Modern Voices, Lasting Notes

March 28, 2013

When someone mentions classical music, what do the words mean to you? Do you feel a surge of passion? A connection with history?

For Daniel Asia, professor of music composition in the UA School of Music in the College of Fine Arts, classical music is something purely human and totally timeless.


“What that word means,” he says, “is that there’s 900 years of creative output of humanity in the musical arts that people have concluded over the years, this is hot stuff. You should hear this!”

An Accomplished Composer 

Not only has Asia taught music composition at the UA for 25 years, he has conducted the Arizona Contemporary Ensemble and is a renowned composer whose music is being played by orchestras around the world.

Rex Woods, director of the UA School of Music, started at the UA the same year Asia arrived, 1988.

“He was already of course an accomplished composer,” says Woods, “but it’s been fun to watch a colleague develop and really come to international prominence as a composer. A lot of academic musicians are in a way disconnected from life and from audiences. He is very successful both within the academy.”

“He’s this zen-like character.”  

Aaron Mobley, a doctoral student in the School of Music, first encountered the music of Daniel Asia when we was in high school in the early 1990s.

“It was unlike anything I had ever heard,” he remembers. “And after I finished my graduate work in Pittsburgh, I couldn’t help but think, I have to study with this guy.”

For a budding artist like Mobley, the close teaching and creative freedom Asia provided was exactly what he needed. Even though Asia has his own style, he is careful not impose such parameters on his students.

“I really follow in that regard in Copland’s footsteps,” he says. “When he taught at Tanglewood, he felt his goal was actually to help a composer, an emerging composer, a young composer, whatever term we wish to use, help them find their own voice.”

And because of that instructional style, Mobley is cultivating his own sound, his own voice.

Mobley describes Asia as being “sort of like Yoda” and “zen-like,” offering the right teaching at the right moment in just the right amounts to help his students find their best talents within.

For student like Mobley, Asia isn’t the only advantage to studying composition at the UA. The program offers a unique opportunity; every semester, the program hosts a concert where young composers get to hear their music played by their colleagues.

“There’s no feeling in the world like having your music performed live by competent, serious musicians,” he beams.

On High Art and Humanity 

In the academic world, Asia has a reputation for having strong – sometimes controversial – views on what makes art, but as a true devotee of the classical and an accomplished artist himself, he wears such a reputation with pride.

“I happen to think that the arts, and the fine arts, and the high arts,” says Asia, “are among the most important things that we as human beings can do with our lives. Now, I admit I’m biased. But if you want to learn more about yourself as a human being, and understand yourself in humanity, there are not a lot of things that have lasted that are worthy of our attention. That’s just the way it is.”