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Classical music has a history of Composing… Women! So this Women’s History Month Tri States Public Radio and the WIU School of Music shines the spotlight… one every weekday… on over twenty great female composers. From baroque to romantic… to impressionist… to post-serialist. From the mystic Abbess who advised the Pope… to the Chicagoan whose works were rediscovered in an abandoned house. Listen in for Composing Women… Every weekday during March at 7:19 during Morning Edition, or at 5:48 during All Things Considered, as TSPR Music Director Ken Zahnle introduces you to our composer of the day… and at 11:00 a.m. during Ovation for a featured work by our featured classical master.

Joan Tower

Bernard Mindich courtesy Wise Music Group
Joan Tower
Bernard Mindich

American Joan Tower did not originally intend to become a composer, but at 18 she wrote a piece for a college class and immediately thought, “I can do better”--- and, as she said in 2018, “for the next 60 years, I tried to do better.”

Tower describes her music as “about … the rhythm of ideas.” That rhythm found its way into her musical language in her youth, through indigenous percussion music, when her family spent several years in Bolivia. Tower earned a doctoral degree in composition at Columbia, but she credits her time with a group she founded in 1969, the Da Capo Chamber Players, with helping her understand how to communicate ideas to performers.

At first, she wrote for chamber groups, but her 1981 Sequoia (a tone poem depicting the giant tree) led her to composing more frequently for large ensemble. She has since served as composer-in-residence for a number of U.S. orchestras. One of her most interesting projects was the 2008 composition Made in America… commissioned jointly by 65 orchestras in all 50 states… the largest such effort to date. As part of the sequence of premieres, Tower visited with 20 of the orchestras, conducting 8 of them.

Of her writing, Tower states, “It's…very important for me to be clear: I don't think my music ever gets complicated enough that you don't hear everything.“

Joan Tower… a Composing Woman.


Silver Ladders
Made in America 
Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman no. 6
Big Sky

Supporting Materials

Accessible websites relevant to the composer

A 2018 interview with Tower
An NPR interview with Tower from 2023

Ken oversees all music programming for Tri States Public Radio, hosting the morning classical music program Ovation, the Saturday nigh jazz survey After Hours, and engineering recorded performances for TSPR. Ken is a native of Highland Park, IL, with degrees in music and broadcasting from Western Illinois University. Teenage years listening to Chicago's old-school fine arts and classical radio stations, coupled with a few months spinning discs on a college residence hall radio station, led him onto the primrose career path of radio. Ken has deep roots at TSPR, starting as a student staff announcer and host, before becoming news director for a group of local radio stations, then Program Director for Tri States Audio Information Services. When he's not deep within our studios and music library, he continues his over quarter-century of assisting Macomb High School's Marching Band.