About Lou Harrison


Lou Harrison lived his first nine years in Portland, Oregon, where he was born on May 14, 1917. Subsequent residences included San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City (ten years), North Carolina, Oaxaca, New Zealand, and the Monterey Bay region, where he made his permanent home from 1963 until his death in 2003. He studied with Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, Howard Cooper, and Virgil Thomson. Among Mr. Harrison’s many grants and awards were those from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Guggenheim fellowships, Rockefeller fellowships, the Fromm Foundation, Phoebe Ketchum Thorne, and Betty Freeman.

Residencies awarded for teaching and composing included Reed College, University of Hawaii, Black Mountain College, University of New Mexico, City of Basel Music Academy, the Mozart Academy in the Czech Republic, and Dartington Hall in England. Mr. Harrison taught at San José State University, Mills College (from which he received an honorary doctorate), Cabrillo College, Greenwich House Music School and, on a Fulbright scholarship, at the four main locations of the University of New Zealand. Mr. Harrison received commissions for compositions from Lester Horton, Jean Erdman, Merce Cunningham, Cabrillo Music Festival, the Mark Morris Company, Louisville Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and many others. Major performances of his work have been held in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Bonn, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Tokyo, Sapporo, Indonesia, Korea, Basel, and elsewhere.

In addition to teaching and composing, Lou worked as a music critic, animal nurse, florist, dance accompanist, and forestry firefighter. He was also a calligraphist and poet (his poetry anthology Joys and Perplexities was printed in one of his original fonts), painter, and writer. In 1993, his book Music Primer was republished in Tokyo in both English and Japanese. Lou helped introduce the Indonesian gamelan to the United States and, with William Colvig, constructed two large gamelan now in use at San José State University and Mills College.

Among major performances of Mr. Harrison's work in 1995 were his Suite for Cello and Harp by the Oakland Ballet for Remy Charlip's Ludwig and Lou, and the joyful Parade for MTT, which opened the San Francisco Symphony season celebrating the inauguration of director Michael Tilson Thomas. The Brooklyn Philharmonic under the direction of Dennis Russell Davis, presented Lou's New First Suite for Strings in November of that year.