Pierce Gradone has always been surrounded by music.
“We were one of those families that in the car, instead of playing games, we did four part harmony singing,” he said.
Though his interests have shifted to composition, that love for music has always been with him.
As both a composer and a professor at Knox, Gradone has been able to pursue his passions on his own time and with the students he teaches. He puts a lot of value on being able to work with students who approach music differently than he does and to be given the power to teach students about music in a very diverse way.
Though Gradone recognizes that composers are largely wealthy white men, he wants to do what he can through teaching at Knox to eliminate those barriers and to make his field more representative of the society we live in.
A benefit Gradone finds in teaching is the ability it gives him to introduce his students to new music and things they have never heard before.
“I love that moment, because for me, it’s about recreating my own moment of that, hearing that piece for the first time that blew my mind. I love the idea of being able to recreate that experience for somebody else,” Gradone said.
Gradone’s composition work is typically for smaller chamber orchestras, though he does sometimes compose for anyone from soloists to full 100 person symphony orchestras. He describes his work to be a part of a modernist tradition of composition that favors dissonant and out of tune notes.
“I’m trying to recreate that sort of magical sound where you’re not sure what you’re hearing. You’re hearing something that sounds familiar, but it’s through a carnival glass mirror. This idea that something seems familiar, but is warped in a way and you can’t quite put your finger on it. I love that moment. A lot of my music tries to chase that,” Gradone said.
Gradone cites many different inspirations for his works that range from avant-garde Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski to the album Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock to Balinese gamelan music.
Taking inspiration from a wide range of sources allows Gradone to create compositions that are uniquely his own.
“I want to write music that is contemporary and fresh and speaks to the world that I live in but also employs these techniques and sounds from this long history of Western music,” he said.
Though composition can be very solitary by nature, the collaboration stage is what Gradone sees as his favorite part. He finds that when the musicians have the music in their hands and are able to start workshopping and creating sound, it is one of the most rewarding parts of being a composer.
Being given the power to create something that will establish those social interactions with the musicians and to be able to organize all the sounds in the music is what made Gradone develop a passion for composing.
“Maybe I’m just a control freak, I don’t know, that’s probably true,” he said.