Person of interest: Michael Boyd, Chatham music professor


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It's hard to say which is more daring for Chatham University music professor Michael Boyd: one of his experimental compositions, his championing of pop music in academia or his precarious mountain bike rides.

One thing that is certain is that Mr. Boyd, who joined Chatham in 2008, doesn't shy away from a challenge or what he enjoys.

The graduate of University of Maryland and SUNY Stony Brook is not your typical teacher of music theory and history. He is just as likely to talk about contemporary composers and pop groups as Beethoven and Brahms. A well-published scholar, he has written about American composer Roger Reynolds, the Afghan Whigs and "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Mr. Boyd, who lives in Wilkins, is an accomplished composer and co-director (and trombone player) for the Bay Players Experimental Music Collective. Some of his titles include "invasion/symbiosis," "this inversion is expected to persist" and "Twelve Actions for solo performer." But lest you think he is pretentious, know that he equally enjoys "beerhunting."

What dead composer would you have loved to meet?

John Cage or Frank Zappa (tough call between the two!).

Your perfect weekend ...Spending time with my wife, Lisa, mountain biking at Boyce or Frick Park, walking through the Strip District or a museum (they're all great, though I am particularly drawn to the Mattress Factory), cooking a great vegan dinner, visiting a local microbrewery and relaxing with our dog.

Three things always in your refrigerator ... Great craft beer, tofu, hot sauce.

Will rock bands, pop musicians or songwriters ever be studied in colleges like Beethoven and Mozart?

There is really compelling rock, hip-hop and pop out there that is worth studying and analyzing. The musical landscape is increasingly diverse, and I think it is important for young musicians to be comfortable and proficient with music outside of the Western art music canon. Though the situation is changing gradually, this canonization perpetuates the notion of an artificial high/low art divide, which unfortunately reinforces unhealthy, alienating hierarchical socioeconomic structures.

Your favorite spot in the 'Burgh ...

Mountain bike trails at Boyce Park or Frick Park. One of the really awesome benefits of living in Wilkins is being about halfway between them.

What is site-specific music, and have you set up anything in the region?

I see site-specific art as a creation of some sort that is shaped by and inseparable from its surroundings. My last large-scale project in this vein was a multidisciplinary work, "Becoming ... everything else," that I put on for a week in public spaces of University of Maryland. Sights, sounds and actions encountered randomly throughout the buildings triggered creative responses from more than a dozen performers that were heard and seen throughout halls, stairwells and other open spaces.

You say all people possess untapped creativity?

I believe that the hierarchical structuring of our society, which can be seen clearly in our region through so-called "sacrifice zones," is one of the most problematic and troubling social issues that we face. It is reinforced in music in many ways, one of which is holding up composers as uniquely creative, special individuals. I feel strongly that everyone has the capacity to be creative, and that creativity is something that is not inborn in select individuals but can be developed.

You have $20 and four hours to spend in Pittsburgh. What do you do?

Two or three hours mountain biking at Frick Park (free unless I crash and break something on my bike), followed by a veggie dog and a couple beers at D's Six Pax & Dogz.

Can't live without ... My PlayStation 3 -- obliterating zombies is a great way to decompress at the end of a semester.

lifestyle - music

First Published September 30, 2012 4:00 AM


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