Celebrated composer and PLU alumna Cindy McTee visits campus
By Mollie Smith '18 and Mandi LeCompte
McTee’s Symphony No. 1 - Ballet for Orchestra - performed April 11 by University Symphony Orchestra
For Cindy McTee ‘75, music was ingrained in her life from the moment she was born. McTee spent her youth wandering around the PLU campus while her mom was pursuing a degree in education. With musician parents, McTee grew up watching their band rehearsals. Her mom taught her the saxophone and how to transpose music. Applying to PLU for a degree in Music just made sense.
Today, McTee’s award-winning compositions have been played by orchestras globally, including performances in Carnegie Hall five separate times. She has received numerous awards such as the Fulbright Senior Lecturer Fellowship to teach at the Academy of Music in Poland.
It all started in spring of 1974. As a young composing student she was assigned to be the student guide for Krystof Penderecki, a Polish composer whose piece was being performed by the University Symphony Orchestra. Though McTee was unaware of it at the time, her time with Penderecki would dramatically shape her future career as a composer.
“Penderecki realized (as had we all) the special qualities of mind and person which McTee possessed, even at a relatively tender age,” Dave Robbins explains, who was the Chair of Department of Music at that time.
During Penderecki’s residency at PLU, he asked McTee if she would be interested in traveling to Poland for the coming year to teach his family English in exchange for studying with him at the Cracow Conservatory. Cindy did just that.
“At first, I didn’t believe he was serious, and I was also a bit apprehensive about the idea of living behind the Iron Curtain,” she says.
Despite her hesitation, McTee eventually agreed and moved from her hometown in Eatonville, Wash., to Poland for a year to study orchestration, twentieth-century techniques and counterpoint with Penderecki.
“The experience was life changing in a myriad of positive ways and set me well on my path toward a career in music. Were it not for PLU’s excellent music department, this important opportunity would never have presented itself,” she explains.
After her year in Poland, McTee graduated with a BA from PLU and received her Masters in Music from Yale School of Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Iowa. After teaching at PLU for three years, she taught at the University of North Texas for 30 years where she eventually retired.
Because of McTee’s success as a composer, she will be honored by her hometown of Eatonville and will visit PLU in April. The town will honor her with a plaque in the school auditorium. On April 13, PLU’s Symphony Orchestra will play a celebratory concert at the ceremony, featuring a movement from her Symphony No. 1 (“Ballet for Orchestra”). The piece is an Adagio for strings that has emerged as a popular piece on its own. The University Symphony Orchestra performed the west-coast premiere of the symphony in 2004. They will perform the piece again on tour in Portugal and Spain this summer
McTee’s visit to PLU is not only a sentimental experience for the PLU community, but a notable opportunity for student composers. While here, McTee will provide composition seminars, lessons with students, guest lectures in music classes, and a pre-concert talk on April 11 at 7 p.m. in the Jennie Lee Hansen Recital Hall followed by the Student Spotlight Concert at 8 p.m. where her work will be performed.
Receiving specialized advice from someone who was in their shoes 40 years ago, wandering around the same campus, is a rare opportunity for PLU student composers. When asked what advice she would give young composers, McTee explains that they should continue working and composing despite any doubts they might have.
“We need new music, new books, and new art to reflect who we are as a society, to provide a lens through which future generations can know and understand who we were in this time and place,” McTee explains. “I am convinced that participation in the arts, whether passively or actively, will surely lead to a kinder, gentler world. I believe that a person who has experienced and truly felt the magic of a Picasso painting or the emotional depth of a Beethoven symphony will become a more compassionate person with an expanded appreciation for what it means to be fully human.”
McTee will provide composition seminars, lessons with students, guest lectures in music classes, and a pre-concert talk on April 11 at 7 p.m. in the Jennie Lee Hansen Recital Hall followed by the Student Spotlight Concert at 8 p.m. where her work will be performed.
“I am convinced that participation in the arts, whether passively or actively, will surely lead to a kinder, gentler world. I believe that a person who has experienced and truly felt the magic of a Picasso painting or the emotional depth of a Beethoven symphony will become a more compassionate person with an expanded appreciation for what it means to be fully human.”