H. Owen Reed

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Herbert Owen Reed (June 17, 1910 – January 6, 2014) was an American composer, conductor and author.


Reed was raised in rural Odessa, Missouri, where his first exposure to music was his father's playing of the old-time fiddle (accompanied by his mother at the piano). He was also attracted to the popular piano music of the 1920s (such as the novelty piano tunes of Zez Confrey), as well as his family's player piano, which played popular tunes. He studied piano with Odessa's only piano teacher, Mrs. Felts, who attempted to interest him in the music of Bach and Beethoven.

Following high school, Reed studied music at the University of Missouri beginning in 1929, transferring in 1933 to Louisiana State University where he received his Bachelor of Music (1934) and Master of Music (1936) degrees, both in music composition (studying with Helen Gunderson), as well as a Bachelor of Arts (1937) degree in French. While a freshman at the University of Missouri, he became interested in jazz big band performance, later arranging for the university's big band. He also became a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia while at Missouri.[citation needed]

In 1937 he enrolled at the Eastman School of Music (studying composition with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers, conducting with Paul White, musicology with Howard Gleason, and music theory with Allen I. McHose), receiving a Ph.D. in composition in 1939. In 1942, at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood), Massachusetts, he studied composition with Bohuslav Martinů, and contemporary music with Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Stanley Chappel. In the summer of 1947, he studied composition with Roy Harris at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and also attended lessons with Arnold Schoenberg.

College teaching[edit]

Reed taught at Michigan State University from 1939 to 1976, and from that year until his death in early 2014 served as a professor emeritus.

Many of Reed's students have gone on to fame as composers and arrangers, including Loris Chobanian, Dinos Constantinides, Clare Fischer, David Gillingham, Adolphus Hailstork, Jere Hutcheson, William A. Penn and David Maslanka. Most of these former students reunited to celebrate Reed's 95th birthday at Michigan State University in the summer of 2005.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Reed was married twice, for nearly fifty years to Esther, who proceeded him in death; and for 31 years to Mary, who traveled the world with him and survived him. He had two daughters, three step-childrem, fifteen grandchildren, and twenty-two great-grandchildren. Reed was an avid fisherman and world traveler. After starting to play jazz in college, he continued beyond his hundredth year, including membership in a Michigan State faculty combo known as the "Geriatric Six."[1]


Just as Béla Bartók investigated the traditional music of Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Turkey, using these as inspirations for his own original works, Reed similarly devoted much study to the traditional music of North America. Many of his works feature material derived from the Mexican, Native American, Anglo-American and African American cultures, blended with contemporary idioms.

Reed's best known and most widely performed work is the three-movement concert band composition La Fiesta Mexicana (1949), composed with the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship. The work is based on Aztec, Roman Catholic, mariachi, and other music Reed heard while in Mexico City, Cuernavaca, and Chapala, Mexico for six months (1948/49). He returned to Mexico in 1960 for a month's further study. He has also studied folk music in the Caribbean in February 1976, and in Norway in the summer of 1977.[citation needed]

Reed later studied Native American musics in Taos, New Mexico and Arizona,[citation needed] and eventually composed a trilogy of chamber operas based on Native American legends: Earth Trapped (Sioux, 1960), Living Solid Face (Algonquin, 1974) and Butterfly Girl and Mirage Boy (Hopi-Aztec, 1980). His band composition Missouri Shindig (1951) is based on the American fiddle tune "Give the Fiddler a Dram," which his father particularly enjoyed playing. Spiritual (1947), Reed's first composition for band, is based on his recollection of overhearing the exuberant religious expression of African American churchgoers while passing by their churches as a child.[citation needed]

Reed's music is published by G. Schirmer, Warner Brothers, Ballerbach Music, Harrock Hall Music, Triplo Press, Allyn & Bacon, Boosey & Hawkes, Edwin A. Fleisher, EMI Mills, Neil A. Kjos, Ludwig and H. O. Reed Music.


In addition to his compositions, Reed published eight books on the subjects of musical composition and music theory. His scores, recordings, correspondence, and other papers have been deposited in the Michigan State University Manuscript Collection, in the Special Collections Unit of the Michigan State University Libraries.



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