Amy Rubin

“I don’t think there’s a category for the place I’m in. It may simply be a place of freedom — of having the capacity to move easily among various traditions.”
— Amy Rubin

Exploring Musical Frontiers

It’s not easy to describe the style of composer, pianist and FDU Assistant Professor of Music Amy Rubin. She acknowledges, “I don’t think there’s a category for the place I’m in. It may simply be a place of freedom — of having the capacity to move easily among various traditions.”

Through that freedom, through her readiness to absorb diverse musical worlds and through her eagerness to spread the message of freedom and diversity, Rubin is introducing many to a new sound and along the way teaching Florham-Madison Campus students the value of dancing to different drummers (see Music at FDU).

In the liner notes to Rubin’s recent compact disc “Hallelujah Games,” William and Mary music professor Carol Oja summed up Rubin’s varied influences. “A composer of clarity and conscience, Amy Rubin inhabits a wide-open aesthetic terrain. Deftly mingling jazz, blues, Latin rhythms, West African drumming and European-American concert traditions, she seems comfortably — even congenitally — eclectic.” The New York Times, too, has noted Rubin’s artistry combining different styles, writing that she “brings world cultures home, stretching familiar landscapes into fresh perspectives.”

Rubin has written and performed music in nearly all genres, for the concert stage, jazz ensemble, film, television and theater. Her versatility stems from a musical background that began at age 7 and continued at the famous LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York City. “There was something wonderful about growing up as a musician in New York City and being connected to the arts capital of the world.”

A piano major at Cornell University, Rubin studied traditional European works. At the same time, she worked in the theater department, writing for productions. Later, at the Yale School of Music, she studied jazz and writing for television and film.

Since then Rubin has performed and taught throughout the world. Her performances of solo piano music, which include her own works with those of Cage, Gershwin, Nketia and Copland, have taken her to North and South America, Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean. Her international concerts have included the Synthesis Festival of 20th-Century Music in Macedonia, the National Academy of Music and the World Peace Days Festival in Slovakia and a show as a guest artist of the Dominican Republic’s Fulbright Association.

She also has served as composer-in-residence for Peter Brook’s Center for International Theater Research in Paris, France; as a teaching artist at the Lincoln Center Institute, New York City; and as a humanities professor at the European Mozart Academy in Poland.

Her sextet for piano and winds, “La Loba,” recorded on CRI with the Quintet of the Americas, has received widespread praise since its release in 1997, and other Rubin recordings are found on Columbia Records, Mode and Musical Heritage Society. Rubin also has composed extensively for film, including the award-winning documentary, “Diamonds in the Snow,” about hidden children of the Holocaust.

A large portion of Rubin’s work is performed and recorded with other members of Musicians Accord, an ensemble of musicians dedicated to the dissemination of contemporary music. “Before me, there wasn’t much of a jazz or world music influence in the ensemble, but that’s what I’ve brought to the group.”

Piano KeysHer compact disc, “Hallelujah Games,” was chosen as one of the critic’s choices in the NewMusicBox online magazine and it will be played this summer at the nationally broadcast West Cork Chamber Festival in Bantry, Ireland. The compact disc features Rubin’s solo and chamber music performed using her technique known as “games,” in which performers are given choices in producing a composition.

Rubin says, “Games use simpler, more natural means to create a sense of spontaneity and infinite possibility, where fun comes into play ... Games frequently use the West African concept of creating complexity through the additive laying of simple events.” The texts used in “Hallelujah Games” reflect Rubin’s strong political convictions and address the ongoing effects of colonialism in Africa.

The emphasis on Africa is no surprise. Rubin was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Ghana in 1992–1993, where she taught at the National Academy of Music and the National Institute for Film and Television. There, she also produced concerts and directed the first national conference on “African Music: Traditions and Innovations.”

Rubin’s many awards have included a Distinguished Alumna Award from the Yale School of Music and commissions and grants from groups such as the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“I’m probably more dedicated and more sure of being a musician and a teacher than ever.”
— Amy Rubin

This spring, she worked on a piano concerto commissioned by the Seattle Creative Orchestra and served as the visiting composer at the acclaimed Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Rubin recently was awarded an Artist Assistance Grant from a recording and production studio in Seattle to record a solo piano compact disc that will trace the movement of music in West Africa to the Americas and will include her renditions of the music of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti, which she has played at FDU for the last few years.

While Rubin has mainly written music for small groups, she is branching into composing for orchestras and larger chamber groups. Her recent commission from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation will be for brass quintet and will be premiered in New Jersey. Her musical tastes and styles indeed will continue to soar free, and that’s good news for music fans and FDU students.

“I’m probably more dedicated and more sure of being a musician and a teacher than ever.”

— A.C.

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