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Presenting the Composer-in-Residence for 2024: Melinda Wagner

Every year, LunART holds our Composer Hub where a group of up and coming composers have the opportunity to work with a world-class composer and develop their skills. This year's Composer-in-Residence is Melinda Wagner, Pulitzer Prize winner and Professor of Composition at The Juilliard School.

When her Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, she was taken by surprise and remains grateful to have had that opportunity.

“You know, it's not something that I was expecting at all. That part of it was really great, but also really scary. Suddenly, you're pretty exposed…it really helped my career with just the notion of name recognition. Suddenly, my name was a little more familiar.”

Early on, the value of music was prominent in Wagner’s household. She explained how her mother was a professional musician, making the home a musical one.

“When I was very little I had music in the house all the time, so that was extremely influential,” Wagner said. “But I started becoming more interested in what you might call composition when she was teaching piano students at home. I would be in the other room, listening to the lessons and then learn the pieces by ear and then sort of improve upon them. I say ‘improve’ with air quotes, because I thought one could do that.”

From here, Wagner continued to pursue her passion, allowing her to create pieces at a very young age.

“It sort of developed in a very steady and natural way to the point where I was actually writing songs that had beginnings, middles and ends by the time I was about 10 years old. So, I really was drawn to music right from the very beginning, and I am filled with gratitude for my parents for supporting that all the way along.”

With time, Wagner quickly learned that being a female composer is something that is quite challenging, and is only now becoming more common.

“Early on, it was really tough because I was often the only woman in the room. I was often treated like I should be the cheerleader for the men. So, it was very hard. It took a lot of energy to be taken seriously…I kind of put my head down and really just worked at being a composer - and I worked really, really hard.”

When it comes to her teaching, Wagner expressed that this has had a great impact on her composing and the value that it can have on many composers.

“I think teaching is really great for composers, because first of all, in order to teach someone something, you have to actually think through how you can explain that thing to someone clearly,” Wagner said. “When you do that, you're actually really, really learning it yourself.”

Wagner works to explain to her students, especially male-identifying ones, the importance of treating their female colleagues with respect and equality.

“I actually talk to the whole class, men and women alike, and I say, ‘Look, this is what it is, men, for your female colleagues. Know that when you walk into the room, you already have 10 points. You won't be talked over and you won't be argued with or interrupted. Please know that when you leave school, that this is your female colleague's face and this is what they have to endure’,” Wagner shared.

As for her work with LunART, Wagner is looking forward to getting to know new composers and those who are working towards this goal.

“I'm always so gratified to work with other composers,” Wagner said. “As I said, students actually feed our composing, [for] those of us who teach, especially with programs, such as the one you're running. People who are applying and attending are really, really excited about their craft. They're usually really engaged and so interesting to talk to, so all of those things are tremendously rewarding. I look forward to having another experience like that.”

To learn more about the Composers Hub, professional development program for women composers, check out the link here. See you in Madison in June!

To learn more about Wagner, visit:


Article by Ava Wojnowski

Ava Wojnowski is an intern with LunART. She is majoring in journalism and Spanish and is excited to bring her passion for writing to LunART. Outside of school, Wojnowski loves to spend time outside and also loves to listen to music. She played the viola from 4th to 12th grade, so music has always been a part of her life.

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