Kathleen Pierson, Musician for Dance

Link to Kathleen's CV

What does it mean, to be a "musician for dance?"

view video examples:

Set One, Current 2009-2011 examples of music for class and choreography
(a set of five Quicktime files, total set = 54 MB)

Set Two, Examples from 2007 with Kathleen's first-person narrative voice-over
(a set of six Quicktime files, total set = 69 MB)

Set Three, Examples of Compositions from 2009 not specifically created "for dance,"
but in two genres Kathleen would love to use in future for someone's choreography...
(a set of two Quicktime files, total set = 27 MB)

In Kathleen's case, being a musican for dance has meant a lifetime of constantly striving to achieve collaborative satisfaction for all parties in the dance classroom, in choreographic collaborations, in interdisciplinary endeavors, in sound design, and in teaching:

*in the academic dance classroom (ballet, modern/contemporary, ethnic, and choreography/improvisation classes), keenly tuned to the terminology and typical styles of each of those distinct studio situations, and immediately improvising varied, supportive, appropriate accompaniment,

*in choreographic collaborations (composing and performing for student, faculty, and guest artist choreography in a wide range of acoustic and electronic styles) utilizing ensembles as well as her own solo performing, live or recorded; and when not composing, then helping choreographers create, mix, or find appropriate music to accompany their works,

*in interdisciplinary endeavors (cross-pollination of departmental events and activities) - this is one aspect cited in the Dean's Award Kathleen received in 1999 for her work at Towson University

*in the field of sound design and digital media - handling audio edit and mixing, multi-track recording, running concert sound, etc,

*and in pedagogy - teaching others everything from basic "musicality" to the specifics of crafting their own mixes/compositions as well as teaching hands-on drumming/keyboard classroom accompaniment techniques and standard music theory.

Is there a way to teach "music for dance?"

Yes, and Kathleen has taught the academic "Music for Dance" courses required of dance majors at Goucher College, Towson University, and Kent State University. view sample syllabus

Where has Kathleen been employed as a musician for dance?

Kathleen has been employed as a musician for dance in some of the most highly-regarded academic dance programs in America, including her current work with the BFA program at Elon University and the Summer Intensive at Carolina Ballet, and previously with the outstanding dance departments of Goucher College and Towson University, where she played for ballet and modern and improv/composition classes as well as a spectacular array of world-class guest artist master classes and residencies, for decades. She has been Resident Musican in Dance at Denison University. She has been Guest Artist in the unique and so-creative dance department at Kenyon College. Additionally, she has served as the sole accompanist at University of Arkansas, touring with their Lec/Dem via ArtsLive! to the schools. She served as full-time accompanist and instructor in the dance department at Kent State University, also teaching their Music for Dancers class. She has accompanied at numerous pre-college and summer dance programs including Carver Magnet High School, The Dance Institute at University of Akron, Maryland Summer Center for the Arts at Goucher College, Towson's Summer Dance Camp, Appel Arts Center New Jersey, the TWIGS Program of Baltimore School for the Arts, etc. She has accompanied at private studios such as Maryland Youth Ballet. She has served as composer for the professional companies of Nancy Romita (The Moving Company) and Ken Skresz (Surge Dance Comapny), among others. Her commissioned works for choreography have been heard in Asia (DanceDetroit tour) and Europe (Surge tour) as well as in NYC, up and down the east coast, and in the midwest.

How have Kathleen's compositions for dance and theater been received?

Electronic score "Desert Night" composed for Dana Martin's choreography, reviewed as
"...a wonderfully atmospheric paean to open spaces. Ms. Martin focused her vision alongside that of composer Kathleen Pierson. The result was fresh and appealing."

Music for live theatre production Joan at The Globe Theatre in Los Angeles, reviewed as
"notable" (L.A. Reader)
"a definite asset throughout" (Drama-Logue)
"Kathleen Pierson's understated score enriches the action" (L.A. Weekly)

Score for Ken Skresz's "Village" for Surge Dance Company, performed by Surge at the Cunningham Studio in NYC and elsewhere on the east coast, and at Quinzena da Danca de Almada in Portugal, winner of the highest award given for Choreography by the Maryland Arts Council 1999

Are there professional organizations or activites for musicians in dance?

Yes, and Kathleen has been involved with International Guild of Musicans in Dance (including presenting at an IGMID conference) and with American College Dance Festival Association (where she has also presented music for dance workshops). Spring 2009 is Kathleen's eighteenth time accompanying for American Colege Dance Festival.

Kathleen plays for both ballet and modern dance traditions, but is she familiar with the various branches of modern/contemporary dance?

Definitely! Through playing in various dance departments, through exposure to absolutely every sort of guest artist from the emerging avant-garde to the in-the-history-books canonic, and from interactions at International Guild of Musicians in Dance and American College Dance Festival Association conferences, Kathleen has played for wide-ranging modern and contemporary styles including Graham, Cunningham, Hawkins, Humphrey/Limon, Horton, postmodern, Release Technique, Contact Improvisation, Laban-based, Feldenkrais-based, Mind-Body based, Pilates-based, and other current forms.

View a partial listing of choreographers and teachers for whom Kathleen has composed or accompanied over the years
View video clips of Kathleen at work playing for modern dance and ballet classes
Hear samples of Kathleen's music for choreography
Hear more....
View Kathleen's CV

What instruments does Kathleen play?

Kathleen uses piano, voice-as-wordless-melody, percussion and "found objects," and guitar, in varied combinations, as appropriate, for her live accompanying of dance classes. It is not uncommon to find her singing wordlessly above pedal-sustained piano harmonies while also providing rhythmic steadiness drumming with a djembe at her knee! The music is improvised, even for formal ballet, to reflect the intent and phrasing of the specific movements in ways that can be responsive in real time (change of tempo, change of meter, change of emotional quality, etc.). It is a collaborative art, requiring attention to both the instructor's goals and the visible effects of the music upon the students.

How did Kathleen get involved in this field in the first place?

Timing is everything: As the indomitable teacher/dancer/choregrapher Chrystelle Bond was beginning to build what would become the world-class dance department at Goucher College, in the 60s, Kathleen happened to be an undergraduate Russian Language major at Goucher. Since "being on the Equestrian Team" was not considered sufficient to cover the required PE credits, Kathleen signed up for a ballet class - in the old gym, with scratchy vinyl recordings as the accompaniment, since the first dedicated dance studio hadn't even been constructed yet! After Kathleen had switched her major from Russian to Music, and with the construction of the first beautiful big dance studio now complete and a piano in place awaiting an accompanist, Chrystelle recruited Kathleen and the rest is as they say history!

Those early days of dance department program-building at Goucher included fantastic guest artists (Paul Taylor! Alwin Nikolais! etc) and a Lec/Dem that toured to all the local schools which was a particular thrill, improvising live to assemblies of students, many of whom had never seen "modern dance" before. Kathleen "stayed on" as accompanist, long after graduation, playing for Goucher classes or summer camps as recently as 2000 (when she left Maryland for Ohio) and returning, so nostalgically, in 2008 for Goucher's hosting of the American College Dance Festival. A life-shaping thrill, to have been drawn into, trained by, and employed by the Goucher Dance Department across the decades.

Does Kathleen have any background in actual dance?

Yes, Kathleen's work in music for dance is informed by her own extra-musical involvement in dance itself. Kathleen knows instinctively "what works," musically, for dance. Having choreographed and taught modern dance for several years herself (at Baltimore Actors Theater Conservatory, at Appel Arts Center, and for Performing Arts Collective), and having once founded and directed a succesful dance organization (Fayetteville's Performing Arts Collective), she has a deep appreciation of the varied perspectives of teachers, choreographers, and administrators.

Find out more about Performing Arts Collective and Kathleen's choreography

Beyond the classroom, Kathleen has been an advocate for all the arts and for the creative process itself, believing that "a passive audience disengaged from personal sensation of the creative act" is one of the saddest realities of modern times. She has presented free programs in unexpected venues, organized engaging public events, gathered unorthodox ensembles, and just been a force for "more music and more dance" from childhood to the present.