Editor’s note: Big Brains is a new University of Chicago podcast in which some of the pioneering minds from across UChicago discuss their groundbreaking ideas and the stories behind them.
To say Prof. Augusta Read Thomas is prolific feels like an understatement.
A past Grammy Award winner and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, Thomas has been hailed as “a true virtuoso composer” by The New Yorker, and her work has been performed more than almost any other living composer. Despite her accomplishments, Thomas continues a constant schedule of composing and teaching.
“I want it to be truly itself,” Thomas said of her music. “Because otherwise, what am I doing with my life? I’m working 16 hours a day. Why would I do that and work so hard unless I’m really digging deep and willing to be vulnerable and true?”
Thomas, the University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College, champions classical music as co-curator of the Chicago Ear Taxi Festival, and works with new musicians as founder and director of the UChicago Center for Contemporary Composition.
Teaching is critical to Thomas’ work, and she said her goal is to train students not to simply follow her style but to discover their own voices.
“What I always say to them, week after week, is be yourself,” Thomas said. “Open up inside, take the risk to find something.”
On this episode of Big Brains, Thomas gives a glimpse into the creative process of a world-class composer, discusses the state of classical music today and how she helps train the next generation of composers.