Frank Wiley, Composer


As a composer, conductor and teacher, Frank Wiley, Ph.D., has demonstrated for several decades that he is a multitalented musician. A member of the faculty of the Hugh A. Glasner School of Music at KSU, Wiley serves as director of the Kent State University New Music Ensemble and director of the Kent State University Orchestra. He teaches courses in composition, 20th century music and conducting.

“Frank has an original voice,” says Michael Burritt, professor of percussion and head of the department at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, who was a colleague of Wiley’s at Kent State in the mid-’80s to mid-’90s. “He has a great sense of color in his writing and orchestration. Rhythmically, his music is always very fun for percussionists, with a lot of good grooves and interesting aesthetics going on.”

Wiley even wrote a couple of pieces specifically for Burritt, who has performed them and used them to teach his students. In May of 2004, for example, while teaching at Northwestern University in Chicago, Burritt included Wiley’s piece Earth Dances in at performance of the percussion ensemble at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. The program also featured Burritt’s Marimba Quartet No. 1, Daniel Levitan’s Marimba Quartet and Bob Becker’s States Medley.

Wiley’s music has been performed throughout the United States and in Europe, Asia and Australia by numerous orchestras, soloists and chamber ensembles. His compositions include a broad range of solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal, choral, multimedia and electronic music.

“As a graduate student at Kent, I studied and performed his solo piano composition Dreamscape,” recalls Michael Pagan, Ph.D., assistant director of Jazz Studies, Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri Kansas City. “It is a challenging work which fuses a variety of piano techniques and influences from the 20th century, while retaining a distinct power of its own.”

The following description of one of Wiley’s recordings, Heraldings, provides more insight into the style of his compositions: “In three movements, an energetic fanfare opens the work with strong rhythms and repeated-note figures. Muted trumpets are heard in the second movement with alternation between a Lento misterioso of quiet intensity and a contrasting faster section that is highly expressive. The final movement is fast and powerful and in character, drawing rhythms and motives from preceding material and ending in a virtuoso tremolo.”

Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1949, Wiley received his bachelor of music degree in organ performance and his master of music degree in composition from the University of North Carolina. His doctor of musical arts degree in composition was awarded by the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University, where his principal teachers were Donald Erb and Riger Hannay, and he studied conducting with Thomas Briccetti.

Wiley, who has also taught at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, has established a strong national reputation as an exceptional teacher. Pagan, who studied with him in the late ’70s and early ’80s, says: “Frank has a style of delivering information that is energetic, lively and engaging without being taxing or overbearing. He exudes an affable mix of confidence, humility, seriousness and fun. He also has an uncanny way of drawing the very best efforts from his students in all situations and against all odds.”

Over the years, Wiley has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, the Bascom Little Fund, the Kent State University Research Council, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the American Music Center.

In 1986 he was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize for music composition, and in 1995 he received Kent State University’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

—Christopher Johnston


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