Bio -- David Nisbet Stewart
David Nisbet Stewart is a composer, pianist and organist. His career began in academia and migrated into computer technology from 1979 onward. His style of composing also changed as he pursued a new occupation.
After graduating with a B.Mus. degree in composition from Oberlin College Conservatory in Ohio in 1965, and an M.A. in music from Smith College (yes, as a man) in 1969, he taught music theory, composition, and electronic music at Eastern Michigan University and then Kent State University. He received recognition with several awards for chamber music, starting with the Broadcast Music Incorporated Student Composers Award in 1966. His Spectral Dance for Wind Quintet was published by the New Valley Music Press at Smith College , which ceased operation in 1996. He worked on a PhD at Michigan State University for a year and a summer, where he learned valuable concepts in history and theory that enriched his composition. His last academic post as adjunct professor in the Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) program at Oberlin – to fill a vacancy for one semester – came at the point he was changing careers.
An important influence in his college years was the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and its summer camp for gifted teenagers. He developed a music program for the camp and wrote many songs that were easy and fun to sing. He composed woodwind quartet music for a film produced by the Foundation.
A self-taught computer programmer, he began studying computer-generated sound in 1969. He produced electronic music both by Moog synthesizer and by computer using the seminal MUSIC4 program on Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11's. He received a grant and published two academic articles in this field.
Living in Ohio from 1975 to 1985, he was a member of the Cleveland Composers Guild which provided many performances of his chamber music, including Spectral Dance and Two Pieces for Six Trombones . His Entropy for String Quartet was performed at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1979. That is his most strict twelve-tone composition. Spectral Dance is also twelve-tone, although the reviewer said it was the most conservative piece on the program.
Producing electronic music agreed with Stewart's aesthetic in the 1960's and 70's, when he was composing twelve-tone serial and aleatoric music. These techniques were promoted in the music schools in the mid-20 th century. After leaving college teaching his aesthetic changed. He wanted to write more spontaneously the sounds from his imagination. He wanted to write music that was accessible to the performer and audience and maintain his stylistic integrity. He no longer had a college music department to provide performances, and learned to reach out to the community for performances.
After ten years in the world of academic music, Stewart discovered he could apply his skills in electronic music creation to the new world of industrial computer programming. He built his business career on DEC hardware and the VMS operating system. As a programmer and systems analyst, after 1979 he was employed by Stanley Air Tools and Harris Publishing Co. in Ohio . Then in 1985 he and his family moved to the Detroit area where he worked for General Motors Fanuc Robotics, Valassis and others. He was an independent consultant during the 1990's, with clients from Chicago to Alabama to Virginia. He found the business world, with its profit motive, exciting and enjoyable, and that made for success. As an independent consultant, he acquired skills in selling and negotiating, skills which have helped him in the music business.
Stewart has also been a church musician most of his adult life as an organist and choir director in Episcopal churches. He believes that a composer must also be a performer. As a practical matter, a musician usually makes more money by performing than by composing. He often played, and his choirs sang, his own compositions.
The period from 1985 to 1995 saw little musical output, as he and his family moved from Kent, Ohio, to Detroit, Michigan . This move meant an advancement for his and his wife's careers. They were also raising two small children. Then in the late 1990's he began to compose at an increasingly faster pace, in his mature style. He had the new advantage of using a personal computer with music software.
During this renewal he took harmonic ideas from Bartok and Gershwin. Arcangelo Corelli, J.S. Bach and Brahms have always been his favorite composers from earlier periods, and he modeled form and counterpoint after them. Brahms and Tchaikovsky were models for orchestration. His music became more tonal, yet still derived techniques from dodecaphony and aleatory when justified.
He started a set of piano preludes in 1998, one on each of the twelve tones of the western scale. This was in the tradition of Bach and Chopin and others, although in Stewart's preludes there is no distinction between major and minor. David Daniels, the music director of the Warren ( Michigan ) Symphony, a professional community orchestra, took an interest in Stewart's music. Daniels is also an Oberlin graduate, class of 1955. Stewart took the sixth prelude in F and orchestrated it into a ten minute overture. This was the first of three premiere performances provided by the Warren Symphony Orchestra.
Overture in F for Orchestra was premiered in 2003. It was received enthusiastically by the audience and the symphony board, and so Daniels agreed to perform another more ambitious piece.
In 2002 Stewart finished “Cindy, O Cindy” – Variations on an Appalachian Civil War Folksong for orchestra and youth chorus. This was originally intended for a high school music department, but eventually was premiered by the Warren Symphony Orchestra in 2004, with a chorus from the high school where his children had graduated.
“Cindy” is an arrangement and elaboration of a folk song which was sung at the High/Scope summer camp. It is a ballad in five stanzas with a lovely melody in Dorian mode. It is necessarily tonal, except for the second stanza which describes a battle scene. Stewart used aleatoric dissonance to express the cacophony of battle. It also gave the young singers something fun and different.
“Cindy” was recorded by ERMMedia with the Kyiv Philharmonic and the Chamber Choir Kyiv, conducted by Robert Ian Winstin , and released in 2009. ERMMedia ceased operation after Winstin's death, and the album – a multi-disk set with many composers represented – has not received wide distribution.
The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was finished in 2008 after four years of work. In three movements, it uses material reworked from Stewart's organ solos and another one of the piano preludes. It was premiered in 2009 by the Warren Symphony conducted by David Daniels, in his last year before retirement. Misha Dacic was the soloist, a Serbian-born American resident from Miami, where Stewart was born and still had friends in the music world. Stewart feels that this work is his best accomplishment, and it was met with an enthusiastic response.
The Concerto, with the Moravian Philharmonic, conducted by Petr Vronsky and with soloist Martin Levicky, will be released October 10, 2012 , on an album by Parma Recordings, along with a recently composed piano-brass quartet. After three big orchestral works, Stewart is spending time composing solo and small ensemble pieces
Stewart's career as a composer has been interwoven with his occupation in computer technology and with raising a family. At the age of seventy he still works part-time at Valassis in Livonia, Michigan. He composes and promotes his music in the remaining time. He feels most at home writing for his own instruments – piano and organ – and those pieces often serve as drafts for larger works. He and his wife of forty-two years, Xina Losacco, have two children and three grandchildren, who live in Plymouth, New Hampshire, and Belmont, Massachusetts.
He fondly remembers his principal teachers, all of blessed memory: Bower Murphy, William Klenz, Joseph Wood, Walter Aschaffenburg, and Alvin Etler in composition; and David Pizarro in organ and Arthur Dann in piano.
He is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); American Composers Forum; Society of Composers Inc.; Conductors Guild; and the American Guild of Organists.
He believes that leaving academia for the business world was a great benefit to his art. Music is the business of entertaining. The composer has to satisfy, even delight, the paying audience. There must be an emotional connection. David Stewart's compositions connect with the listener's ear and heart.