B i o g r a p h y
Frances Thompson McKay (b., 1947, Newport News, VA) grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia and has composed works about water issues, such as global warming and the survival of the Chesapeake, as well as about nuclear proliferation.
These include On the Verge, composed for the VERGE Ensemble and performed at the Corcoran Gallery in 2010 which included sound files recorded at Rock Creek. Other water works include the full-length Rites of Passage with an original text by the noted naturalist John Hay, and performed at her concert series, Music of the Spheres in 1988. These also include pieces composed for friends and colleagues such as river of wonder and sorrow, composed in 2005 for the husband and wife duo, pianist Ralitza Patchva and cellist Vasily Popov, and drifting melismas, composed the same year for the percussionists Leon Khoja-Eynatyan and his daughter Vikki Khoja-Eynatyan.
In 2007-08 she created creekspeak for City Dance using sound files of a recording of Rock Creek and later performed rising tide, for piano and computer, on a City Dance program about global warming. creek bells frozen in mourning, for piano and electro-accoustical sound,was written for thecomposer to perform.Other water pieces include river time, for chorus, children’s chorus, flute, harp and percussion, on a text by William Styron, commissioned and recorded by the Alexandria Chora Society in 2002, and river tree, for violin and piano (2002).
She was a composer member and Program Director for the Contemporary Music Forum at the Corcoran Gallery from 1979-1987, and founder and co-director of Music of the Spheres, a concert series focused on improvisation in diverse styles, based at St. Mark’s Capitol Hill from 1985-1989, for which she composed A Critical Mass, a church mass incorporating Thomas Merton’s Prayer for peace, written during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The mass was written in celebration of the efforts to end nuclear confrontation (duration one hour, for chorus, chamber ensemble, small gamelon, and electro-accoustical sound). It has been produced three times, the last two times it was conducted by Joel Lazar and compared international spending on nuclear arms in the face of the overwhelming need for resources to end world hunger.
She has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the DC Commission on the Arts (11 Individual Artist Grants), the National Society of Arts and Letters, the Cité International des Art in Paris, and the Peabody Conservatory. She was co-founder of Music of the Spheres, a concert series that featured improvisation, and she has performed piano improvisations for silent films at the National Gallery, and played for the first presentation of a silent movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. Solo recitals of her works have been presented by the Contemporary Music Forum at the Corcoran Gallery, Strathmore’s American Composer Series, and by the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.
Performers of her scores include conductor Joel Lazar; flutists Carole Bean (National Symphony Orchestra), Katherine Hay, Karen Johnson, Linda Marianiello, Renée Siebert (NY Phil)harmonic, Bonnie Lake (Baltimore Sym), Thomas Perazzolli (National Symphony Orchestra), Elivi Varga; oboist Kenneth Stilwell; violinists Jody Gatwood, Joel Berman, Mary Findley, Peter Haas (National Symphony Orchestra), John Davario, Helmut Braunlich; organist Keith Reas; cellist Lori Barnet; percussionists Barry Dove, Leon Khoja-Eynatyan, Albert Merz, Randall Eyles, Tom Jones, William Richards; pianists Jenny Lin, Nanette Butler Shannon, Jeffrey Chappelle, Andrew Simpson, Anthony Stark, Francis Conlon, Donald Freund, Eva Pierrou, Carlos Rodriquez, Laurie Hudicek; organist Keith Reas; singers Susan Bender, Mariana Busching, Pamela Jordan, James Shaffran.
She is currently working on pieces that include computer generated sound for Pictures on Silence, a duo of saxophonist Noah Getz and harpist Jacqueline Pollauf, and for pianist Jenny Lin.
Dr, McKay, who earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, has taught at Georgetown University and Goucher College, is currently Chair of the Composition and Theory Departments at the Levine School of Music. Teachers include Robert Hall Lewis (composition), Nadia Boulanger (theory and composition), Fernando Laires (piano), Carl Broman (piano), Marjorie Mitchell (piano).