Michael Pisani began teaching at Vassar in 1997, after completing a Ph.D. in musicology at the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester, New York). Although he teaches music of all periods and styles, he is a scholar in music of the 19th and 20th centurtes, especially dramatic musical forms such as program music, opera, musical theatre, and film music. He also lectures and writes about music’s unique role in the creation of national (and exotic) identities. He recently published a book that examines musical representations of Native America from Columbus’s time to the present. Imagining Native America in Music (Yale University Press, 2005) received an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 2006.
Professor Pisani is also an accomplished pianist and conductor. From 1980 to 1986 he conducted and prepared the vocal soloists and chorus for several major opera companies, among them, the Houston Grand Opera, the Seattle Opera, and the Opera Company of Boston. In this capacity, he worked with singers Mirella Freni, Frederika von Stade, Aprile Milo, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Jon Vickers, and Thomas Stewart, and with directors Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Colin Graham, Stephen Wadsworth, David Pountney, and others. He conducted performances of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and Handel’s Xerxes at the Skylight Opera in Milwaukee in which he also accompanied the recitatives from the harpsichord.
In 1985 and 1986, he was invited by Leonard Bernstein to prepare the European productions of his opera A Quiet Place at La Scala, Milan and for the Vienna State Opera. In 1989 he went to Russia with Sarah Caldwell to arrange for performances of Bernstein’s opera in St. Petersburg and Moscow where he also worked with Karin Khatchaturian, then secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, to assist in the organization of Miss Caldwell’s donation of American musical scores to the Union’s library. This was three months before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
As a music historian, he has published several articles on opera, among them, “A Kapustnik in the American Opera House: Modernism and Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges in Musical Quarterly. This article was awarded the Kurt Weill Prize for distinguished scholarship in music theater in December 1999. His essay on 19th-century theatrical music was published in the Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (2003). He also has written two essays on teaching film music. One of these appeared in Teaching Music History, ed. Mary Natvig (Ashgate, 2002) and the other in Film Music II, published by the Film Music Society of Los Angeles (2004).
Michael Pisani was born in Northwest Indiana (near Chicago) and spent his years learning the accordion (classical as well as popular and ethnic music). He attended a Catholic High School with an excellent drama and music program (Andrean High School) and played the piano for many music theater productions. He began his degree at Oberlin as a composer, but after deciding he didn’t want to inflict his own music on others he switched to conducting. He led his own orchestra in Valdosta, Georgia before being invited by a fellow Oberlinite to be his conducting assistant for the Texas Opera Theatre. These were exciting years on the road and with the glorious Houston Grand Opera, but he is very happy to be teaching now, something he loves to do even more. Prof. Pisani has broad interests in music, ranging from music of the ancient world to “the music of the future.”