As the Mizzou faculty member charged with overseeing the Festival, W. Thomas “Tom” McKenney has been involved in the event since its inception. During the next week, his task will be even more hands-on, as he works with the Festival’s eight resident composers, takes part in faculty presentations, and more.
McKenney, who is professor of composition and music theory and director of Mizzou’s electronic music studios, also will be represented during the Festival as a composer. His piece “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Blackbird” will receive its world premiere performance by Alarm Will Sound at the Festival’s opening concert on Monday, July 12 at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. You can read more about that composition, McKenney and the Festival in this article by Mallory Benedict published last week in the Columbia Missourian.
Dr. McKenney received his PhD in composition from the Eastman School of Music, and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. In 1970 he was named the Distinguished Composer of the Year by the Music Teachers National Association.
His compositions have been performed in Europe, South America, China, and throughout the United States, and he is the recipient of numerous grants and commissions. In 1987, McKenney was invited by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China to present a series of lectures on the use of lasers and electronic music.
In addition to his work at the electronic music studio at the University of Missouri, he conducts the New Music Technology Institutes and has worked at Robert Moog’s studio, the Stiftelson Elektronikmusiktudion in Stockholm, Sweden, the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia at North Texas State University, and the Center for Electroacoustic Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Dr. McKenney received the Purple Chalk Award for Excellence in Teaching, given by the Arts and Science Student Government, and the Orpheus Award, given by the Zeta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia for significant contributions to the cause of music in America.
For more on McKenney, check out the profile written a couple of years ago by LuAnne Roth for SyndicateMizzou. In addition to the text, it includes a series of video clips in which he discusses a variety of topics, from his research and creative activity to the use of electronic instruments to the importance of emotion in music.
“The bottom line for McKenney is that “music has to speak to the human spirit. That’s what it’s really all about,” the interview concludes. “The violin might be just a wooden box with metal strings, “yet, put in the hands of an artist, the most beautiful things in the world can come out of it.” Ponder as well the human voice. “We could scream and say nasty, horrible things to other human beings,” he points out, “or we could sing and make beautiful sounds. That’s really what the human spirit is all about.” And that’s what motivates McKenney’s musical compositions.”