Over the years, Peter Schickele has earned many musical titles — composer, professor and doctor of music.
While many may not recognize his name, Schickele wrote and arranged music for one of America's most famous folk singers, Joan Baez. He composed music for the animated movie of Maurice Sendak's classic tale, "Where the Wild Things Are," and he wrote the score for the Disney movie “Fantasia 2000.”
However, among classical music fans, he is best known as the composer P.D.Q. Bach.
Schickele came to Georgia Southern University recently for a three-day "Composer-in-Residence" session that began Feb. 16.
Maestro Adrian Gnam, conductor for the GSU Symphony and oboe professor, said Schickele’s visit offered a real opportunity for all of the music department faculty and students to benefit from his decades of success as a composer of such a wide array of styles and types of music.
Schickele began his visit with a rehearsal of his "Concerto with Clarinet for Orchestra" that the GSU Symphony would later perform. He followed by delivering a lecture and participating in a question-and-answer session the next day with students and faculty in the music recital hall.
Everyone wanted to hear about the life of the composer, P.D.Q. Bach. Schickele explained to his young audience that "P.D.Q." was a common phrase heard often in the 70s and 80s that meant "pretty damned quick."
In the persona of P.D.Q. Bach, Schickele worked with several music performers and composers to bring classical music to a younger audience. As P.D.Q. Bach became popular, Schickele said he took great pleasure in becoming the first dead composer to write even more music.
He said his most popular P.D.Q. piece was his adaptation of Joseph Haydn's oratorio entitled "The Seasons." Whereas Haydn wrote of the seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, Schickele wrote about kitchen seasonings in "Tarragon of Virtue," "Bide Thy Thyme," "Summer Is a Cumin Seed" and many more.
He said his most requested piece of more traditional classical music is "New Horizons in Music Appreciation," a piece for which Schickele said he chose to adapt the music of Beethoven's “Fifth Symphony.” In the piece, he approaches the composition from the perspective of two sports commentators, a referee and a cheering audience. Schickele shows the incredible power of Beethoven's music in an irreverent and yet respectful way. What surprises him, he said, is the number of music professors who choose to include the work in their class instruction.
Schickele also attended Martin Gendleman's Composition Lab class, where he listened to several unfinished student compositions.
On Feb. 18, Schickele watched as Maestro Gnam and the GSU Symphony presented a concert at the Performing Arts Center that concluded with Schickele's Clarinet Concerto. Clarinet professor and interim GSU Music Department Chairwoman Linda Cionitti served as the clarinet soloist.
"Maestro Gnam's assembling of the student musicians, many of whom are not music majors, and having them perform such a difficult piece was remarkable," Schickele said.
He said Cionitti's performance of his clarinet piece was "superb."
Tim Doyle, assistant director of GSU bands, said after the concert that as a big fan of P.D.Q. Bach, he had come to hear what one of Schickele's serious pieces would be like.
The answer: "It was incredible."
About Cionitti's performance, Doyle said, "She played the pieces' numerous difficult technical 'licks' perfectly, nailing them one after another."
Maestro Gnam's student musicians who played in the concert also were effusive in their praise. Freshman percussionist Tyler Roquemore said, "It was pretty awesome. The concerto was really well written."
Junior clarinet player Corey White added, "Dr. C (as Dr. Cionitti is known on campus) was phenomenal! It was really neat to see how much fun everyone was having performing the concerto."
Schickele's musical career began when he attended Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia and then the Juilliard Conservatory in New York City. At that time, the State of New York did not offer a master's degree in music, so he actually graduated with a master's degree in science in the field of composition.
As a student at Juilliard, he presented a concert of humorous music with Mexican composer Jorge Mester. By 1972, Schickele's comical concerts had become so popular they began being presented in the Avery Fisher Hall of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.
He still tours, performing up to 60 concerts a year, and several times a year agrees to participate in events such as what he attended at GSU.