John Howell Morrison

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John Howell Morrison (born 1956) is a contemporary classical composer and educator. His works have been commissioned and performed by the Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble, Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble, and Galhano/Montgomery Duo, among others. His recording, Hard Weather Makes Good Wood, was released on the Innova Music label in 2003.[1] Morrison held the Chair in Composition and Theory at the Longy School of Music from 2003 to 2010.[2]

John Howell Morrison in 2009


A native of North Carolina, John Morrison began studying piano at age nine. While in high school, as a student at the Governor's School of North Carolina, he performed a repertoire made entirely of 20th-century music. The experience transformed Morrison and set the stage for becoming a composer.[3]

Morrison studied music as an undergraduate at Davidson College. He completed a Master of Music in composition at the University of Tennessee under John Anthony Lennon, Kenneth Jacobs, and Allen Johnson.[2] He later received a Regents Fellowship to study and work as a teaching assistant at the University of Michigan under William Bolcom, William Albright, Nicholas Thorne, George Wilson, and Leslie Bassett where he completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1991.[3] His doctoral dissertation was Hear What the Earth Says, a composition for large orchestra in three movements.[4] Morrison has since taught at Tennessee State University, Luther College, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Oberlin College. He has served as a member of the board of directors for the Iowa Composers Former and the president of the Cleveland Composers Guild.

A resident of Medford, Massachusetts, Morrison teaches at the Longy School of Music, where he served as Chair of the Theory and Composition Department from 2003 to 2010.[2] His wife is the keyboardist and conductor Vivian Montgomery.[5][6]

Commissions and premieres[edit]

Morrison has received frequent commissions from many organizations, including the Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Fromm Foundation, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, the Detroit Chamber Winds, Antiqua Nova, the Galhano/Montgomery Duo, Davidson College, and the Cleveland Composers Guild. He has also received grants from the Ohio Arts Council (2002 Individual Artist Fellowship), American Composers Forum (Composers Commissioning Project and Performance Incentive Fund), Meet the Composer, Iowa Arts Council, Luther College, and the American Music Center. Morrison has also received funding for residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Schweitzer Institute, June in Buffalo, and the Charles Ives Center for American Music. Morrison publishes through the University of Arizona Press and M. Baker Publications.[3]

Selected premieres[edit]

  • The composition of Rising Blue (1996) for violin and tape was supported by a grant from Luther College. It was premiered in October 1996 by Virginia Strauss at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and received several subsequent performances, including that by the Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble and soloist Troy Gardner in New York City in October 1999.[7]
  • Light Possessing Darkness (1997) for alto saxophone, piano was commissioned by the American saxophonist Jeremy Koch who premiered the work on February 2, 1998 at the Iowa Composers Forum Annual Festival. The work has since been performed by Phillip Staüdlin, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Paul Bro, and Tim McAllister and appears on the CD, America's Millennium Tribute to Adolphe Sax, Vol. 3.
  • Hard Weather Makes Good Wood (1999) for string quartet and tape, commissioned by the Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble, premiered on June 11, 1999 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was later toured by the ensemble, including a performances at the Festival of New American Music in Sacramento, California, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[8] The work was later recorded on the Innova label as the title piece of the album Hard Weather Makes Good Wood (Innova Recordings #584)
  • Twisted Little Ground (2000) for recorder and harpsichord was commissioned by the Galhano/Montgomery Duo and premiered by the ensemble on January 28, 2000 at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota,[9] with subsequent performances in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Decorah, Iowa, and Berkeley, California. The piece appears on their recording Songs in the Ground, released in 2003 on the 10,000 Lakes label.
  • Whipping Post (2008) an arrangement of the Allman Brothers song "Whipping Post" for string quartet was commissioned for the inaugural concert of the "Longy at the RegattaBar" series and was premiered on April 11, 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the Pacifica Quartet.[10]


  • Hard Weather Makes Good Wood – Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble; soloists, Troy Gardner, Maria Jette, and Vivian Montgomery. This recording entirely devoted to Morrison's compositions contains Hard Weather Makes Good Wood, The Heart Poems, Rising Blue, and My Love Lies Down that Long Dirt Road. Label: Innova #584.[1][11]
  • America's Millennium Tribute to Adolphe Sax, Vol. 3 – (Track 12 Light Possessing Darkness performed by Jeremy Koch on saxophone and Doug Schneider on piano). Label: University of Arizona Recordings #3098.
  • Songs in the Ground – (Track 6: Twisted Little Ground performed by Cléa Galhano on recorder and Vivian Montgomery on harpsichord). Label: 10,000 Lakes/The Schubert Club #114.

List of works[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cleary, David. "Album review: Hard Weather Makes Good Wood" Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine.. New Music Connoisseur. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Longy School of Music. Faculty biography: John Howell Morrison. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  3. ^ a b c John Howell Morrison. Official biography Archived 2011-10-07 at the Wayback Machine.. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  4. ^ WorldCat catalogue entry. Hear What the Earth Says (original composition). Accessed 20 November 2010.
  5. ^ Buckley, John. "Musical Couple Will Seek New Chords In The Country ". Beaver County Times (July 2, 1993) p. 14. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  6. ^ First Parish Needham Unitarian Universalist. "Director of Music, Vivian Montgomery" Archived 2011-07-28 at the Wayback Machine.. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  7. ^ Kozinn, Allan. "Madness and a Singer Who Goes All the Way". New York Times (October 19, 1999). Accessed 20 November 2010.
  8. ^ Woodard, Josef. "Minnesota Ensemble a Fresh Treat". Los Angeles Times (November 17, 1999)
  9. ^ Anthony, Michael. "Classical Music". Star Tribune (January 3, 2000). Accessed via subscription 20 November 2010.
  10. ^ Weininger, David. "Quartet embraces the vibe of playing in a club". Boston Globe (April 11, 2008). Accessed via subscription 20 November 2010.
  11. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Album review: Hard Weather Makes Good Wood". All Music Guide (All Media Guide, LLC). Accessed 20 November 2010.
  12. ^ This section is sourced from the Works List[permanent dead link] on the official website of John Howell Morrison. Accessed 20 November 2010.

External links[edit]