The Canadian Music Centre joins with Canadian and wider music communities to mourn the loss of Associate Composer Michael Colgrass. Colgrass passed away on July 2nd, 2019 at the age of 87, having made immeasurable contributions to music, education and performance.

Born in Brookfield, Illinois, Colgrass began his musical journey as a percussionist, but eventually studied composition with Darius Milhaud, Lukas Foss, and Ben Weber. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1954, he spent eleven years in New York as a freelance percussionist and composer, where he collaborated with Dizzy Gillespie, the New York Philharmonic, and the American Ballet Theatre among others. He moved to Toronto with his wife and son in 1974, where he lived until his death.

Colgrass’ compositions are known for their distinctive and quirky style, as they synthesize influences from both classical and jazz genres—this process ran parallel to a common interest among composers in Third Stream music that emerged during Colgrass’ early career. While he is best known for his works for orchestral and wind ensembles (with commissions from the Toronto Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and many other organizations across North America), he composed in almost every classical genre, and his music appears on over fifteen recordings. His compositions have received many awards, including the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music, an Emmy Award, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions, and the 1988 Jules Leger Prize for Chamber Music.

Passionate about fostering the creativity of others, Colgrass enjoyed leading workshops for both children and professional musicians. He developed a method for teaching graphic notation and composition to students that was adopted by schools in Nova Scotia, facilitated a group composition for the Esprit Orchestra by students from Toronto’s Rockcliffe Middle School, and he lectured on performance and creativity at colleges and universities across North America.

Michael Colgrass’ compositions and mentorship have deeply impacted the Canadian music community, and his presence will be missed. His musical legacy will live on through the many recordings and continued performances of his work, as well as his memoirs and writings on creativity and education.


Pulitzer-winning Toronto composer Michael Colgrass dies at 87

“Michael Colgrass was a serious composer, but he also knew how to make audiences “laugh out loud,” his wife says.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Toronto musician died at 87 on Tuesday after a battle with cancer, Ulla Colgrass said.

She said the American-born music writer and educator wouldn’t want people to mourn his loss, but rather connect with the joy he tried to spread through his music…”


Michael Colgrass was as much explorer as composer

“Not all composers are created equal. Michael Colgrass, who died on July 2, aged 87, after a battle with cancer, was as much an explorer and sage as he was an organizer of sound into musical patterns.

Colgrass’s art music was regularly featured on CBC Radio, and continues to feature in orchestral programs, including the Toronto and Boston symphonies, solo and small-ensemble recitals, and school bands…”