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The University of Texas at Tyler
Accomplished Composer: UT Tyler Visiting Music Professor Retells Tragic Story Through Opera
Dr. Paul Seitz, visiting assistant professor of music at The University of Texas at Tyler, has been selected by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ concert division panel to receive a 2008-09 ASCAPLUS award.
The honor recognizes value in a composer’s catalog of work, based on activity in the form of recent live concert and recital performances in venues outside of commercial broadcast media.
The Wisconsin native has composed music in many genres including chamber music, vocal music and compositions for symphony orchestra and wind orchestra, as well as the opera, The Children of the Keweenaw, with libretto by Kathleen Masterson, which tells the story of the “Italian Hall Disaster of 1913.”
In that event, about 70 people – including children and young adults – died in a stampede during a Christmas Eve party for the families affiliated with the Western Federation of Miners, who were on strike against the Lake Superior copper mining companies. The Pine Mountain Music Festival commissioned the opera, and it premiered in 2001.
“The Children of the Keweenaw explores the human impact – the public memory – of a single, unexpected, tragic event, chronicled in newspapers and newsreels around the world and in Woody Guthrie’s famous song,” said Seitz.
“Many accounts of survivors describe a man, or men, who cried ‘Fire!’ causing the stampede. But other stories survive as well, describing everything from explicit murder of children by ‘deputies,’ to a simple linguistic misunderstanding leading to a terrible accident.
“Neither a formal inquiry by the U.S. Congress nor a local coroner’s inquest was able to arrive at a single clear account of what happened. As I began talking to descendents of victims and survivors of the party, I was moved by the passion that survived as they shared their stories. What I tried to convey was the idea that history is something that is felt deeply emotionally and is remembered in many different ways, and that the truth is the aggregate of all those different memories,” Seitz added.
Seitz’s interest to tackle the task of composing an opera came from one source in particular – his wife.
“My wife, Christine Seitz, is an opera singer,” he explained, “and I have learned so much about opera from her.”
Since 2005, Seitz’s music has been performed at various venues – both here and abroad – including the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, the World Saxophone Congress in Lubjiana, Slovenia, the Festival Internationale del Sassofono in Faenza, Italy, the Pendulum New Music Series at the University of Colorado and the New Zealand School of Music at Wellington, to name a few.
“None of my family members were involved in writing music, but I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old,” Seitz said of his early beginnings in music. “When I started music school, I got very interested in composing and began studying many instruments with composing in mind. I took some lessons on the viola. I fell in love with that instrument. I continue to play and study it and develop it."
Seitz previously served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor of music theory and composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and as a lecturer in music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also taught public school orchestra students in New York and Wisconsin.
Seitz said teaching “does not get in the way” of his composing, but rather helps him.
“You would think that if you could just write music 12 hours a day, that this would be some sort of ideal,” Seitz said with a laugh. “It turns out that, when you do have times like that, you can’t possibly work all day. And I find that exploring fundamental musical issues with students keeps me aware of the certain fundamental aspects of music that makes it go.”
At UT Tyler, Seitz teaches courses in music theory, musicianship and applied composition.
Seitz holds a D.M.A. in composition and a master of music degree in music theory, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From Columbia University, he holds a master of arts degree in gifted education/music, a program that combined study of cognition, composition and teaching practice at the High School of Music and Art in New York.
One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. Nearly 90 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of more than 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.