Composer shares his gift in Masters Series

Published: November 20, 2010 By Ned Powers, For The StarPhoenix

Monte Keene Pishny-Floyd wrote his first musical composition at the age of six and he estimates he's written between 700 and 800 in his life. You get the idea he might have been a child with a pencil in his crib.

"I think composing is a gift. Just like being seven feet, two inches tall and wanting to play basketball," says Pishny-Floyd. "If you are blessed with a gift, then you have to learn how to use it."

Pishny-Floyd says he was lucky as a child growing up in Oklahoma that he was surrounded by musical talent in the family.

"My granddad Pishny was in vaudeville. He played double bass in the Oklahoma City Symphony and taught me about fingering the woodwinds. My dad played the cello, my mother played a variety of instruments and we were always in a family orchestra.

"One time, my mother took me to a Woody Herman concert and we went backstage. Woody Herman called out to her and welcomed her because years (earlier) during the Second World War, my mother had sung with him on the USO tours."

Pishny-Floyd concluded his bachelor of music in performance at Oklahoma City University in 1964, his master of music in composition at University of Oklahoma in 1965 and continued his studies at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. From 1968 until 1971, he taught at St. Mary's College, the sister school of Notre Dame University, in South Bend, Ind. and then came to the University of Saskatchewan from 1971 until 1993.

"One of the advantages of being at Eastman was a placement agency. I looked at two choices -- one in Alabama, and one at the University of Saskatchewan -- and I chose Saskatoon. I learned that Murray Adaskin was here and at Eastman, Murray was looked upon as a big name on the list of Canadian composers. That alone made it attractive to come to Saskatoon."

Pishny-Floyd decided to come "for a year" in 1970-71 and he's been firmly entrenched ever since in what he calls "a very, very long year."

His wife, Annette, also an Eastman graduate, occasionally played piano with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and the family has long been connected with the symphony. Theme and Variations for Orchestra was his first work performed by the orchestra in 1996. In 1982, he introduced a commemorative work for CBC's first national broadcast of a Saskatoon Symphony performance. In 1989, the orchestra honoured his 40th anniversary in music with a chamber music performance at Convocation Hall.

Since 1993, he has dedicated himself to composing, writing about music theory and is an advocate for contemporary music.

A most recent Pishny-Floyd work, Rozhrani: Bolestne a Radostne, will get its world premiere by the Saskatoon orchestra on Saturday, with Elena Denisova as guest violinist and Alexei Kornienko as guest conductor.

Pishny-Floyd calls it " one movement, 12 minutes in length, based first and foremost on the Czech Dumka, a folk dance which alternates between slow and fast. It shows off the entire spectrum of the violin and orchestral colours. The title, translated into English, is Interface: Sorrow and Joy.

His relationship with Denisova and Kornienko has been a happy story which began in 2007.

Pishny-Floyd, as a co-founder of the Saskatoon Composers' Performance Society, was part of a composers' networking team which was responsible for bringing Denisova and Kornienko, also an accomplished pianist, on some Western Canadian dates. The two also chose to introduce some of Pishny-Floyd's work, including Sonata for Violin and Piano, and Vanished, in Europe. They came back to play in Saskatoon in 2009, a date which subsequently led to the current booking with the symphony.

"They are virtuosos and profound musicians, among the most gifted anywhere. They are likable, energetic and sincere people," says Pishny-Floyd.

"I'll share a story with you about Elena. Her grandfather bought her a violin in the days before she was born. It was placed with her in her cradle. A violin was truly her cuddle toy."

Dr. Monte Keene Pishny-Floyd currently serve as Composer-in-Residence for the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra