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News & Press: In Memoriam

Michael Pisani, 1954-2019

Thursday, April 23, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Siovahn Walker

Michael Pisani, Professor of Music on the Mary Conover Mellon Chair, at Vassar College, died on July 9, 2019 at his summer home in Rochester, New York. His sudden and unexpected death at the age of sixty-five came as a great shock to friends and colleagues.

Michael effectively had two careers in music. After receiving his B.F.A. and M.M. from Oberlin College in 1977, he pursued a career as a conductor in the world of opera. From 1979 to 1986 he was assistant conductor for the Houston Grand Opera, after which he guest-conducted for Opera New England (1986-88). Perhaps most memorably, he worked as an assistant conductor for Leonard Bernstein, coaching singers and conducting rehearsals for A Quiet Place, both at the National Opera (Washington) and at La Scala (1984). His brilliant musicianship, most evident in his skills as a pianist, informed all of his future work.

Hi extraordinarily wide-ranging intellectual curiosity led to abandon the world of opera for academia, and in 1996 he completed a Ph.D. in musicology at the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester). In the following year he took up a position at Vassar College, where he remained until his death.

His activities and accomplishments during these years were remarkable: in 2006, his landmark study Imagining Native America in Music (Yale University Press, 2005) won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. His Music for the Melodramatic Theatre in 19th-century London and New York appeared in 2014 (University of Iowa Press). From 2014-2016, Michael served as editor of American Music. He also served on a number of editorial boards (MUSA, Journal of Film Music, Nineteenth-Century Theatre & Film). Given the relative brevity of his career as a musicologist, his list of published articles is little short of awe-inspiring.

Michael Pisani was as a once-in-a-lifetime colleague: full of energy and good spirits, he gave of himself selflessly to both the music department and the College. His almost child-like sweetness and rare musical abilities were a source of joy and love for all who knew him.