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Dr. Donald Reid Womack

Professor of Music
Department Chair

Donald Reid Womack is the composer of approximately 100 works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments, and voice, including more than 50 works for Korean Japanese and Chinese instruments. His music has been performed and broadcast throughout the United States, Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, and is published by Akamai Music, and C.F. Peters. Womack holds doctoral and masters degrees in composition from Northwestern University, Bachelors degrees in philosophy and music theory from Furman University, and has participated in such festivals as the Conservatoire Americain in Fontainebleau, France, the June in Buffalo Festival, and the Aspen Music Festival. The many organizations that have honored his work include the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright Program, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, the American Music Center, Sigma Alpha Iota, the Japan Foundation, the National Center for the Korean Traditional Performing Arts (National Gugak Center) in Seoul, the Viola da Gamba Society of America, Arts Midwest, the Society of Composers, the National Association of Composers, the National Association for Advancement in the Arts, the Oahu Choral Society, the Tampa Bay Composers’ Forum, Northwestern University, the Music Teachers’ National Association, and the American String Teachers Association, among others.

Womack is a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, as well as the recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships. He spent a year in Japan in 2007-08 with the support of a Fulbright Research Fellowship, where he served as guest composer-in-residence with the Tokyo-based Japanese instrumental ensemble AURA-J. A second Fulbright Fellowship took him to Korea for a year in 2021-22, where he was a visiting faculty member at Seoul National University. In addition, he has lectured extensively on his work at universities and institutions throughout the U.S., Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

His work with Korean, Japanese and Chinese instruments has placed him at the vanguard of intercultural composition, and has enabled him to make a significant contribution to the body of new literature for East Asian instruments. Womack’s interests lie in developing a compositional approach that merges elements of East Asia and the West in a uniquely personal way that neither entirely derives from nor ignores their respective traditions. Inspired by the fertile possibilities of cultural interchange found in his long-time home of Hawai‘i, his music employs both western and East Asian instruments, combining a rich and linear tonal language, an intricate use of color and texture, and an exploration of multiple layers of rhythm, with the goal of reaching audiences on an intuitive and emotional level. A prime example is his After, a large-scale concerto for shakuhachi, koto, and orchestra. Commissioned and premiered by the Honolulu Symphony in 2006, the piece received its Japan premiere in 2010 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra to critical praise. Regarded as one of the leading composers for Korean instruments, several of his works have become standard repertoire in Korea, and his article on composing for Korean instruments is published by the Seoul National Gugak Center, the foremost authority on Korean music.

In addition to the aforementioned Guggenheim and Fulbrights, Womack is the recipient of more than 100 grants, commissions and honors, including awards from the Gyeonggi Korean Orchestra International Composition Competition, Sigma Alpha Iota Inter-American Music Awards, the Leo M. Traynor Competition, and the Oahu Choral Society Composition Competition. He has also been honored with an Excellence in Scholarship Award from the University of Hawai‘i College of Arts and Humanities, and was awarded Individual Artist Fellowships from the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in 1997 and again in 2002, the only artist in any field to receive the award twice.

His major works include a violin concerto, a double concerto for shakuhachi, koto, and orchestra, two concertos for gayageum and orchestra, a concerto for haegeum and orchestra, an oratorio for chorus and chamber orchestra, a triple concerto for shakuhachi, biwa and koto with ensemble of Japanese instruments, a geomungo concerto, and a second concerto for geomungo and chamber ensemble. Performers of his music include the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, the Russia Ulan Ude Symphony, the National Orchestra of Korea, the Seoul National Gugak Center Orchestra, the KBS Traditional Orchestra, the Gyeonggi Korean Orchestra, the Busan National Gugak Center Orchestra, the Changwon Philharmonic, the Louisville Orchestra, the Hawai‘i Symphony, the Hawai‘i Symphony Chorus, the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Kyo-Shin-An Arts, the Voxare String Quartet, the Cassatt Quartet, Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, the Gimhae (Korea) Gayageum Orchestra, Pro Musica Nipponia, AURA-J, the Chinese Music Virtuosi (Hong Kong), AsianArt Ensemble (Berlin), the Salzburg Mozarteum String Quartet, conductors Naoto Otomo, Kazuhiro Koizumi and David Stock, and renowned virtuosi Jiyoung Yi (gayageum), Yoon Jeong Heo (geomungo), Yang Jing (pipa), Seizan Sakata (shakuhachi), Reiko Kimura (koto), Parry Karp (cello), I-Bei Lin (cello), Ignace Jang (violin), Thomas Rosenkranz (piano), and soprano Tony Arnold. A longtime collaboration with the Hawai‘i (formerly Honolulu) Symphony has produced six commissions, including three large-scale works.

Womack’s music can be heard on many releases on the Albany, Equilibrium, AkdangIban, Synnara, Tokyo CMC and other labels in the U.S., Korea and Japan. The Albany Records release Walk Across the Surface of the Sun (2008) features eight of his works for Japanese and Western instruments. Elements 五行 (2013) and Breaking Heaven 破天 (2014) feature seven more of his works for Chinese and Japanese instruments respectively. The latter was chosen one of the year’s top 10 releases by the influential New Music Box website of New Music USA. The 2019 recording Intertwined features six of his works for Korean, Chinese, Japanese and western string instruments.

The subject of critical acclaim, his work has been described as “moments of raw energy alternating with a brooding potentiality” by the Honolulu Advertiser, and his work has been hailed as “original, creative, and ingenious” by the Shimbun Akahata (Tokyo), “wonderfully mellow” by the Buffalo (NY) Daily News, and “distinctive, stirring, and exciting” by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which also described his Violin Concerto as “a powerful work, impressively crafted, that impacts listeners on a visceral level.”

As an active supporter of contemporary music and chamber music, Womack has directed numerous festivals and concerts of contemporary music. A faculty member at the University of Hawai‘i since 1994, he has chaired the music department and presently serves as professor of composition and theory, as well as a faculty member of both the Center for Japanese Studies and the Center for Korean Studies. (www.donaldwomack.com)