Writing the Future: Thomas McKenney | KBIA

Writing the Future: Thomas McKenney

Apr 27, 2015

In his 47 years as a faculty member at the University of Missouri School of Music, Dr. Thomas McKenney has taught a lot of students how to compose music. This evening at MU's Whitmore Recital Hall, those students pay tribute to their teacher with a concert featuring their own works.  

Thomas McKenney is a faculty member of the University of Missouri's School of Music. A cadre of the students he has taught over 47 years will perform a tribute tonight to Dr. McKenney who plans to retire at the end of this semester.
Credit MU School of Music

McKenney's own compositions are often written for electronics. Soon after he came to MU in 1967 as a recent graduate of the Eastman School of Music he was awarded funds to visit electronic innovator Robert Moog's factory and laboratory. That facility was located then in Trumansburg, New York. He had visited the factory earlier as a student where he saw "gray haired ladies" soldering together modules.

I was really taken by the kinds of sounds that one could produce on an instrument such as that. And that instrument came out of Moog's doctoral dissertation. He got at PhD at Cornell... It was like a storefront. All the modules were made by hand... His studio was in the back of this small building. I rented his studio for a week and worked 10 to 12 hours a day and got my first electronic piece written there.

Future grants and hard work helped McKenney establish an electronic music studio at MU.

Another recent work by Thomas McKenney is Ubi Cartias. The short work is based in part on a similarly titled Gregorian Chant. The earlier eighth century work was historically performed  on Maundy Thursday, a day when traditional Christians wash the feet of fellow penitents. McKenney's Ubi Caritas was written for MU trombone professor Dr. Tim Howe. Howe asked McKenney and other faculty to write chamber pieces for tromoine. McKenney work for mixed chamber ensemble.

"The Ubi Caritas chant is hidden," admitted McKenney. "It is there for structural pitches and melodic presentations. It is a very colorful piece. Instrumental colors are very important to me and I think they are demonstrated in the piece." The work features a water phone, a percussion instrument that was new even to veteran composer McKenney. "We take a like a cello bow and that is drawn across these tines that are coming up out the base. I think quite beautiful sounds occur. Some other people might think it is strange or weird. Other than that it is a fairly traditional piece." Performing on the work are Alice Dade (Flute), Dan Willett (Oboe), Leo Saguiguit (Alto Saxophone), Tim Howe (Trombone), Paola Savvidou (Piano) and Brian Tate (Percussion).

More information this evening's Student Composers' Recital: A Tribute to Thomas McKenney and other MU School of Music events are here.