In Memoriam: Prof. Neil McKay

In Department News, Faculty News by Miguel Felipe10 Comments

Dr. Neil McKay, professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa from 1965 until his retirement in 1987, has died at the age of 92. He passed on Thursday, December 8, 2016.

McKay began his musical career as a jazz arranger-performer in 1940 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in composition at the renowned Eastman School of Music. His catalogue of compositions span styles, decade, and genre. His earliest works include Festival Concertino, his Symphony No. 1, a string quartet, and an opera called Ring Around Harlequin. Coinciding with his relocation to Hawai‘i, his music after the mid-1960s came under the influence of musical traditions from Asia, Africa, and Polynesia. His later works, written after retirement from UH Mānoa, captured the experiences of his busy career and included an emphasis on works for ensembles in Hawai‘i, most notably the Hawai‘i Youth Symphony led by now-retired UH Mānoa professor Henry Miyamura.

In 1997 the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts awarded Dr. McKay an Individual Artist Fellowship “in recognition of artistic excellence, significant accomplishments in Music Composition, and commitment to the Arts in the State of Hawai‘i.”

To learn more about Dr. McKay’s contributions at UH Mānoa and beyond, read his biography here.


  1. Neil has left us all a wonderful legacy, not only with his music but with his example: his gentle manner, humor, kindness, readiness to help to all who asked. I so enjoyed knowing him as professor, colleague, friend. He will be warmly remembered and sorely missed.

  2. Dr McKay…What a great guy he was. He was there in what I would consider the golden age of the department. A music professor that was accessible to all. Always there for the department and his students. I will miss him.

  3. Wonderful man…. there are no words for such a profounf loss…. fortunate to be in his class….perform his music…. and an occasional foresome……

  4. Dr. McKay…Neil…will be greatly missed. He was a man of great integrity, humility, humanity, humour, gentleness, generosity, grace, kindness, and nurturing. I bet he’s joined Allen Trubitt in heaven, and they’re planning on revising their Theory and Aural Training textbooks!!… I’ve lost another musical “dad.” It was an honor to study with him, to sing his compositions, and eventually, teach his music. His legacy will live on in the lives of our students in works like “Kahalaopuna, Princess of Manoa,” “La’ieikawai, Princess of Paliuli,” “Sun, Sun, Sun,” “(I’m Going Back to) Honolulu,” “Folksong Fantasy,” an arrangement of Canadian (Nova Scotian?) folksongs…. Teachers really do touch the future. Requiem aeternam sempiternam requiem.

  5. Dr. McKay, wonderful person, wonderful teacher, wonderful composer. He looked for potential where others saw little. Thank you for that. I have always enjoyed his music and have especially enjoyed being involved in producing the operas he wrote for the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus.

  6. Allen Trubitt and I were probably the very first people to greet Neil, Marion and their two children, Ian and Nancy, in August of 1965,
    when we picked them up at the airport on their arrival to Hawaii. They have been treasured friends ever since. Neil led a wonderfully balanced life that included full-time teaching and nearly full-time composing, playing golf regularly, devotion to his family, travelling extensively and maintaining many warm friendships. I will always remember his warm smile, his chuckle, his droll sense of humor and his modesty. Usually when we got together, Neil would talk about his latest composition, and Marion would show us the score she was hastening to complete before the next performance. His was a life richly and fully lived. It was such a privilege to be his friend. My condolences to his dear wife Marion, and to Ian and Nancy, Randy and Puanani, his precious family.

  7. Love you, Neil and Marion. It’s been a while since we’ve last seen each other but I have fond memories of my visit to your home and out for lunch when I was coaching volleyball in Hawaii.
    Love you both dearly!
    Kealey McMillan (nee Smyth)

  8. Our thoughts and prayers are with you Aunt Marion and dear cousins Ian and Nancy and families. Neil was a genetleman and great role model to all that knew him. Love and hugs, Heather and Larry

  9. I was in Dr. McKay’s theory and composition classes from 1970 to 1978, during a time when the faculty and students at UH Music had a profound influence on the rest of my life. Dr. McKay was gentle, compassionate, funny, wise, and all the other merits listed by the previous comments. He had many practical suggestions about how to be a composer. He talked about how he decided to study music composition on the day he first heard the Ravel String Quartet. He said in order to be called a composer, you needed to write enough music to sit on a stack of your music manuscripts at the piano. Of course, I will always remember “Parables of Kyai Gandrung” for gamelan and orchestra, which he co-wrote with Hardja Susilo. My wife, Cecilia Wooi-Irvine, played in that performance with the Honolulu Symphony, as did many of our friends. He was a great man, and I knew him at a time when intellectual giants were everywhere in the UH Music department.

  10. Dr. McKay was such a motivating, caring, and influential teacher. I always tried a little harder in his classes because I didn’t want to let him down. I was honored when he asked me to play his piece for chorus & clarinet at a pau hana concert. I’ll also never forget the satirical “Rite of Spring” faculty concert where he played jazz clarinet and then solfeged an entire improvised solo. I’ll always remember you, Dr. McKay.

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