Story Bites

Missy Mazzoli: The Odd One Out

Growing up in a small town where music, especially classical music, was not valued, composer and pianist Missy Mazzoli felt out of place in her love for music. Mazzoli also did not know of many female classical composers she could look up to. One would see these disadvantages as a reason to give up on a dream, but Mazzoli didn’t.

On October 27, 1980, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, Missy Mazzoli made her way into the world. Though she would grow to be a successful classical music composer, as a small child Mazzoli did not get much exposure to music, as she grew up in a non-musical family. 

Fortunately, Mazzoli got the opportunity to learn to play the piano from teacher Kirsten Olson. At only 10 years old, Mazzoli began writing music herself and considered having a career in composition. 


Mazzoli spent her young adult years getting an education in music. At the age of 21, she traveled to the Netherlands to study at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, a music school. She also graduated from Boston University’s College of fine arts with a bachelor’s degree. She then went on to attend the Yale School of Music, where she earned her master’s degree in 2006. Her teachers include composers John Harbison, David Lang, Martin Bresnick and Aaron Jay Kernis.

The Student Becomes a Master 

Eventually, Mazzoli became a teacher herself, as she went on to teach composition in the music department at Yale University, the same university she attended as a student. 

Mazzoli has not only taught aspiring musicians, but she helped bring attention to the work of young composers, by directing the MATA Festival in New York City, an organization that promotes the work of composers.

First Timer

Mazzoli’s first opera was Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt, a one-act opera about the life of Swiss writer and explorer Isabella Eberhardt. It premiered at The Kitchen, a venue in New York, in March of 2012.

A Musical Union

One would assume that playing the piano, composing music, as well as teaching it is accomplishment enough but Mazzoli is also a member of a band she created, Victoire. The band has played in many venues throughout the world including, Carnegie Hall in New York City, the MADE festival in Sweden, the C3 festival in Berlin and Millenium Park in Chicago.

Some albums produced by the group include Cathedral City and Vespers for a New Dark Age, which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered in February 2014.

A Musician’s Feats

Mazzoli’s music has been performed by a variety of musicians and groups, including Jennifer Koh, a violinist, and the Kronos Quartet, a string quartet based in San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly, one of Mazzoli’s operas, Breaking the Waves, was a huge success, it was even nominated for the 2017 International Opera for the Best World Premiere. Mazzoli won the Music Critics Association of North America Award for Best Opera in 2017. It was noted by Opera News, an American classical music magazine, as one of “…the best 21-st century American operas yet produced.” 

One of her most recent operas, The Listeners, premiered in March of 2021 in Oslo. It was commissioned by the Norwegian National Opera Ballet, as well as the Opera Philadelphia. 

Story Bites

Wang Jie: A Classical Composing Genius

When she was four years old, Wang’s parents arranged for her to study music with composer and pianist, Yang Liqin. By the time she was five years old, she was already a known piano prodigy! 

Since then, Wang has had a deep love for music. Actually, love is an understatement, music is Wang’s life. She has put it before everything else in her life, even before her studies as a child.

From earning prizes and awards, to having her work featured in concerts, Wang’s work has been proven to be exceptional, as her music is often relatable, even tear jerking.

Musical Journey

As a young adult, Wang relocated to the United States, upon being given a scholarship by the Manhattan School of Music in New York. There, she studied composition with composers Nils Vigeland and Richard Danielpour. As a college student, many of her works were performed, including a tragic opera, Nannan, which was showcased by the Contemporary Opera Lab and Wang’s piano trio, Shadow, which was performed by the New Juilliard Ensemble for the Museum of Modern Arts Summergarden concert series.

Giving Credit Where It’s Due

In addition to having her works performed, Wang has won many prizes for them. Even more impressive, she is the first composer to have been awarded the Milton Rock Fellowship prize! She has also received the Northbridge Composition Prize for her work Death of Socrates.

Wang’s accomplishments didn’t stop there. Her work, Symphony No. 1 (Awakening) was featured by the Minnesota Orchestra at the 2010 Future Classics Concert. It was described by fellow classical music composer, John Carigliano, as “gorgeously written”.

Stirred Up Emotions 

On July 20, 2017, at the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, Wang created the work It Rained on Shakopee, an opera about a mother in prison, hoping for her daughter to visit her on Mother’s Day. She created this with playwright Zhu Yi, based on their experience during their residency at the Women’s Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minnesota. Wang took stories and experiences from the inmates to create this piece. A recorded chorus of the inmates from the prison was included in the piece.

Wang created this work in honor of mothers who are incarcerated, likely because these women do not get much acknowledgement, especially on holidays like Mother’s Day. 

As shown, Wang’s work is inspired by strong emotions. In comparison to  It Rained on Shakopee, however, some of her other works were created from a place of joy. Wang created what is known as “The Joy Series” . One addition to the series is her piece called, FIVE FACES OF JOY, released in 2009, about the five common ways to smile. Wang created this piece simply by thinking of smiles. 


As of 2021, Wang continues to compose music, sharing her music through her website

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The Innovative and Unconventional John Cage

When most people think of art, they think of music, dancing and painting. But when John Cage thought of art, he thought of so much more. Along with composing songs, he created the piece 4’33”, in which the performer was to remain silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. His goal was to have his audience observe the sounds of their environment, rather than be distracted from the sound of music. Cage saw the beauty in his surroundings. But did anyone else?

Though Cage had the talent to compose music, he didn’t always have the ambition. It wasn’t until he reached adulthood that he gained interest to do so. When given the chance to learn composition, he put his all into creating, promising to always do so. Throughout the ups and downs of his career, Cage maintained his promise to compose music that taught others to be in tune with their environment in hopes that they would experience the world the way he did.

John Milton Cage was born on September 5, 1912 in Los Angeles, California. Cage was born to John Milton Cage Sr. and journalist Lucretia Harvey.

The Learning Stage

Cage first got into music as a child, when he received lessons from private piano teachers, as well as some relatives. One relative introduced Cage to 19th century piano music, he then began practicing the piano at only nine years old.

Alternative Dreams

Though he liked music as a child, Cage was more interested in sight reading. Despite receiving piano lessons and having famous composer and pianist Fannie Charles Dillon as a music teacher in high school, Cage was adamant about becoming a writer.

In 1928, Cage graduated from high school as valedictorian. Along with being an exceptional student, one thing Cage was notable for was his unique mindset. When giving a speech at the Hollywood Bowl as a high school senior, he used his platform to tell his audience to remain quiet for the day. He believed that by being “hushed and silent, we should have the opportunity to hear what other people think.” He wanted people to take time out of their busy lives to observe their surroundings.

Later that year, Cage attended Pomona College as an undergraduate, majoring in theology. Two years later, however, he dropped out, believing that attending college was pointless for an aspiring writer. Instead, he took a trip to Europe, where he explored different forms of art to figure out what he was most interested in.

True Calling

After many trials, Cage finally realized what form of art he wanted to pursue. It was during his stay in Europe that his teacher, Lazaro Levy, introduced Cage to music by contemporary composers. This inspired Cage to compose music himself.

In 1933, he relocated to New York City to study composition with composer Adolph Weiss. Eventually, Cage began to master composition and got the opportunity to study it from Arnold Schoenberg, after promising Schoenberg that Cage would devote his life to music.


Cage studied with Schoenberg for two years. During this time, Schoenberg taught Cage resiliency, telling Cage that he must overcome his struggle with having a feeling for harmony in order to be able to write music.

Eventually, Cage stopped studying with Schoenberg after a disagreement with his teaching methodology. Despite this, Schoenberg admired Cage, referring to him as “an inventor of genius”.

Even decades afterwards, Cage managed to keep the promise he made to Schoenberg about dedicating his life to music. This is why Cage continued composing music into his old age despite no longer feeling a need to do so.

New Beginnings

In 1938, Cage and his wife at the time, Xenia Kashevaroff, moved to Seattle, Washington. There, he worked as a composer and accompanist for Bonnie Bird at the Cornish College of the Arts. It was during this time that Cage organized a percussion ensemble that traveled throughout the West Coast to perform. This led to him first receiving fame for his work.

Rough Patch

In 1942, Cage moved to New York City, in order to find more significant commissions. Unfortunately, Cage did not succeed in the way he thought he would. During his stay in the Big Apple, he did not get commissions from performing. In addition, Cage and his then-wife lost support from a friend he and his wife had been living with and receiving financial and career support. This left Cage destitute.

Along with lacking basic necessities, Cage was left without his percussion instruments. He began to doubt the use of music as a way of communicating due to his being often being misunderstood and rejected by the public.

Stepping Stones

In 1951, Cage was given a copy of the I Ching, which Cage used as an aid in composing music. I Ching helped Cage produce Imaginary Landscape No. 4 and Music of Changes, as well as many other works as his career progressed.

In 1952, Cage composed his best-known work: 4’33”. During this 4 minute and 33 second piece, the performer is to abstain from playing an instrument, so that the audience will focus on the sounds of their environment. This work was a reflection of Cage’s mindset and habit of taking note of his environment, something many neglect to do because of the distractions from everyday life.

Despite Cage’s good intentions with the release of 4’33”, his reputation further deteriorated after its release. The press did not acknowledge this work and Cage’s relationships with many people ended.

Turning Point

Eventually, Cage’s career took a turn for the better when the university he taught in, Wesleyan University, published a book containing a collection of his lectures and writings. Cage was later offered a contract by C.F. Peters Corporation, a classical music publishing company, in which Cage’s work was published. This led to him reaching a much higher level of fame and being offered many opportunities to perform.

Cage continued to compose music until the 1970s. About a decade afterward he produced operas as well. Even in the last few years of his life, when he could no longer compose music, Cage continued creating art. He wrote books of poetry and prose and worked at Crown Point Press, producing prints up until his death.

Cage passed away in New York City on August 12, 1992, after suffering a stroke.

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Florence Price: The Woman Who Paved the Way

How far would you go to accomplish your goals?  How many ‘no’s are you willing to hear before you get a ‘yes’? Florence Price was resilient, going as far as creating a pseudonym, in order to have her music heard.

Despite the obstacles, Florence Price was determined, which led to her achieving a great amount of success, an amount that seemed impossible at the time for a woman of color.

Prodigious Beginnings

It was on April 9, 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas that composer, pianist, and teacher Florence Price, was born to dentist James H. Smith and music teacher Florence Gulliver.

Even from a young age, those around Price noticed her potential. Having a music teacher as a mother, Price had an advantage and was able to study the piano with her mother in her youth. At only four years old, Price gave her first piano recital.

Not only was she a musical genius, but Price was an advanced student and graduated early from high school, as valedictorian. With such a head start, she was able to obtain her diploma as an organ player and teacher at only 16 years old, graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music.

A Stumbling Block

Being not only black but a woman made Price’s journey more challenging than most during this era. She was deprived of the opportunities and recognition that her white, male peers were given graciously.

At one point Price applied to become a teacher at the Arkansas Music Teachers Association, but was denied a position, despite being qualified. This rejection was most likely due to her race, being that its faculty was made up solely of whites.

Price also faced discrimination in the music industry. She reached out to famous contemporary composer, Serge Koussevitzky, acknowledging that she was disadvantaged due to her race and gender, and asking him to review her music despite that. Unfortunately, Price never heard back from Koussevitzky.

This rejection, along with many others, led to Price creating the pseudonym, Forrest Wood, to go by when composing some of her music.

Making it Big

In 1927, Price moved to Chicago with her husband, Thomas J. Price, where she studied composition, orchestration, and the organ. After divorcing her husband, Price used her talent to support herself and two children financially. She played the organ for silent movie screenings and wrote songs for radio ads.

Eventually, Price received much-deserved recognition for her work. Price submitted a composition for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards, where she won first place for her Symphony in E minor and third for her Piano  Sonata.  She received  $500 as a prize.  Through this win, music director, Frederick Stock, discovered Price’s music. He then included her first symphony in a concert held by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This led to  Price becoming the first African American woman to have her music played by a major U.S. orchestra.

Price was a talented and intelligent woman. Throughout the course of her career, she composed over 300 symphonies, chamber works, and songs. Her success helped pave the way for other African American music composers. Even after her passing in 1953, her legacy has lived on.

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