“This was highly inventive music on every level; hugely enjoyable and deeply involving with a constant sense of surprise…” —The Washington Post

Judith Shatin Portrait 2022

Composer Judith Shatin is renowned for her richly imagined music, seamlessly spanning the acoustic and digital realms and often combining the two. Called “highly inventive on every level” by The Washington Post, her music combines an adventurous approach to timbre with dynamic narrative design. She draws on expanded instrumental palettes and a cornucopia of the sounding world, from machines in a coal mine to animal calls, to the shuttle of a wooden loom. Her project Quotidian Music draws attention to the sounds of the world around us, while orchestral pieces such as Singing the Blue Ridge and Ice Becomes Water focus on the crisis of climate change. She creates music for a wide range of performers, from those with no musical training to virtuosos, believing that the joy of music-making should be open to all.

Vividly orchestrated and bursting with imaginative detail, the piece grabs a listener’s attention right from the opening moment…” –The San Francisco Chronicle

Shatin’s extensive catalog includes commissions from organizations such as the Barlow Endowment, the Fromm Foundation, Carnegie Hall, and the Library of Congress. Ensembles including the Cassatt and Kronos Quartets, Da Capo Chamber Players, Ensemble Berlin PianoPercussion, and the Dutch Hexagon Ensemble have commissioned her music, as have choruses including the Peninsula Women’s Chorus, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Young People’s Chorus of NYC, the UVA Glee Club, the UVA University Singers, and the Illinois Wesleyan University Collegiate Chorale. Orchestras that have presented her music include the Denver, Houston, Illinois, Knoxville, Minnesota, National and Richmond Symphonies, and the Women’s Philharmonic. Her music has also been featured at festivals including Aspen, BAM Next Wave, Grand Teton, Moscow Autumn, Seal Bay, Spring in Havana, and West Cork.

“There’s no sense of detached, solipsistic, intellectual enterprise in this work, which dazzles with its array of active sound surfaces and shapes… –San Francisco Herald

Narrative design and perceptible structure are key elements in Shatin’s music. While harmonic pillars anchor her music, finely etched surfaces are revealed in surprising ways through timbral stretching and colorful layering. Examples include Black Moon for orchestra and electronics, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the American Composers Orchestra, and Tower of the Eight Winds for violin and piano, singled out by The Washington Post for its “engaging vivacity.”

Text setting drawn from a broad range of sources is also a major focus for Shatin. A few examples include the humorous Marvelous Pursuits (vocal quartet and piano 4-hands, poetry by Barbara Goldberg), I Love (SATB, poetry by Gertrude Stein), Hark My Love (SATB + piano, the Song of Songs), and Vayter un Vayter (Bass, clarinet, cello, piano, poetry of Avraham Sutzkever). A focus on our challenged environment plays an increasing role in her music, as in For the Birds for amplified cello and electronics created from processed birdsong. Ice Becomes Water for string orchestra and electronics fashioned from field recordings of melting glaciers, is a lament for the melting of glaciers and their impact on our global ecology.

“There is a refreshing trend in new music to create work that is theatrical, even visceral, without resorting to clichés or purely programmatic devices. American composer Judith Shatin falls into this category for me” –Fanfare

Shatin’s music has been honored with four National Endowment for the Arts Composer Fellowships as well as grants from the American Music Center, Meet the Composer, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. A two-year retrospective of her music at Shepherd College, WV, was sponsored by the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Arts Partners Program. It included four week-long residencies devoted to her music, with each involving her in multiple activities with local community groups. The project culminated in the premiere of her folk oratorio COAL, an evening-length work for chorus, Appalachian ensemble, keyboard synth, and electronic playback, with a libretto by the composer.

“The term ‘folk oratorio’ looks like an oxymoron, yet Judith Shatin’s Coal blends folk and oratorio so skillfully that it not only makes sense, but can be transposed to other places as a prototype, tying regional industry to art.”  –Chorus! Volume 7, #5 

Shatin’s music is published by C.F. Peters, Colla Voce, E.C. Schirmer, Hal Leonard, and Wendigo Music. It may be heard on Blue Griffin, Centaur, Innova, Navona, Neuma, New World Records, and Ravello labels. In demand as a master teacher, Shatin has served as a senior composer at the Wellesley Composers Conference and the Chamber Music Conference of the East, as a Master Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Senior Composition Faculty at California Summer Music, and guest composer at the Aspen Music Festival. Shatin is also a strong advocate for her fellow composers. She served as President of American Composers (1989-93), was for two terms a board member of the League/ISCM in New York, serves on the board of the National Council of the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and has also served on the board of the American Composers Alliance. She is currently a member of the Fellows Council of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the advisory board of the International Alliance for Women in Music.

Educated at Douglass College (Phi Beta Kappa, Julia Carlie Prize in Composition), The Juilliard School (MM., Abraham Ellstein Award), and Princeton University (MFA, Ph.D.), Judith Shatin is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, where she founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music.


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Composer Judith Shatin is renowned for her acoustic, electroacoustic, and digital music. Called “highly inventive on every level” by The Washington Post, her music combines an adventurous approach to timbre with dynamic narrative design and a sensitivity to the surrounding world. Audiences and performers alike respond enthusiastically to her music, described as “powerful and distinctive” by Fanfare and “both engaging and splendidly controlled” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Shatin’s catalog includes chamber, choral and orchestral music and electronic, electroacoustic, and multimedia pieces. She often combines acoustic and electronic media in innovative ways, as in Ice Becomes Water for string orchestra with electronics fashioned from glacier field recordings. Her imagination is sparked by her multiple fascinations with literature, the visual arts, the sounding world (both natural and built), and music’s social and communicative power. She creates music for virtuosos, children, and those with no musical training, believing the joy of music-making is open to all.

Shatin’s music has been commissioned by organizations including the Barlow Endowment, Fromm Foundation, Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress and many others. She has received four NEA Composer Fellowships as well as grants from the American Music Center, the Lila Acheson Wallace-Readers Digest Arts Partners Program, Meet the Composer, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Her music has been recorded on more than 30 albums, including two portrait recordings on Innova, Neuma, New World, Ravello, and Sonora. Shatin is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, where she founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music.

Composer Judith Shatin is renowned for her acoustic, electroacoustic, and digital music. Called “highly inventive on every level” by The Washington Post, her music combines an adventurous approach to timbre with dynamic narrative design. Her work, described as “powerful and distinctive” by Fanfare and “both engaging and splendidly controlled” by the San Francisco Chronicle, includes chamber, choral and orchestral music and electronic, electroacoustic, and multimedia pieces. She often combines acoustic and electronic media in innovative ways, as in Ice Becomes Water for string orchestra with electronics fashioned from glacier field recordings. Her imagination is sparked by her multiple fascinations with literature, the visual arts, the sounding world (both natural and built), and music’s social and communicative power. She creates music for virtuosos, children, and those with no musical training, believing the joy of music-making is open to all. Her music can be heard on over 30 albums. Shatin is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, where she founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music.

Teachers and students

Teaching is central to my life as a composer. As Rabbi Hanina, in the Tractate Ta’anit of the Talmud, says, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, most of all from my students.”  Close interaction with students, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, has encouraged me to remain engaged, whether in the case of the quickly evolving field of computer music or in developing new courses ranging from The Mind of the Artist (team-taught with art historian David Summers and cognitive psychologist Michael Kubovy), to Songwriting, to Psychology of Music (team-taught with cognitive psychologist Michael Kubovy) to undergraduate music theory and graduate seminars on topics such as Temporality in Post-tonal Music and Parsing the Electroacoustic.

I founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music in 1987-88, to create opportunities for students and faculty in the new area of digital music, to develop new courses, and contribute to new research. I also authored multiple successful grants, totaling more than $100,000, including an Academic Enhancement Award, for which the department received $60,000 over three years to further the program. More information about the VCCM can be found here. I was also a principal designer of the Ph.D. program, inaugurated during my second term as department chair, in Composition and Computer Technologies at UVA. This dynamic program has flourished since its inception. My teaching always combines project-based and theoretical work. I have guided numerous undergraduate and graduate students, and those who have completed the Ph.D. have a wide variety of interests and achievements. Some examples include Juraj Kojs, Peter Traub, Steve Kemper, and Scott Barton, and Yuri Spitsyn, who is doing ground-breaking work in the application of MIR techniques to compositional design. Other graduates’ exciting work ranges from cyber instruments and physical modeling to net-based art, robotics, interactive dance, and electroacoustic music.

While it is critical for students to understand conceptual frameworks and historical context, it is also crucial that they actualize that understanding. How they do so of course depends on the level and nature of the course. In a computer music course, it might involve sonification of a data set, while a project in a counterpoint seminar involved analyzing and then directing a performance of Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus. Songwriting, projects include the collaborative performance of individually-composed songs developed and critiqued in group settings, as well as the development of songs modeled on traditions ranging from the blues to those of current playlists.

Disciplinary changes have also affected my notions of what students both ought and need to know. When I began teaching, music theory was primarily taxonomic or structuralist in its stance. Scientific (some say scientistic) approaches were common. Although these did and do provide useful tools for understanding musical design, they typically ignore cultural context. Cultural Studies, an often welcome corrective, sometimes turns the lens from particular musical artifacts to the cultural work they do; and away from concert music to popular music and spectacle. It is the integration of both cultural context and particular musical embodiment that informs my teaching.

While at UVA, I served two terms as Chair of the McIntire Department of Music, leading the establishment of the first Ph.D. program in music in Virginia, including the Ph.D. in Composition and Computing Technologies. I also established the Free Bridge Quintet and oversaw the continued growth of the entire program. While at UVA, I have been a Senior Fellow in the Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change, organizing a seminar on Computing and Cultural Change with guests including John Chowning and Max Matthews; and was an Associate Fellow in the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), applying new technologies to compositional design. I was also named ‘Teacher of the Year’ by the University’s secret Z Society, and am the first to be promoted to the position of chaired professor in the history of the department.

In demand as a Master Teacher, I have served in that capacity at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Bennington Chamber Music Conference, the California Summer Music, the Wellesley Composers Conference, and as BMI Composer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University. I have lectured widely, ranging from the Leemensituut in Leuven to Haifa University to the Verona Conservatory. For a more complete list, see my CV.