Aaron Robinson (composer)

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Aaron Robinson
Born1970 (age 52–53)[1]
Camden, Maine, U.S.
GenresClassical, jazz, ragtime, film, Broadway
Occupation(s)Composer, conductor, author
Instrument(s)Piano, organ
Years active1986–present
LabelsMusic at Immanuel

Aaron Robinson is an American composer, conductor, and musicologist.[2] He is the author of Does God Sing? – A Musical Journey. He created the musical work Black Nativity – In Concert: A Gospel Celebration. He also served as conductor and musical director in the PBS documentary On This Island.[3] In 2013, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for composing Maine Public Broadcasting Network's Maine Arts series theme music.[4]

Personal background[edit]

Robinson attended Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, Maine. At 16 years of age—a self-taught musician who never took piano lessons[1]—he became the organist at both the Broad Cove Community Church in Cushing and the Friendship United Methodist Church.[5] By his late teens, he was creating, performing and producing concerts and theatrical productions, including the musical Moody Blue for which he wrote both the music and lyrics.[6] According to a 2013 interview, Robinson studied composition and piano performance at the Boston Conservatory of Music with composer John Adams and Lawrence Thomas Bell, as well as film scoring with John Williams at the Berklee School of Music;[1] but chose not to graduate with a degree. Instead, Robinson "went out and lived the life of music,"[7] as he said in a 2017 interview. In 2001, he became organist and choirmaster for "Music at Immanuel" at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Portland, Maine.[1]

In 2009, he retired from public performing due to illness. During which time Robinson wrote the memoir, Does God Sing – A Musical Journey.[5] It reached No. 5 on the Barnes & Nobles best-sellers non-fiction paperback list for March 2013.[8]

Robinson lives on the coast of Maine with his wife and son.[1]


Robinson has conducted works for the concert and theatrical stage, including Leonard Bernstein's Candide – The Concert Version.[9] In 1997, Robinson conducted Treemonisha: The Concert Version by ragtime composer Scott Joplin at the Rockport Opera House in Rockport, Maine, with a new libretto by Judith Kurtz Bogdanove.[10]

In 2001, he orchestrated, arranged, and conducted the musical Islands,[11] which was produced on Broadway at the New Victory Theater[12] by John Wulp, with music and lyrics by Cidny Bullens.[13]

Robinson conducted the world premiere performance of his Black Nativity – In Concert: A Gospel Celebration in 2001 at the Immanuel Baptist Church.[14] The concert version recreated the original performance of Langston Hughes's Gospel Song-Play Black Nativity[15] that opened in 1961 at the 41st Street Theatre in New York City. In 2004, the documentary film Black Nativity – In Concert: A Gospel Celebration was made about the world premiere performance, production, and creation under the direction of Robinson with the original cast.[16] In December 2013, Robinson collaborated with Dr. Anthony Antolini and the Bowdoin College Chorus and Down East Singers to mount a revised version of his 2004 creation.[2]

Robinson composed An American Requiem, which had its New England Premiere under the direction of Dr. Robert Russell and the USM Chorale.[17] He also wrote Driving Old Memories (The Rockland Maine Song) with his father Ervin Robinson.[5][18][19] On June 2, 2021, the Mayor of Rockland, Maine presented a key to the city and proclaimed June 2021 "Driving Old Memories" month.[20][21]

In 2012 he wrote the music for the independent documentary In the Shadows of Grey Gardens[5] In an article entitled "Robinson and Ragtime", David Welker called him "one of today’s leading proponents of early jazz and ragtime music". He is perhaps best known for his composition "The New England Ragtime Suite" for piano.[22][citation needed]

In 2014, the opening of Maine Public Broadcasting's "Maine Arts!" Series received an Emmy Award at the 36th annual New England Emmy Awards for which Robinson contributed the series’ theme music and was nominated for a separate Emmy Award.[23] Robinson composed the Maine-based musical, The Legend of Jim Cullen – A Dramatic Musical, which received its world premiere at the Heartwood Regional Theater Company in the summer of 2014.[24]

In May 2017, Robinson premiered two choral works in Studzinski Hall at Bowdoin College: "Requiem For a New World" and "This Will Be Our Reply To Violence" with words by Leonard Bernstein.[25] With a famous line taken from an address Bernstein gave a few days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, according to a 2017 interview, it was the first time the Bernstein Estate had ever granted a composer the rights to set the words to music. It was performed later that year by the Vox Nova Chamber Choir. Robinson received acclaim for his compositions from Maine's Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, who remarked: "With the scourge of violence unabated in our times, we all must increase our devotion to the highest ideals of humanity. Through your remarkable career as a composer, performer, and author, you are helping to elevate our nation as you bring distinction to our great state of Maine.”[7]

Robinson collaborated with children's book author and illustrator Ashley Bryan in 2018 on an African-American Requiem titled "A Tender Bridge". The work celebrates Bryan's life and career based on his writings; and uses "jazz, ragtime, Negro spirituals, Southern hymns and other musical idioms, along with a full choir, gospel choir, children’s choir, orchestra jazz ensemble and multiple narrators."[26][27]

Published works[edit]

  • Robinson, Aaron (2013). Does God Sing?: A Musical Journey, Tate Publishing. 182 pages. ISBN 978-1621474630
  • Langston, Hughes (1961) Aaron Robinson (2004). Black Nativity, Dramatic Publishing. 34 pages. ISBN 0871291924



Year Title Role Notes
2003 On This Island Music Director (self) PBS Documentary


Year Film Title Role Notes
2004 Black Nativity: In Concert – A Gospel Celebration Conductor (self) Documentary
2009 Gamer Musician Music Department
2012 In The Shadows of Grey Gardens Composer Soundtrack
2014 The Truth About You Composer Soundtrack


Year Album Title Performers Record Label
1998 Treemonisha – In Concert Aaron Robinson, Various Take-a-Bough Productions
2004 Black Nativity – In Concert: A Gospel Celebration Aaron Robinson, Paul Havenstein II, Various Music at Immanuel
2008 Symphonic Dances Aaron Robinson, organ Music at Immanuel
2011 La Belle Epoque Aaron Robinson, piano Music at Immanuel
2011 They All Played Ragtime (re-release) Aaron Robinson, piano Music at Immanuel
2014 Works For Harpsichord: JS Bach & GF Handel Aaron Robinson, harpsichord Music at Immanuel
2014 The Legend of Jim Cullen – A Dramatic Musical The Legend of Jim Cullen Cast Ensemble MAI
2015 Max Morath – Complete Ragtime Works for Piano Aaron Robinson, piano MAI

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Award category Result
2013 Emmy Award Musical Composition Opening Nominated


  1. ^ a b c d e Genthner, Cathy (December 2013). "A Music Man for All Generations". Maine Seniors Magazine (digital edition). Archived from the original on August 1, 2018. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  2. ^ a b V e r d i n o-Sullwold, C a r l a M a r i a (December 8, 2013). "BWW Reviews: Langston Hughes' BLACK NATIVITY Lights Up Brunswick Christmas". Broadway World.com. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  3. ^ Lisa Shields (September 1, 2001). "Islands: When one-fifth of a community takes part in a project, things begin to happen". Workingwaterfront.com. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  4. ^ "Musical Composition Opening to MPBN's MAINE ARTS! series theme music" (PDF). NATASNE 36th Boston-New England Emmy Award Nominees. May 14, 2013. p. 16. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Dagney C. Ernest (February 13, 2013). "Robinson's Musical Journey". Village Soup. Courier Gazette-Camden Herald. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  6. ^ Genthner, Nancy (January 1, 2003). What's Cooking at Moody's Diner: 60 Years of Recipes and Reminiscences. Down East Books. p. 77. ISBN 0892726318.
  7. ^ a b adams, abigail (April 30, 2017). "Maine composer uses music as 'our reply to violence'". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  8. ^ "Best-sellers from Barnes & Noble". seacoastonline.com. April 7, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  9. ^ Cross, Kernan (July 18, 1996). "Worldly 'Candide' Arrives On Stage (Arts & Entertainment section)". Lincoln County News. No. Your Weekend Plus. Damariscotta, Maine.
  10. ^ Martin, Lucy (November 8, 1997). "Making a Joyful Noise with Joplin (Entertainment section)". Lincoln County News. Damariscotta, Maine.
  11. ^ Ernest, Dagney C. (May 24, 2001). "Singing the Songs of North Haven (Arts & Entertainment section)". Courier-Gazette. No. Your Weekend Plus. Camden, Maine. pp. C3.
  12. ^ Shields, Lisa (November 1, 2001). "'Islands' Takes Manhattan, Portland By Storm". The Working Waterfront. Rockland, Maine: The Island Institute. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
  13. ^ Gussow, Mel (September 9, 2001). "Maine Brings Manhattan Some Lessons Of Island Life". New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  14. ^ DeWan, Becca (December 3, 2004). "Back in Black (Entertainment section)". Portland Phoenix. Portland, Maine. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  15. ^ "A Black Nativity". PegMedia.org. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  16. ^ Lemmons, Kasi (July 6, 2013). "HEADS UP: Kasi Lemmons 'Black Nativity' Trailer Drops (Langston Hughes' Remake)". The Street Gypsies.com. Archived from the original on February 27, 2014. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  17. ^ "Dr Robert Russell and the USM Chorale – In Concert". Eventful.com. November 7, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  18. ^ "Rockland native's affection for hometown goes global in song". The Camden Herald / Village Soup. June 17, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  19. ^ "The Rockland, Maine Song – "Driving Old Memories" – is a BIG HIT!". Bangor Daily News. May 19, 2010. Archived from the original on March 1, 2014. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  20. ^ “Rockland man receives key to City, annual June recognition for his musical composition”. Sarah Thompson. June 2, 2021. Penbay Pilot.,
  21. ^ “Mayor declares June as "Driving Old Memories" month” Stephen Betts. June 2, 2021. Courier-Gazette.
  22. ^ "Aaron Robinson". Dramatic Publishing. Archived from the original on July 1, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  23. ^ "People and Business: recognition". The Forecaster. July 16, 2013. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  24. ^ "The Legend of Jim Cullen". Celebrender. May 31, 2014. Archived from the original on August 26, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  25. ^ "Numb With Sorrow: A Maine Composer Channels A Musical Hero". Portland Press Herald. April 23, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  26. ^ Keyes, Bob (August 12, 2018). "Ashley Bryan, 95, 'always honored' to have a new show". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  27. ^ Nestor, Argy (October 22, 2018). "A Tender Bridge". Maine Arts Ed. Retrieved February 8, 2019.

External links[edit]