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Jacobs School of Music

Alain Barker
Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011

IU Jacobs School of Music celebrates 80th birthday of composer Frederick Fox

Jan. 24, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music will celebrate the 80th birthday of composer and former faculty member Frederick Fox with a concert on Saturday, Jan. 29, at 4 p.m. in Auer Hall. The audience at this free public event is invited to attend a post-concert reception in the Musical Arts Center lobby.

Fox retired from the Jacobs School in April 1997. He had served as professor of composition for 23 years, 13 of those as chair of the Composition Department. One of his most important achievements at IU was the founding of the IU New Music Ensemble in 1974.

Celebration performers will include Eugene Rousseau and Thomas Walsh, alto saxophone; Kay Kim, piano; the Solaire Quartet and the New Music Ensemble conducted by David Dzubay, current chair of the Jacobs Department of Composition.

The repertoire will feature works by Fox, including the flute nonet Silver Skeins, Hear Again in Memory, for solo saxophone; When the Thunder Speaks, for saxophone and piano; and the world premiere of the saxophone quartet Images and Dreamcatcher, for large ensemble.

The world-premiere Images, a one-movement fantasy comprising multiple variations, was written in 2009, and will be performed by the Solaire Quartet, featuring Otis Murphy, soprano saxophone; Scotty Stepp, alto saxophone; Sam Fritz, tenor saxophone; and Dana Booher, baritone saxophone.

"During his tenure as professor of music composition, Frederick Fox was highly regarded as a teacher and composer, influencing and inspiring many young composers, including James Aikman, Keith Fitch, Jeffrey Hass and myself, among others," said Dzubay. "His compositions were regularly performed by his faculty colleagues and by soloists and ensembles elsewhere. His keen ear and generous spirit lead to insightful guidance for his students and beautifully crafted music in his own compositions. I greatly look forward to this celebration of the music of Frederick Fox."

About Frederick Fox

Frederick Alfred Fox Jr. was born on Jan. 17, 1931, in Detroit.

Fox began playing saxophone in junior high school. By the age of 15, he was playing sax in dance hall jazz bands in Detroit, and at 17, taking private lessons with Laurence (Larry) Teal. Band road trips ensued, and it was during these trips that Fox began to tinker with composing.

As his interest in composition and arranging deepened, Fox was frequently counseled by Ray McConnell, with whom he had enjoyed a musical relationship since his teen years. He subsequently studied composition with Ruth Shaw Wiley at Wayne State University and, following graduation with a bachelor's degree in music, he worked for a year with Ross Lee Finney at the University of Michigan. With an abiding interest in jazz, Fox soon found himself again touring as a saxophonist. By 1955, however, he had turned his energies to serious composing and enrolled at IU to study composition under Bernhard Heiden.

After acquiring both his master's degree in music (1957) and doctoral degree in music composition (1959) from IU, Fox began an odyssey that carried him to various teaching and foundations posts around the United States. He initially taught at Franklin College in Franklin, Ind., where he constituted the entire music faculty. Fox then went to Sam Houston State University in Texas, after which, in 1962, he was one of a handful of composers selected by the National Music Council to serve as composers-in-residence to the nation's public schools; he accepted a position with the Minneapolis Public Schools. The Ford Foundation then became involved with the project, and Fox assumed a post that took him and his family to Washington, D.C.

In 1964, Fox was appointed chair of music theory and composition in the music department at California State University at Hayward (now California State University, East Bay). From 1970 to 1972, he served as chair of the music department itself. During his time at the institution, enrollment in the music department blossomed from 60 students to nearly 500.

Fox returned to the Jacobs School of Music in 1974 as professor of composition, founding and directing the IU New Music Ensemble in 1975-76. During his leadership tenure, the ensemble became one of the foremost university ensembles of its kind in the country; it has since toured to cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York. Fox was appointed chair of the Composition Department in 1981 and led the department for 13 years, a period during which it gained increasing recognition and became one of the highest ranked programs in the U.S.

Throughout his career, Fox always considered himself a "composer who teaches," rather than a "teacher who composes." "At the core, it's always been the music," he has said. But Fox took teaching seriously and is proud to have contributed to the musical education of hundreds of students. Some of his most notable students are James Aikman, Margaret Brouwer, David Dzubay, Keith Fitch, Jeffrey Hass, Jeeyoung Kim, Robert Patterson, Mark Phillips and Stephen Suber. Several of his former students have gone on to prominent teaching posts of their own in the United States as well as other countries.

Fox's music, in a general sense, can be categorized as contemporary classical music. He will reluctantly admit that the term postmodernism can be applied to some extent.

Fox considers the music of Béla Bartok to be the main influence on his compositional style and structure, followed closely by Anton Webern's. He also notes the music of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Debussy also had an impact but to a much lesser extent. Bebop jazz, especially the "melodical-driven" sound of Charlie Parker, was also a major influence. Fox notes that his music "continued to break down the diatonic structure to make it more chromatic" but that he "doesn't consider tonality when composing."

From the beginning of his compositional career in the 1960s into the late 1990s, Fox was continually composing. His extensive catalog, which numbers upwards of 80 compositions, includes several orchestral and concerted works, a substantial amount of chamber music, several choral pieces and a dozen or so solo instrumental works.

A selection of his more notable works includes: [Orchestra] Impressions (1995), Echo Blues (1992), Januaries (1984), Night Ceremonies (1979); [String Orchestra] Nightscenes (1988); [Symphonic Band] Four Times Round (1996); [Ensemble/Chamber] Blind Time (1996), Dreamcatcher (1994), Devil's Tramping Ground (1991), The Avenging Spirit (1989), Shaking the Pumpkin (1986), Dawnen Grey (1984), Sonaspheres 5 (1983), S.A.X. (1979), Ambient Shadows (1978); [Solo] When the Thunder Speaks (1998), Kokopelli (1994), Hear Again in Memory (1991) and Annexus (1980).