Make your own free website on




Biographical Information:


Born:  April 22, 1932, Chicago, Illinois


Composer, performer, dancer, mime, writer and lecturer.


Age 10, was fascinated when he heard the drummer Ray Bauduc in the movie “Big Noise from Winnetka.”  Got his first drum set after that.


Traveled to jazz bars up in Chicago and learned by imitation. 


Went to school at University of Illinois to study percussion with Paul Price. He was a poor student because he played all night in jazz clubs.  No real interest in classical percussion at this time.



Composition Background/Information:


Price took him to a percussion ensemble concert in a last attempt to get him to want to study some form of percussion besides jazz.  The concert featured Varese, Harrison, Cage, Cowell, etc. and he hated all of the music.  Price said if you don’t like it to try and write something better.


First piece was “Three Brothers” for nine percussionists.  It was performed on May 8, 1950 soon after it was completed.  To his surprise it was published and became a percussion classic.


Studied composition with Eugene Weigel, Darius Milhaud, Lukas Foss, Wallingford Riegger, and Ben Weber.


Mostly considered a free-lance percussionist and a jazz drummer. Premiered many of his own works.


One of the four composers that is credited for bringing prominence to percussion in wind ensemble literature.


Pulitzer Prize for Music winner:  1978 “Déjà vu” and an Emmy in 1982 for “Soundings:  The Music of Michael Colgrass.”


Idea behind his compositions; “I write for the musicians.  They have to play it and comprehend it, so I see and hear it from their standpoint.  I was a player for many years, so I identify naturally with the performer.”



New Projects:


Founder of Deep Listening, “a technique for using hypnosis with audiences to enhance listening pleasure.”


Author of two books, My Lessons with Kumi—How I Learned to Perform with Confidence in Life and Work and Leaves Before the Wind which features his deep listening technique.



Percussion Compositions:


Chamber Music for Percussion Quintet (1954)

Concertino for Timpani (1953)

            (3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 2 percussionists)

Divertimento (1960)

            (8 drums, piano, and strings)

Fantasy Variations (1961)

            (percussion solo, playing 8 exactly pitched chromatic drums and 6 percussionists)

A Flute in the Kingdom of Drums and Bells (1994)

            (flute and percussion quartet)

Hammer and Bow, Fantasy for Viola and Marimba (1997)

Inventions on a Motive (1955)

            (percussion quintet)

Percussion Music (1953)

            (percussion quartet)

Rhapsodic Fantasy (1964)

            (solo percussion and orchestra)

Six Allegro Duets for Percussion

Six Unaccompanied Snare Drum Solos

Three Brothers (1951)

            (percussion nonette)

Variations for Four Drums and Viola (1957)

            (viola and one percussionist)



Other Important Works with Percussion:


Arctic Dreams

As Quiet As

Déjà vu

Urban Requiem

Winds of Nagual



Arctic Dreams

Composed:  1991

Duration:  24 minutes

Number of percussionists needed: 5

Sample Recording:  Centaur Records, CRC 2288.  New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble conducted by Frank Battisti.

Description:  “A tone poem about life in the Arctic, with musical depictions of ice floating in the sun, the aurora borealis, polar nights, Inuit throat-singing, the spring hunt and drum dancing.”

Percussion use:  all throughout, but especially important because the entire percussion section imitates a heard of caribou stampeding.


Winds of Nagual

Composed:  1985

Duration:  25 minutes

Number of percussionists needed:  5


The Desert

Carlos stares at the Water

Gait of Power

Asking twilight for calmness and power

Juan Clowns for Carlos

Late Conversations and Farewell

Sample recording:  Mark Records, MCD 780.  University of Cincinnati College—Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble conducted by Eugene Corporon.

Description:  “A tone poem for wind ensemble based on the books by Carlos Castaneda about his experiences with the Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don Juan.

Percussion use:  named as one of the four most influential pieces for brining prominence to percussion in wind ensemble literature.


Déjà vu

Composed:  1977

Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic.

Duration:  18 minutes

Number of percussionists needed:  4 solo

Sample Recording:  New World Records, NW 318.  The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.  Percussion soloists:  Richard Holmes, Richard O’Donnell, John Kasica, Thomas Stubbs.

Description:  “Four percussionists playing four separate solos, often in separate tempi, while exploring percussion colors in various musical styles.”

Percussion use:  4 soloists with accompaniment

Pulitzer Prize winner of 1978.





Sadie, Stanley.  The New Grove Dictionary of Music.  Vol. 4.  Macmillan Publishers Limited.  London.  1980.  Pg. 531.



Web Sites:

(official site constructed by Michael Colgrass)





The Bicentennial Collections.  Vol. 8.  Composers Conduct:  Husa, Colgrass, Benson.  “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.


Percussion Music—Works by Varese, Colgrass, Saperstein, Cowell, Wuorinen.  The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble.  Elektra Nonesuch.  79150-2.  1974-78.


Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.  Leonard Slatkin conducting.  Michael Colgrass and Jacob Druckman.  New World Records.  NW318-2.  1983.