The Kennedy Center

Joan Tower



Biography

Joan Tower is highly regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. Her music career has spanned more than 50 years. She has worked as a composer, performer, conductor and educator. She paved the way for many female musicians as the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for her composition Silver Ladders and the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission of sixty-five orchestras. In 1998 she was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2004 into the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. She was born Joan Peabody Tower into a prominent Larchmont, New York family in 1938. Her parents were George Warren Tower III and Anna Peabody Robinson. Her father was a mining engineer and the son of a pianist who made sure his daughter was taught the piano. He moved the family in 1947 to La Paz, Bolivia, his job was to manage the daily operation at the Bolivian tin mines. Living in another county broadened her life's perspective. Her family returned to the United States after her father contracted tuberculosis, needing treatment at a Sanatorium using the then miracle drug penicillin that saved his life. She graduated from Walnut Hill high school in Natick, Massachusetts in 1956 and attended Bennington College earning a Bachelor's degree in music in 1961. She moved to New York City to teach piano at the Greenwich Music House in Greenwich Village. Her contemporaries and mentors during this period were Mario Davidovsky, Charles Wuorinen and Milton Babbitt. Her first husband was jazz pianist and composer Walter Howard O'Brien, the marriage ended in divorce in 1975 after nine years.

In 1964, she graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Music degree in composition and much later a DMA degree in 1978. She would go on to teach again in 1972 at Bard College. From 1969-1984 she was a pianist and founding member of the Naumburg Award winning Da Capo Chamber Players. Her compositions crossed many genres and have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists and orchestras in Chicago, New York, St Louis and Washington DC. She is currently an Asher Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College, where she has taught for the last 40 years.

Joan Tower