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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.

Jennifer Higdon

Jennifer Higdon
Andrew Bogard, courtesy

Born in Brooklyn in 1962, Jennifer Higdon grew up near Atlanta and in Appalachian Tennessee, teaching herself flute at 15 and playing drums in high school marching band… not beginning college composition studies until she was 21. Nevertheless, she earned degrees from Penn and the Curtis institute, where she would later teach composing.

Says Higdon, "Because I came to classical music very differently than most people, the newer stuff had more appeal for me than the older." Her inspirations come from her childhood love of rock and folk music, leading to a neoromantic style she describes as “intuitive” and “instinctive,” rather than using established formal rules… “storytelling through music,” she says, “even if you don’t have words.”

Higdon frequently composes for some of the most prominent musicians in the world, such as the Chicago Symphony, the Tokyo String Quartet, and violinists Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell. Her Violin Concerto won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music; her first opera (based on the Appalachian-themed civil war novel Cold Mountain) was the first American work to win the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere; three of her concertos have been awarded Grammys for Best Contemporary Classical Composition; and her tone poem blue cathedral … in memory of her late brother, a clarinet player… has been performed over 600 times since its premiere.

Jennifer Higdon… a Composing Woman.


Night Creatures, flute and piano
blue cathedral (2000)
Concerto for Orchestra (2002)
O magnum mysterium (2002)
Southern Harmony for String Quartet (2003)
Secret and Glass Gardens for piano (date)

Supporting Materials


Accessible websites relevant to the composer

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.