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George Frederick McKay (1899 - 1970)

Known as the Dean of Northwest Composers, George Frederick McKay composed and arranged a wide variety of works, ranging from orchestral compositions and music for ballet to band marches, over the course of forty years as a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. He began serious musical study there in 1919, studying composition with Carl Paige Wood. After two years in Seattle, he received a scholarship to study composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, under the directorship of Howard Hanson, where his teachers were Christian Sinding and Selim Palmgren. Sinding especially encouraged McKay to throw away his textbooks and write in a true melodic sense, related to his knowledge of the American cultural environment. Palmgren offered McKay firm artistic support by nominating his Violin Sonata of 1923 for the Pulitzer Prize. McKay was the first graduate in composition from Eastman. He composed at the piano, writing short musical notations in pencil, later to be organized in ink at a large writing-desk. Although his performance instrument was the violin, he was also able to write idiomatically for the piano and for orchestra, an important element in all of McKay’s work being his ability to write engagingly in the art music tradition of his time.




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