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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Stony Brook alumni takes home a Grammy

    Steven Mackey proves that Stony Brook University students keep achieving greatness even after they graduate.  At this year’s 54th Annual Grammy Awards, Mackey, an SBU alumni, had his latest album, Lonely Motel: Music from Slide, nominated for four awards: Best Contemporary Composition, Best Small Ensemble Performance, Best Engineering (Tom Lazarus and Jim Maylone) and Producer of the Year (David Frost). That night, Mackey took home a Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance.

    When they announced his name for the Grammy, he was thrilled. “I was not able to attend because I had a gig in Philadelphia,” Mackey said. “I was out celebrating after that when I heard, so it was a double party.”

    Mackey is no stranger to Grammy nominations. One of his other CDs, Steven Mackey: Dreamhouse, was nominated for four Grammys awards, including Best Classical Album of 2010. “I didn’t realize how big the Grammys were until I started getting congrats from all over the country after being nominated,” Mackey said.

    On his website, he refers to his music as a one-way trip. He tributes that to his many-journey related metaphors which give his songs the illusion of traveling. He wrote, “My music tends to explore fringe states of consciousness rather than brand-name emotions, but I aspire to maintain contact with the fundamental human urges that brought music into being – singing, dancing, and the search for transcendence – with terse melodies, rhythms that come from the body and evocative textures.”

    Before becoming a composer, Mackey’s original passion was playing the electric guitar. “I taught myself how to play on my brother’s guitar starting at age nine,” Mackey said. “In my teens, I started playing with bands: blues, rock and exploring fusion. I had not heard classical music until I took a music appreciation course in college. That is when I first heard the job description of a ‘composer.’”

    As an undergraduate, Mackey started off on the pre-med track. He then switched to physics and, after that, music. He received his BA at UC Davis, and, from there, his main teacher suggested going to Stony Brook. Some of the professors Mackey recalls having include John Lessard, Sarah Fuller, David Lewin and Billy Jim Layton, though he admits Lessard was his favorite. He attended SBU for five years and a summer semester before graduating in 1980 with his MA in music.

    After his graduation, Mackey further continued his education by receiving his Ph.D from Brandeis. Since then, he has composed for orchestras, chamber ensembles, dance and opera. “My greatest accomplishment is being in love with the act and activities of composing,” Mackey said. “It is not only my profession but my favorite hobby as well.” Aside from composing, he also performs with his band, Big Farm, and is an avid tennis player and skier.

    Currently, Mackey teaches at Princeton University, where he holds the titles of Professor of Music, as well as chair of the Department of Music. Mackey has been known to improvise with students in the context of composition lessons, just for fun or as part of his seminars.  It goes along with his theory of, “Composing is no fun at all if you don’t love what you are creating.”

    At Princeton, he has been teaching composition, theory, twentieth century music, improvisation and a variety of special topics since 1985. When asked if he would ever consider coming back to SBU to teach, he was honest in saying, “Probably not. Princeton is my home; the University has been great to me.”

    Regardless of where he teaches, Mackey advises any music majors or aspiring musicians to make sure they love what they do on a daily basis. “Don’t worry about awards, reviews, etc.,” said Mackey. “Focus on making your daily work enjoyable. As my father said, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”

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