PAS Hall of Fame

Michael Colgrass

(b. Chicago, Illinois, Apr. 22 1932)

Michael Colgrass' first musical experiences were as a jazz drummer in the Chicago area (l944-49). In 1954 he graduated from the University of Illinois in music performance and composition, studying percussion with Paul Price and composition with Eugene Weigel, Darius Milhaud (Aspen) and Lukas Foss (Tanglewood).

Michael ColgrassAfter 21 months as timpanist in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany, he went to New York City (l956) where he free-lanced as percussion player with such diverse groups as the New York Philharmonic, Dizzy Gillespie, the original West Side Story orchestra on Broadway, the Columbia Recording Orchestra's "Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky" series, and numerous ballet, opera and jazz ensembles. He continued his composition studies with Wallingford Riegger (l958) and Ben Weber (l958-60).

As a percussion soloist he premiered many of his own works: with Emanuel Vardi in "Variations for Four Drums and Viola" (also recorded for MGM Records); in "Fantasy Variations" for percussion soloist and percussion sextet at Carnegie Recital Hall; in "Rhapsodic Fantasy for Fifteen Drums and Orchestra" with the Danish Radio Orchestra; in recordings of his own "Three Brothers" (Urania Records) and "Percussion Music" (Period Records).

His compositions have been commissioned and performed by The New York Philharmonic, The Boston Symphony, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Detroit Symphony, The Toronto Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Manhattan and Muir String Quartets, The Brighton Festival in England, The Fromm Foundation and Ford Foundation, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and numerous other orchestras, chamber groups, choral groups and soloists.

His works have been played by all the major symphony orchestras in the United States and Canada and many throughout Europe, Great Britain and Japan, and he has been recorded by the St. Louis Symphony, the Boston Symphony, The American Symphony orchestra, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and many chamber groups and soloists.

He won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for "Deja vu," commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic, and an Emmy Award in 1982 from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the Public Broadcasting System documentary Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass. Other prizes include two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, A Fromm Award and Ford Foundation award, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions, and the l988 Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music.

"A Flute in the Kingdom of Drums and Bells" (l995) was commissioned by flutist Marina Piccinini and the Nexus percussion ensemble and premiered in the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. "Urban Requiem" (l996) for four saxophones and wind ensemble was commissioned by Gary Green and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble, who premiered the work in Miami in l996 and recorded it for Albany Records (also recorded by Craig Kirchhoff and the University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble). "Hammer & Bow" (l997) for marimba and violin was commissioned by Toronto Symphony concertmaster Jacques Israelievitch.

Although he makes his living as a composer, Colgrass has for 25 years been giving workshops in performing excellence, combining Grotowski physical training, mime, dance and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). His techniques are featured in his book, My Lessons with Kumi - How I Learned to Perform with Confidence in Life and Work. His strategies for creativity are explained in Robert Dilts' book Tools For Dreamers. He is the founder of Deep Listening, a technique for using hypnosis with audiences to enhance listening pleasure, which is featured in the book of outstanding NLP developments, Leaves Before The Wind.

Colgrass lives in Toronto with his wife, writing music and giving workshops on an international scale.

For more information about Michael Colgrass, visit


You can find the following in the PAS online Archives:

"Small Essay on My Early Percussion Music" by Michael Colgrass: Percussive Notes, Vol. 34, No .4 August 1996

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