Daniel Asia

Composer Daniel Asia has set the poetry of American poets e. e. cummings and Paul Pines, the latter of whom is a long time collaborator and close friend of Asia. Asia has taught at the University of Arizona for more than twenty years.

Photo: Daniel Asia, photograph by Steven Meckler.

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I was born in Seattle, Washington in 1953 and started music at the age of nine, playing the trombone. Why the trombone, you might ask? Well, when I went in to meet the music teacher I told her I wanted to play the clarinet. She said my two front teeth protruded out too much, and had I ever thought of playing the trombone? I told her no, but I would be happy to give it a try. The trombone and I agreed with each other. I played in top level bands and orchestra, and jazz ensembles, until I had to stop playing or a while, because I had to wear braces, to fix those aforementioned teeth. The result was that channeled my musical interests into conducting and composing. My greatest influence in high school was Peter Siebert, who guided me through a couple years of theory, and Jerry Grey, my jazz teacher, who helped teach me about creating musical ideas. Peter guided me off to Hampshire College. There in the Five-College area I studied with Randall McClellan, Ron Pereira, Stephen Albert, Iva Dee Hiatt, Valerie Pilcher, and Jim McElwaine. Thereafter, I went to the Yale School of Music, where I studied composition with Druckman and MacCombie, and conducting with Arthur Weisberg. I then moved to New York, starting the new music ensemble, Musical Elements. Then, off to Berlin for a year, teaching at Oberlin for five, then in London for two, and since then Tucson for twenty-three years, where I am a professor of music at the University of Arizona.

I have written orchestral works that have been commissioned or performed by the symphony orchestras of Cincinnati, Seattle, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Phoenix, American Composers Orchestra, Columbus (OH), Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Tucson, and many others. In 2010, I was a recipient of an Academy Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters. Previously, I was the recipient of the many other grants and fellowships in music including a Meet The Composer/ Reader’s Digest Consortium Commission, United Kingdom Fulbright Arts Award Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four NEA Composers Grants, a M. B. Rockefeller Grant, an Aaron Copland Fund for Music Grant, MacDowell Colony and Tanglewood Fellowships, ASCAP and BMI composition prizes, and a DAAD Fellowship for study in the Federal Republic of Germany. From 1991-1994, I was the Meet the Composer/ Composer-In-Residence with the Phoenix Symphony.

My style is fairly eclectic, having been shaped by all my musical experiences. This includes the Beatles and Igor Stravinsky, George Crumb and Krzysztof Penderecki, the avant-garde, Hebrew chant and trope, and ultimately wishing to combine these worlds rather than keep them apart. Thus my music is meant to be memorable, but never simple-minded; engaged on a journey that always holds the attention; and that finds a destination that is well earned. On this trip, a few sacred moments are to be found.

I have set primarily the poets Paul Pines and e.e. Cummings, and most recently, Yehuda Amichai.

Paul and I first met at the MacDowell Colony, an artist’s retreat in Peterborough, New Hampshire. We became close friends, partly as the result of a shared ferocity brought to the game of table tennis. I requested books of poetry. Since then, I have never stopped reading and setting his work. His poems seem to bring together very disparate worlds, uniting a wealth of emotional perspectives. The imagery ranges from Ecclesiastes to the Blues, stating something universal that is culled from the simple and earthy.

I studied cummings’ poetry in college a great deal. In fact so much so that I grew tired of it. When I came back to it as an adult, long after the composers of the 60’s and 70’s were through with him, he seemed like a long lost friend. I found him richer, deeper, and low and behold, a deeply religious figure, if in his own peculiar way.

I have come to Amichai more recently. I am attracted to his sardonic quality, elegant manner, and his wide emotional breadth. Like with Pines, I hear very clearly his soul, which includes a long history of Jewish experience, and in his case, the experience with the Land of Israel.

My major song cycles include Pines Songs, Ossabaw Island Dream, Songs from the Page of Swords, Breath In a Ram’s Horn, An E.E. Cummings Songbook, Pines Songs II, Adrift on Blinding Light, and Amichai Songs.

–Daniel Asia

Related Information




Songs from The Page of Swords

(Daniel Asia)


Breath in a Ram's Horn

(Daniel Asia)


Sheet Music

Daniel Asia Sheet Music

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