December 9, 1938 – February 3, 2015

Born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania

 

Tom McKinley

Like Gunther Schuller, his senior colleague at the New England Conservatory and formerly one of his professors at Yale, “Tom” McKinley played, taught and composed classical as well as popular music. His popular specialty was jazz, which he studied alongside the masters as a child. By age twelve, he was already a member of the American Federation of Musicians. For two years, he was house pianist at a Pittsburgh restaurant. Then, as he told an interviewer, “I heard Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra when I was about seventeen [Fritz Reiner’s performance] and said to myself, I can do that.” A year later, he enrolled at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he studied piano with Frederick Dorian and composition with Nikolai Lopatnikoff, all the while supporting his wife and firstborn son by playing in Pittsburgh-area clubs.

Between sets, he studied the scores of Beethoven symphonies, and during the next six years composed and taught in addition to performing. In 1966, McKinley entered the graduate program at Yale University; his principal teachers were Mel Powell and Schuller, and he found himself caught up in serial and electronic music. Subsequently, as an instructor at the University of Chicago, McKinley added baseball pitching to his repertoire. In 1973, he joined the New England Conservatory in Boston at Schuller’s invitation to teach composition as well as jazz, but continued to pitch until 1977. In 1986 he co-founded the Boston Composers Orchestra with Schuller.

“I let it all come together, eliminating pretensions, all complexity, everything superficial . . . filtering out everything I thought was dishonest. This is to me the prototype of a pure American music.”

In the decades after, he composed well over 200 works in all forms including symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. He was commissioned by ensembles in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Pasadena, Richmond (Virginia), the Rheinische Philharmonie, Boston “Pops,” Bolshoi Theater, and New York Chamber Symphony Orchestras. He achieved his prodigious output by composing every night during the school season, holidays included, “from about 9 at night to 3 in the morning. Holidays? My life is a holiday! Composing is being alive. Taking the day off deadens me.” In addition to works for orchestra, which have been played in more than thirty countries, McKinley wrote for the Bella Lewitzky Dance Troupe; the Cleveland, Alexander, and the Los Angeles Piano Quartets; Tashi, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, Boston Musica Viva, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble; and pianists Peter Serkin and Richard Goode, violist Walter Trampler, cellist Colin Carr, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, saxophonist Stan Getz, and vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Over the years, both his music has been widely recorded, albeit in Europe more than in the U.S. A majority continue to be listed in the MMC, Vienna Modern Masters, and British ASV catalogs.

He left us miracles of music which will resonate with the boundless beauty and brilliance, the love of life, and the sweet surprise that only the greatest jazz musician and genius composer can express.

Richard Stoltzman

To me, Tom is what a life in music is all about—a love of the medium, passionate drive, and the relentless pursuit of creative excellence. He set a standard to which I continually aspire.

Marc Rossi

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Name Goes Here

 

1940-1950

William Thomas McKinley 

Born 

    1950-1960

    McKinley’s String Quartet No. 1 (IV.C.1,1959),I/91-96. Pencil on vellum

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    1960-1770

    McKinley’s Duo Fantasy (VIII.G.c, 1969), page 1. Pencil on vellum

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    1970-1980

    Mr. McKinley was a knuckleball pitcher of no little skill. In 1975, by invitation, he gave what was almost certainly the most unusual public performance of his career, pitching batting practice for a Boston Red Sox home game. NY Times

    McKinley’s Concerto for Grand Orchestra (II.A.1, 1974), draft of V1n I. Ink on paper

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    1980-1990

     

    Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony and premiered in November 1982 under the direction of John Harbison.

    Heard here with the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Gerard Schwarz.

     

    1990-2000

    McKinley’s Lighting: An Overture (I.B.4, 1993), mm.1-3. Pencil on paper.

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    2000-2010

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    2000-2015

    REMEMBERING TOM MCKINLEY (1938-2015): A PERSONAL REFLECTION

    William Thomas McKinley’s desk on the day of his death, February 3, 2015. Among the materials, there is a new composition for the SOLI Chamber Ensemble plus various articles and drafts for books he was working on. Photo by Elliott Miles McKinley.