Ohio showcases his music and features an extended interview with the birthday boy (birthday professor or maestro more like it)

Listen to Harris talk about his early life in music:

[audio src=" http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/HARRIS-EXCERPT1.mp3"]

From the age of five years old, Harris studied music. He started taking piano lessons and accompanying his mother, a violinist.

“We used to play little pieces together and I loved doing that,” Harris explains. “Bach piano pieces, little ones – musette, gavotte – there was an album of Bach pieces for little fingers and I knew them all by heart.”

As a teenager, Harris turned away from classical music towards jazz because he thought it was the music of America’s future. He gave up piano and took up the saxophone.

“In high school I ran away from home to make my fortune as a jazz musician and I didn’t get very far.”

When he came back, Harris started studying harmony and wanted to write pieces for big band that were influenced by classical music.

Three months later, he enrolled in the University of Michigan and was in it for the long haul.

Here’s an excerpt from Harris’s Fantasy for Violin and Piano, written in Paris in 1956, with Paul Zukofsky, violin and Gilbert Kalish, piano.

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/HARRIS-FANTASY-FOR-BLOG.mp3"]

 

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