The Sounds of Success

Carter Pann

You can find out much more about Carter Pann on his website, but perhaps the best way to “know” him is to listen to his music. Here are just a few samples that will introduce you to the blend of popular idioms, subtle humor, and haunting melodies found in the work of this amazing composer.  


The Mechanics (Saxophone Quartet): V. Balance


The Extension of My Eye (Piano & Chamber Orchestra)


Slalom (Orchestra) (an ode to the thrill of downhill skiing)


Love Letters (String Quartet No. 1): IV. Passions


Carter Pann - Sept 2017 SDG Composer of the Month

Carter Pann

“I just loved the sound of sound.” This is how Pulitzer Prize-finalist Carter Pann describes his early music experience. He grew up in a home where his parents listened to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and classic rock. But they also had a series of “Greatest Classical Hits” albums, so Carter got heavy doses of Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Debussy, Beethoven, and Mozart. 




A Young Composer Takes Off

By the age of 11, Pann was obsessed with playing the piano, but it was one of his teachers at the North Shore School of Music in Winnetka, Illinois, who suggested that he consider composing. At the age of 17, Pann started taking composition lessons with Howard Sandroff at the University of Chicago.

I remember hearing Steve Reich’s work for the first time. I was like a sponge. I would absorb these new scores and these new pieces like a child. I couldn’t enough. I was just sopping it up, and I wanted to try my hand at writing some of it.”

From then on, there was no stopping him. Pann went to Eastman School of Music to pursue a double major in piano and composition, then on to the University of Michigan to earn a master’s degree in composition and start his doctoral studies. Though it took a few trial-and-error years—writing commercials for television and radio spots, splitting life between Chicago and Steamboat Springs, and completing his doctoral degree—Pann ultimately landed a position at Colorado University, where he erupted onto the scene as an extremely successful composer.


The Signs of Success

Carter Pann rehearsing Concerto Logic
Carter Pann rehearsing for the premiere of his
Concerto Logic, March 2009

Even as early as April 2011, Pann’s name was included in NPR’s list of “The Mix: 100 Composers under 40,” a compilation of 100 of the most promising composers in the world under 40 years old.

It takes only a sweeping glance at Carter Pann’s curriculum vitae to see what he has already accomplished. Within a decade, his compositions have garnered multiple awards, including a Charles Ives Fellowship from the Academy of Arts and Letters, a Masterprize seat in London, and five ASCAP awards. His numerous albums encompass solo, vocal, chamber, orchestral and wind music, and have received two Grammy® nominations to date, including his Piano Concerto, recorded by the Czech State Philharmonic of Brno, nominated for the Best Classical Composition of the Year in 2001. 

Pann has written for and worked with musicians around the world, garnering performances by ensembles such as the London Symphony and City of Birmingham Symphony, the Tchaikovsky Symphony in Moscow, many radio symphonies around Europe, the Seattle Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, the youth orchestras of New York and Chicago, and countless wind ensembles. He has written for Richard Stoltzman, the Antares Ensemble, the Capitol Saxophone Quartet, the West Coast Wind Quintet, the River Oaks Chamber Ensemble, and many concert pianists. 


A Surprise Pulitzer Announcement

Carter Pann at the recording of
Carter Pann at the recording of The Mechanics

Then in 2016, the unexpected happened. On an ordinary spring day, between rehearsals for two premieres at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Carter Pann got a text from a former student, telling Pann that he had just been chosen as one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. The piece that garnered the attention was his work The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor. It was a rarity in and of itself for a Pulitzer, since it was not written for a typical orchestra or opera, but rather for a quartet of saxophones.

The work was commissioned by the Capitol Quartet and was later recorded on the quartet's recording Balance, produced by Blue Griffin Recordings. It’s a six-movement suite that imagines the four saxophonists as mechanics engaged in a rhythmic interplay of precision and messiness that is by turns bubbly, pulsing, dreamy and nostalgic. (To hear a sample of The Mechanics, continue scrolling to the close of the article.)


Time Out for Fun

chess board

When Carter Pann is not teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he serves as an Associate Professor of Music Composition/Theory, the Colorado mountains provide a much-beloved home base for him and his wife, Heidi, who is a pianist/vocalist. They live in a small mountain house on eight acres, with a “barn” composition studio that provides a peaceful place for writing. Pann also loves to bike and cook. 

However, his commissions, engagements, and teaching often take him away from Colorado. Whenever he travels, he tries to walk a city or its perimeter. And he does have one enthralling hobby: Tournament chess. Wherever he goes, Pann tries to find a chess club where he can play. It offers a chance to get away from music and get caught up in the geometry, the puzzle of the game.


An SDG Commission

Heare Ensemble
Heare Ensemble:
Jennifer Blyth, Kurt Fowler, Jennie Brown

SDG is especially proud to be the commissioner for Carter Pann's new work for flute, cello, and piano. The piece, entitled “Melodies for Robert,” is a celebration of the life of flutist and SDG supporter Robert Vincent Jones (1920–2016).

The World Premiere will be performed at the SDG Annual Fall Gala, October 28, 2017, at The Cliff Dwellers in Chicago by the Heare Ensemble—Jennie Brown (flute), Kurt Fowler (cello), and Jennifer Blyth (piano), who were all classmates with Carter at Eastman.




'Melodies for Robert ' contains rich harmonies, soaring melodies, and unexpected twists, but beyond the musical elements, it also has incredible depth of soul. Like so much of Carter's music, it paints the heart of the American landscape and makes you yearn for more.”
—The Heare Ensemble

For Pann, this work comes in the midst of what he describes as a “mini-cluster” of music for flute.  He has also just completed a work for flute and piano called Giantess, commissioned by the Flute New Music Consortium (FNMC). In an interview with Dr. Nicole Riner of FNMC, Pann describes his love for the flute: 

When I first started writing music, I wrote SO many pieces for the flute. This is when I was 19, 18, just breaking into some serious composition.  I wrote a piece for 6 flutes, a flute solo, a couple of flute duos, and an early flute concerto. That was like ‘my instrument’ without being my instrument.  I was magnetized to the sound of the flute and the versatility.”

We hope you enjoy the music of this amazing composer. Take a few minutes to listen to some of the clips we've posted, and perhaps you'll catch a glimpse of the subtle element of humor that often pops up in his work.

 I really want to hear a person behind the music, and I think humor sort of breaks that ice—one little grain of salt or pepper in a piece that makes it really alive and puts a smile on your face.”