College of Music Welcomes New Composition Area Faculty

Four new appointments to focus on traditions, new directions, and cross-college collaborations.

Associate Professor of Composition Ricardo Lorenz, shown left, led the search committee to review music composition candidates, yielding the two appointments of Zhou Tian and David Biedenbender.
Associate Professor of Composition Mark Sullivan, shown left, led the search committee to review music media composition candidates, yielding the two appointments of Alexis Bacon and Lyn Goeringer.

An influx of talent focused on exploring acoustic and multi-media artistic traditions and trends in composing will transform the landscape for the MSU College of Music Composition Area beginning this fall.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to expand our exploration of new and traditional directions and grow our program,” says Ricardo Lorenz, associate professor and chair of the Composition Area.

The retirement of two highly esteemed faculty combined with the perpetual evolution of music strengthened the College’s resolve to build a composition program rooted in musical tradition with branches to newer genres and multi-media composition. Lorenz remarks the expansion will enable the College to retain long-established practices, while forging pathways that lead to artistic innovation, cross-college collaboration, technology-sophisticated studios, and career opportunities for students.

“This new direction reflects how complex the creative arts have become,” says Lorenz. “There’s really no other way for us to grow and make an impact in today’s environment than to cover both traditional composition as well as technology-driven, experimental composition, all the while incorporating the knowledge that the music industry offers.”

College leadership began the search processes for new faculty beginning Fall Semester 2015. Two faculty posts were slated to fill the positions of retiring faculty Jere Hutcheson and Charles Ruggiero—professors of composition and music theory with a combined 90-plus years of experience at the College. Two new positions were created to fill the need for curriculum and programs focused on digital, multi-media, and experimental composition.

Among the new faculty coming on board with expertise in orchestral, symphonic, and chamber composition are Zhou Tian, associate professor of composition; and David Biedenbender, assistant professor of composition. New appointments focused on multi-media and electronic composition are Assistant Professors Alexis Bacon and Lyn Goeringer. Meet the new music compostion faculty at MSU.

“The opportunity to bring in four new exceptional artists with distinctive voices and different backgrounds to our college will begin a new era of creativity our College,” says James Forger, dean of the College of Music. “These appointments will foster greater visibility, much more collaboration across the university and beyond, and will open new opportunities for students not only in traditional forms of composition, but in media, film, interdisciplinary projects, industry, jazz, popular, and world musics.”

As a frequent conductor and performer of new music, Director of Bands and Chair of the Conducting Area Kevin Sedatole says that the four appointments will allow the composition area to further influence and contribute to 21st-century music.

“The addition of four new colleagues in composition shows the commitment that the MSU College of Music has to being one of the very best in the country,” Sedatole says. “The various styles and compositional characteristics that each will offer in their teaching and composition will give us a very unique position in the academic realm. I'm excited to welcome each of our new colleagues to campus.”

Resounding directions

Faculty transitions and additions are not the only new direction for the composition area. In the coming year, the area will also develop and house a “creative pool” that participates in collaborations between departments and units campus-wide. Associate Professor of Composition Mark Sullivan will be among the team of inter-departmental faculty linking music and the arts to student and faculty projects supported by the Innovation Hub for Learning and Technology that promote bold and innovative connections between disciplines.

Retiring faculty and former area chair Hutcheson reflects on the new directions, saying that while traditions and core practices remain, the art and methods of composing continually evolve. In his five decades at MSU, Hutcheson has worked with luminaries like H. Owen Reed—an American composer, conductor and long-time MSU professor and administrator—as well as James Niblock—a leading composer and fine arts educator. He’s also seen the advent of computerized music and the influences of jazz, avant-garde, and international music take hold.

“One can always be amazed by the new ideas people think of,” says Hutcheson. “You never know what the next step will be. People come up with original ideas that no one ever thought of. The main thing is to teach compositional craft and solid technique.”

Search committees comprised of College of Music faculty reviewed more than 150 applications before making their recommendations.

“We learned a lot from our job searches and came away with solid ideas, directions, and astonishing talent who will propel our area forward,” says Lorenz. “We’re energized to explore genres, build curriculum, and continue to offer an exciting, artistic program that prepares composition students for the new challenges of our artistic profession while at the same time offering them the best of a traditional musical education.”

Meet the new Music Composition Faculty at MSU

Zhou Tian, associate professor of composition

What are your impressions of the atmosphere at the College of Music?
It's clear to me that this is a place where impeccable professionalism is met with great enthusiasm and hunger for creativity. I particularly appreciate the honesty, openness, and curiosity I felt when I first visited campus.

What is it about you or your background that brings value to the composition area?
I imagine it would be my versatility in composing all kinds of music professionally. Ever since I was 8 years old, my dad, a busy commercial composer/songwriter, encouraged me to play and appreciate jazz, pop, folk, and film music while still practicing classical. As a result, I grew up playing in numerous recording sessions, composing and improvising for TV producers, and later scoring a full­ length studio feature film.

These experiences enable me to work with students with a wide range of musical interests and goals. I believe a composer can learn from all genres of music, and be truly original. It’s important in this day and age to get a sense of the full spectrum of music. Plus, it is fun!

What are you most looking forward to?
I can’t wait start the new adventure at MSU and to work with students to help them achieve the music that they ultimately want to write. I’m also looking forward to working with faculty in all areas to enhance the music experience at MSU and to develop an even stronger and more versatile curriculum for composers of today and tomorrow.

Described as “absolutely beautiful” and “utterly satisfying” by Fanfare Magazine, the works of Chinese­ American composer Zhou Tian’s (JOH TEE­en) have been commissioned and performed by major orchestras in the United States and abroad, including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and by leading soloists and ensembles such as Yuja Wang, Roberto Díaz, Jason Vieaux, the Eroica Trio, the Arditti and Dover string quartets, the Empire Brass, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. His newest work, “Concerto For Orchestra,” commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony, premiered in the orchestra’s 2015­-16 season finale, conducted by music director Louis Langrée. His large-­scale symphonic suite for soloists, orchestra, and chorus, “The Grand Canal,” was performed during a nationally televised celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Critically acclaimed for his lush and distinctive musical voice, Zhou’s music has been heard at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, broadcast on NPR and PBS, and recorded on Cedille, Innova, and Pacific records. He holds degrees from Curtis (B.M.), Juilliard (M.M.), and USC (D.M.A.); is a first­-prize winner of Washington International Composers Competition and ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Art Song Competition, and held fellowships from Tanglewood and Aspen music festivals. His principal teachers included Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Rouse, and Stephen Hartke. He comes to MSU from Colgate University in New York, where he has taught since 2011. He joins his wife, Mingzhao—a violinist at the Detroit Symphony—as a Michigander.

David Biedenbender, assistant professor of composition

What are your impressions of the atmosphere at the College of Music?

The College of Music has a long and rich tradition of making music at a very high level, and my impression is there is extraordinary support and vision for making the College and the University a continued leader in the 21st century. There seems to be particular emphasis on creating and facilitating connections and collaborations between students and faculty not only within the College, but also with other units across campus.

What are you most looking forward to?
I am most looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues, students, and ensembles. As a composer, the opportunity to work with so many incredible musicians is really exciting. I find tremendous synergy between my work as a composer and my work as a teacher. The process of forming insights into my students’ work energizes, informs, and clarifies my own artistic perspective. 

What is about you or your background that brings value to the composition area?
My experiences as a composer are quite diverse. I have written for orchestra, chamber ensembles, choir, wind ensemble, jazz and improvisation-based ensembles, live and fixed electronics, and dancers. I have also engaged in several interdisciplinary projects, one of which utilized real-time EEG (brain) data to create live music and video. My music is influenced not only by the rich tradition of classical and experimental music, but also by jazz, rock, Indian Carnatic, and other musical traditions and genres.

Composer David Biedenbender’s music has been described as “simply beautiful” by ( and is noted for its “rhythmic intensity” (NewMusicBox) and “stirring harmonies” (Boston Classical Review). His music has also been by described as “modern, venturesome, and inexorable…The excitement, intensity, and freshness that characterizes Biedenbender’s music hung in the [air] long after the last note was played” (

Biedenbender has written music for the concert stage as well as for dance and multimedia collaborations. His work is often influenced by his diverse musical experiences in rock and jazz bands as an electric bassist; in wind, jazz, and New Orleans-style brass bands as a euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba player; and by his study of Indian Carnatic Music. His present creative interests include working with everyone from classically trained musicians to improvisers, acoustic chamber music to large ensembles, and interactive electronic interfaces to live brain data. He has had collaborated with and been commissioned by many renowned performers and ensembles, including Alarm Will Sound, the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Band, the Stenhammar String Quartet, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonie Baden-Baden (Germany), VocalEssence, La garde Républicaine, and the Eastman Wind Ensemble, among many others.

Biedenbender joins the MSU College of Music having served most recently as assistant professor of music composition and theory at Boise State University. He holds degrees in composition from the University of Michigan and Central Michigan University, and has also studied at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, the Aspen Music Festival and School, and in Mysore, India, where he studied Carnatic music.

Alexis Bacon, assistant professor of composition

What are your impressions of the atmosphere at the College of Music?
I have found the environment to be incredibly warm and welcoming, and I appreciate the creative freedom the environment affords faculty and students. I’m very impressed with how many great initiatives were started by the students themselves, which tells me that the faculty and administration are encouraging of innovation and experimentation—exactly the kind of environment I want to be in as a composer.

What are you most looking forward to?
We will be building a music technology program, greatly expanding on what we currently offer. I’m excited to dig into crafting something unique that draws upon all of our strengths. It is a huge privilege to be involved with creating a program from scratch and I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on this endeavor.

Where do you think music and media composition is headed for today’s students and where do you think you might have the biggest impact in helping prepare them?
Today’s composers need to have a broad base of knowledge and skills. These days, at different points of our careers, we might be composing on commission, composing for hire, teaching, working in production, performing, and always, always, hustling. I am an active part of this world and I consider that my students are, too, just at an earlier stage in their careers. I want my students to understand that we are part of a community of musicians, and to think collectively and collaboratively about how we can strengthen this community.

Alexis Bacon is a composer recognized nationally and internationally for her acoustic and electroacoustic music, having won awards such as the IAWM Search for New Music Pauline Oliveros Prize, the Ossia International Composition Prize, and the ASCAP/SEAMUS student composition commission. She has also received grants and awards from the Indiana Arts Council, the Percussive Arts Society, the American Music Center, and ASCAP, and commissions from the duo Due East, the Bro-Fowler Duo, and violinist Robert Simonds. A Fulbright scholar to France, she studied music composition in Paris with Betsy Jolas before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, where her composition teachers included William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Evan Chambers and Susan Botti. 

Also skilled as a violist and pianist, Bacon remains active as a performer. She has taught at the University of Michigan, West Texas A&M University, Indiana State University, and the University of Indianapolis, and spends her summers teaching at Interlochen Arts Camp. She began a position as assistant professor of music composition in the MSU College of Music in 2015.

Lyn Goeringer, assistant professor of composition

What are your impressions of the atmosphere at the College of Music?
The College is a vibrant place, and the culture is friendly and supportive. The students I’ve met are really enthusiastic, and are hungry for knowledge and new ideas for music. The faculty members are exceptional, and I look forward to working with them in the coming years. It’s exciting to be a part of a College that values each other as community.

What are you most looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to helping shape the future of composition at MSU, especially in electronic music. I’m looking forward to working with such great students and colleagues. I’m also looking forward to being in a supportive environment that is open to non-traditional approaches to music composition and creation.

Where do you think music and media composition is heading for today’s students, and where do you think you might have the biggest impact on them?
Music and media composition is not as defined as many others fields in contemporary music. It’s a field that intersects not just with mass media production, but also with cottage industries, instrument development and design, art installation practices, and technology development.

I can help students see that there are a lot of avenues for their futures. It isn’t just moving to New York City or LA and hoping to get a job in a good game firm or making it in film scoring. You can make your own path, your own future, within the field of electronic music and within musically engaged new media and emergent media practices.

Lyn Goeringer is a composer and intermedia artist who works with video, sound, and light. She creates video art for gallery installation, live performance, and dance. Her work is often playful but complex, engaging with everyday objects toward abstract results. Goeringer taught at Oberlin Conservatory in the TIMARA program from 2012-2015. She received her Ph. D. From Brown University in 2011, and an MFA from Bard College in 2005. Goeringer will join the College of Music at Michigan State University in the fall of 2016, with a joint appointment in Film Studies in the Department of English.

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