Current Thoughts

Update of 6.2019 (Retro Variations)

I'm also working on a commission, from recent PAS Hall of Fame recipient Michael Rosen and the Oberlin Percussion Group, Retro Variations, which will be performed on their spring 2020 concert. 

Update of 6.1.2019 (Lost in the Woods)

 In February 2019, Haverford College made possible a residency with Stacey Mastrian, soprano, the Akros Percussion Collective, Hee Sook Kim and myself for the Philadelphia and New York City premieres of my opera Lost in the Woods. Here is a link for the Philadelphia premiere and a link for the New York City premiere. I'm currently preparing the final performance scores and parts which will be available from my publisher, the American Composers Alliance, by the end of this summer.

Update of 6.1.2019 (Sanjo Variations)

December 2018 saw the premiere of my Sanjo Variations, commissioned and premiered by the Gyeonggi Gayageum Ensemble. Here is a link to that performance.  After an introduction in Korean, the performance begins at 2:19. And below is the program note I wrote for the premiere:

As a person and composer, my exposure to Korean music and culture has been a life changing experience. When I first heard Sanjo, those slow opening tones, the framing of musical space with sound, I was astonished. For this is similar to how I listen and create in my own music, and hearing Sanjo in concert for the first time was a revelation to me. I always write freely and with no predetermined conditions, that's how I work as a composer. But this commission had three very specific conditions: first it must be based on Sanjo, which certainly doesn't need anything I might add; second it had to use the gayageum in its original tunings (I had changed all the tunings in Circlings, a collaboration with video by Hee Sook Kim and the first piece I wrote for the Gyeonggi Gayageum Ensemble, premiered in 2010 during a festival on Korean music and art at Haverford College that Professor Kim organized); third, it could use no video and no electronics (both used in Circlings). I had originally intended to do all those things I was told I couldn't do, and as I listened to a Sanjo recording the ensemble sent me, it's very perfection seemed to need nothing other than me listening to and enjoying it like Korean audiences have been doing for many, many years. So what could I do? Surprisingly, I did what I did in Circlings, written when I knew very little about Korean music. In that piece I used the Gayageum as material, the first time I used my modular method of composing where I write down what I hear in segments and put them together at the end. For my Sanjo Variations I used the Sanjo as material, in ways I'm sure for a Korean audience will be quite obvious. Then using that same method of modular form, I wrote down what I heard, in my current place of listening inspiration, Old Haverford Friends Meeting, a Quaker meeting house where I can listen in complete silence. Silence is where I always find what, as a composer, I need to hear. Those segments were put together formally, using a numeric system I discovered while walking in the French countryside this past summer. I would like to thank the Gyeonggi Gayageum Ensemble for this commission and also for their enthusiastic embrace of my music from when we first met until the present day. But I would also like to express my deep and abiding appreciation for all things Korean and, specifically, Korean folk music. Thanks to hundreds of recordings sent to me by the Korean government, and an invitation to participate in the International Gugak Workshop in Seoul, where I was able to take lessons in Danso flute, Janggu, and Gayageum, as well as attending lectures by many leading authorities on Korean folk music, including the legendary Hwang Byungki, I have been privileged to learn much about what Koreans call Gugak. Not one single piece of music I've written since hasn't been influenced by what I've learned, and continue to learn, from this great musical culture. My Sanjo Variations should be heard as my way of saying thanks.

Christopher Shultis, 27 October, 2018, Ardmore, PA

Update of 4.7.2018

Much of 2016 and 2017 was spent composing my opera, Lost in the Woods, using nature and political texts by Henry David Thoreau. It was written for and premiered by Stacey Mastrian and the Akros Percussion Collective in Akron, Ohio this past October. Hee Sook Kim created the video and stage direction. She also put together a video of excerpts from the opera that you can see here by clicking on this link. We are currently booking future performances and if you are interested in presenting this opera please contact me. Here is a description:

Lost in the Woods (2013-2017): an opera by Christopher Shultis

With a libretto drawn by the composer from the political and nature writings of Henry David Thoreau, widely regarded as among the greatest of all American authors, Christopher Shultis has created an one act opera, with video and artistic design by Hee Sook Kim, commissioned by the Akros Percussion Collective and written for soprano Stacey Mastrian, both of whom performed the world premiere, on 8 October 2017 in Akron, Ohio. It is approximately one hour in length. John Cage, one of the last century's greatest composers once said, "Reading Thoreau's Journal, I discover every idea I've ever had worth its salt," and Shultis's decades-long study of John Cage, for which he is internationally recognized, was the beginning of an equally long dedication to Thoreau's writings.  Following an extended period of time at Walden Pond in 2013, and with an eye toward the bi-centennial of Thoreau's birth in 1817, Shultis began work on what is now the finished opera, Lost in the Woods, completed in time to be part of many celebrations around the world during 2017, the Thoreau bi-centennial year.

And here is the program note from the concert premiere:

About Lost in the Woods:

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.” 

George Gordon (Lord) Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto 4)

Nature texts chosen in Murano, Italy (the bells in late November); Political texts chosen in Taos, New Mexico (January). Thoreau's Walden begins on July 4, recording my backyard on July 1 (Scene 4). One year, four scenes, four seasons. 11x4 =44: Thoreau's age at his death. His last words: "Moose, Indian." Human/ Nature/Reversals: Thoreau’s “nature” voiced by men; Thoreau’s politics voiced by a woman. Thoreau becomes a woman, nature becomes a man.

“Going down a hard road, don’t know where I been, I’m walking around in circles, can’t even find a friend, my love she is not waiting, I been gone too long, people make me crazy, I can hardly sing my song. Hustlers stand around me, I’m lost and all alone, can’t tell the bad from the good, I’m out in the woods, I’m lost in the woods. Gamblers take my money, guess it’s useless to me, when I’m lost inside this jungle, can’t see the forest for the trees, woman come and get me, try me one more time, your sweet understanding, can fix this broken heart of mine. Vultures fly around me, come and take me home, can’t tell the bad from the good, I’m out in the woods, I’m lost in the woods.”                                                     Leon Russell ("Out in the Woods")

Update of 10.30.2015

Very happy to be posting my first update on this newly designed website, thanks to Hee Sook Kim who did all the work! Too much activity since my last update, much of which can be found elsewhere. Most important news is the upcoming release by Neuma recordings of my CD, An Illusion of Desire. Thanks to Jerry Tabor for including me on his recording label, which has a long and distinguished history of promoting new music. Doug Nottingham and Brett Reed did an amazing job putting the CD together and you can hear one track, Oneiro for percussion trio (in an earlier mix), by clicking on this link, which also includes a video by Hee Sook Kim that she made especially for performances of Oneiro. There will be a CD release concert at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Art Gallery on Saturday March 19, 2016 (8:00 PM) that will feature performances of music from the CD. Doug, Brett and myself will be performing and the concert will include the premiere performance of 4-7-3, a revised performance version (for two percussionists and electronics) of an earlier collaboration water/peace that I made with Basia Irland in 1989. More updates to come!

Update of 10.31.2012

I retired from the University of New Mexico in December 2011 and am now Distinguished Professor Emeritus and retain the title of Regents' Professor of Music. I continue to serve UNM as a consultant for the John Donald Robb Composers' Symposium in 2013 and continue to work closely with Scott Ney on percussion-related projects, most recently at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Austin, Texas where he and his percussion ensemble performed Branches by John Cage as part of my lecture-performance on November 1.  My activities presently concern scholarly work--2012 in particular concerning the music of John Cage during his centennial (see below)--and composition. I recently joined the American Composers Alliance, founded by Aaron Copland and others in 1937 as a composers' cooperative, and I currently serve on their Board of Governors. When I retired I started a blog that may be of interest titled: "The Great (Un) Learning" that can be accessed here:

You can find information about my CD "Devisadero" here:

Video of my compositions can be found here (Waldmusik):

And here (Circlings):

This is the calendar of events for my Cage-related activities in 2012:

Yale University: Performance of Child of Tree (February 19)

Arizona State Univerity: Lecture: "After the Silence: John Cage and Chance"; Performance: 4'33" by John Cage and 64 Statements re and not re Child of Tree by Christopher Shultis (excerpt)

Cage100: A Symposium in Celebration of John Cage's Centenary (May 14-18)
Installation: Encounter (with Hee Sook Kim)
Performance: 64 Statements re and not re Child of Tree by Christopher Shultis (May 16)
Lecture: "faux-amis: Communication and its Discontents" (May 17)

University of Colorado-Boulder: Panel Discussion (October 8)
"Cage at 100: Who Changed? Him or Us?"

SUNY Fredonia Convocation 2012
Workshop on Branches (October 15)
Lecture: "After the Silence: John Cage, Chance and Change (October 16)
Performance: Child of Tree by John Cage; 64 Statements re and not re Child of Tree by Christopher Shultis (0ctober 17)

Percussive Arts Society International Convention, Austin TX
Lecture/Performance (assisted by Scott Ney and the UNM Percussion Ensemble): "The Process of Discovery: Interpreting Child of Tree" (November 1)

Eastman School of Music, Rochester NY
Lecture:  "faux-amis: Communication and its Discontents" (November 15)

2012 has been a busy year--good thing I "retired"!

Updated 12.12.2007

2008 marks my twentieth year of composing, beginning with a solo percussion piece (motion/less) that was composed and premiered by myself in 1988. My early work was closely aligned with the so-called "experimental tradition" in American music and my work as a scholar (which also informs my work as a composer) has always been involved to some extent with an exploration of that compositional history This period was a prolific one for me and includes text pieces like "Metaphysics" and "64 Statements re and not re 'Child of Tree'."

After 1995, following my first Fulbright year in Germany (and I think that had something to do with it) I began a reconsideration of romanticism, not as a musical style but as a philosophical stance that then could be applied to the composing of music as well as the writing of texts since I am also active as a writer and poet. Musically, I spent a considerable amount of time studying, in particular, the violin sonatas of Robert Schumann, the late solo piano music of Brahms, and Mahler's Symphony No. 9. I was especially determined to explore further the radical origins of this music and seek out how tonality could be reclaimed from its conservative position in the  "established" musical world. This is, of course, not original with me but I do think that the music I've written from that period is an original take on how one might keep such music fresh and new and not be simply a reactionary attempt to somehow recapture the attention of the listening public, something that has never entered my mind, at least not in the act of writing or composing. This period lasted from 1995 until 2003 and includes my solo piano piece "Four Romantic Miniatures" and my song cycle "Songs of Love and Longing." I wrote the texts for the latter during mountain walks in New Mexico between 2001 and 2003. I composed the music during a Wurlitzer residency in Taos in 2003.

Walking is a key component in my recent creative work and the late essays of Henry David Thoreau have been especially influential to all that follows my second Fulbright to Germany in 2000. Here I spent much of my time walking in the German woods and a breakthrough piece for soprano saxophone and woodwind quintet titled "a little light, in great darkness," the title of which is of course borrowed from Ezra Pound's 116th Canto, was mostly written during that Fulbright year.

"Openings" (2004-2007) is my recently completed work for winds and percussion. "Encounter" (2007) is a collaborative installation I did with visual artist Hee Sook Kim. These two pieces are connected by a text found in both that begins with the following line: "in aspen grove, the madness of yellow" and ends with "no ascent without assent." I wrote the poetry for "Encounter" during four walks along the same trail in the Manzano mountain wilderness: twelve separate texts, three each for the four seasons. The sounds I recorded and Hee Sook's video are all from walks we either took together or separately in the mountains of New Mexico and in the woods of Pennsylvania. This most recent work has been jokingly called my "psychedelic period," not due to any connection with illegal substances but instead with a careful consideration of "color"--be that in the found sounds of my field recordings or in the isolation and combinations of various instrumental timbres, an example of which,  "Mouth"--the first movement of "Openings," was performed at the John Donald Robb Composers' Symposium this past spring.

Currently, I am finishing two pieces I began in 2002, "Waldmusik" for flute and percussion and "Devisidero" a solo piano piece commissioned by composer/pianist Curt Cacioppo. The first began on a walk in the Latir wilderness in northern New Mexico, the second on a walk just outside the village of Taos, also in northern New Mexico.

This is where the "nothing between" appears, something the composer John Cage often cited-- borrowing from an obscure and fascinating book, Neti-Neti (not this, not that) by L.C. Beckett. In my walks, often lasting at least as long as those prescribed by Thoreau (in "Walking" he recommends nothing less than four hours as an appropriate length), I seek out a similar emptiness, where the head stops thinking, ideas stop coming, and the mind begins listening as the body inevitably concentrates solely on the necessities of movement. In this quiet space, I hear the music I write, based not on ideas preconceived but instead out of this "nothing" I think Cage and Beckett saw as an essential quality in the act of creation: where newness is possible through emptiness and a self that no longer controls the compositional process so much as simply bccoming open and receptive to an experience that enables one to hear what is "there to hear." And then write it down.

Update of 18.06.2003

I'm writing this as my website is finally, after being in process for some time, reaching a stage of unfinished completion. A few thoughts to "christen" that moment:

First, I continue to feel strongly about originality. As I tell my students, the postmodern critique of "newness" doesn't take fully enough into account the uniqueness of each of us as individuals. This is not the cheap "individualism" promoted by capitalist ideology: that somehow it is the responsibility of all institutions to give us all individually what we, as customers, want. That typically means the attempt to convince us that what we individually want is the same as what the society collectively wants. Attacks against diversity are, in my opinion, very often rooted in economics. I'm instead interested in the creative force that exists in all of us capable of producing something, if we work at it, that can be genuinely individual, original and new-simply because I believe that we each individually are original and uniquely new.

Second, I believe art music is something that can speak to all of us about our personal condition in connection with the condition of the world. Something with the force of necessity, not just a entertaining frill, and I admire, respect and love the work of those trying to authentically create art that opens us up to experiences rooted in attention and discovery. Some of my favorites at the moment:

Brian Wilson: for me, a composer/performer of unparalleled depth who writes music of inexplicably mysterious beauty. Listen to Pet Sounds for starters but there are untold treasures found in just about everything he has written.

Gustav Mahler: there's nothing like this music and whether listening to it or performing it, I've never had my emotions so powerfully taken up, my senses so fully engaged. I've spent years with Mahler's music and its mysteries continue to defy my comprehension. Formally every climax has an inevitability that surprises: we don't know until we get there is the way I like to look at it and it is certainly the way I hear Mahler. Getting lost is sometimes the best way to get where you need to go. Along with Brian Wilson's music, I spent a lot of time with Kindertotenlieder and his Ninth Symphony when writing my composition for soprano saxophone and woodwind quintet "a little light, in great darkness."

Radiohead: if you want to be inspired by the possibilities of young people, this band can make that happen. They write what I think is some of the most inventive music, regardless of genre, out there today. I think Kid A is their masterpiece but The Bends, OK Computer, some of Amnesiac, and their newest Hail to the Thief all offer up evidence backing my opinion that they are the "greatest white male British band of all time." Meaning "they're bigger than the Beatles" which may in our secular times be a more blasphemous statement than the one I'm borrowing from-that being Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" remark. It's also, I think, true.

Robert Schumann: a role model (minus the suicide attempt). I used to dislike Schumann until my friend Konrad Boehmer told me I should listen to his violin sonatas. That was the beginning of my pilgrimage and now I see his music and the aesthetics behind it as central to the continuance of experimentalism as a potential source for discovery and creation in our own time. The violin sonatas are a good (and surprising) place to start. His Dichterliebe would, for me, come next. But it's all good, even the symphonies (which I used to hate) but I won't push it...

Finally, I see the role of the artist involved in a paying attention that in turn gives one the possibility of an experience capable of critique. In other words, that we need not accept the "givens" of what we inherit be that tradition, religion, culture, language, and so on. Or if we decide to accept or reject something it is based on a thorough examination rather than on taking someone else's word for it. Regardless of whether that means questioning the President of the United States or this university professor, an existence rooted in attentive and careful evaluation-without the typically current rush to judgment so often in evidence in our present-day "knee-jerk" environment-is an existence where meaning (and purpose) is not only possible but essential. Our society needs neither conservatives nor liberals. These worn-out ideologies are vestiges of a "cold-war" mentality that really no longer exists. What we need instead are people capable of critical thinking. Getting beyond ideology is an important step for artists and anyone else for that matter willing to suspend the judgment to make that happen. And paying attention, I would argue, can lead to this realization.

I'm about to leave for a three month Wurlitzer residency in Taos where I plan to write a song cycle and a piece for flute and percussion. The latter is called Waldmusik and is connected to the following text:

walking in woods,
what I hear:

Let's see what happens,

Christopher Shultis
18.6.03 Albuquerque