[by Phyllis Shaikun]
You might remember reading about Jeremy Podgursky last month in the Courier-Journal’s December 11th edition. The paper gave the 35-year-old composer, who grew up in Louisville and is currently a Jacobs Doctoral Fellow and associate instructor in music composition at Indiana University, a two-page spread in the Arts Section underscoring his accomplishment as one of only 12 composers from across the country to be awarded a 2011 Fromm Music Foundation Commission of $10,000.
Each year the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University awards just a few commissions to composers and the musical groups with which they co-apply for the award. Podgursky will write a piece for the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, which will also receive funding for the expenses involved with the premiere and recording of the work.
While his musical abilities were described at great length in the article, there are personal details of Podgursky’s life that were never clearly defined. Now, thanks to his willingness to share his story, readers of Community have the opportunity to know how Podgursky’s early experiences growing up in the Louisville Jewish community continue to influence his life.
Podgursky started taking piano lessons when he was just six years old. His older brother, David, was taking lessons from a teacher in the neighborhood and Jeremy showed an interest. He remembers practicing at the Jewish Community Center on occasion and recalls earning his first dollar when the late Ike Gumer heard him play and offered him his first commission.
Podgursky comes from a family that loves music. His mother, Lois, sings and his father, Charles, plays the double bass. “My parents have always been supportive of me and my musical aspirations,” he says. “They have inspired, indulged, nurtured and supported my development and always encouraged me to keep my eye on the prize.”
He always sang and remembers working well with Cantor Birnholtz and the choir at Keneseth Israel. The two had a warm relationship when he studied for his bar mitzvah and he picked up the tropes rather easily. He played the piano and sang, and while a student at Kammerer Middle School, he took one guitar lesson and took off playing rock and roll tunes. He later started a band with five friends at Ballard High School and began writing songs for the group and singing with them as well.
“Not classical tunes,” he laughs, “these were rock and roll melodies and lyrics.” He did have serious side too and sang with Ballard’s Madrigal Choir. “It was a wonderfully talented group,” he recalls, “that performed at former President Clinton’s first inauguration and won many awards. We were like a professional singing group in that we spent many hours rehearsing and entertaining.”
While he had an hour a day to express himself through the choir, Podgursky is aware not everyone could access that opportunity. He feels that music programs in schools tend to teach children by rote – without any individualism. He felt so strongly about the issue that he set up a compositional music programs at Ballard and Eastern High Schools and at a school in Henry County where children can write and perform contemporary classical music.
He appreciated the mentorship he received from Steve Rouse, a professor at the UofL School of Music whom he considers “an incredible mentor and teacher and an outstanding musician,” and from Marc Satterwhite and Brenda Kee (piano).
Following the completion of his M.M., he taught Theory and Composition at UofL and initiated high school composition programs in the Louisville area. Now Podgursky mentors others and teaches instrumentation, Counterpoint, Notation/Calligraphy and provides private composition lessons for non-majors. He spends approximately 20 hours per week on his fellowship.
His music has been featured in festivals and concerts in the United States, Europe and Japan and has been performed by a number of professional groups. He is a recipient of the Northridge Prize for Orchestra and participated in the 2009 American Composers Orchestra/Earshot readings and the inaugural Mizzou New Music Festival.
“Needless to say, I am quite honored to receive a Fromm Commission,” says Podgursky, “and one of the most exciting aspects is that I will be writing for the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble again. I composed a piece, “Ouroboros,” for them during their most recent season and submitted it to the Fromm Committee.” He acknowledges that the award would not have been possible without the support provided by the faculty and resources available at IU and he truly believes that students in the composition program have access to unparalleled resources and incredible instruction.
He waxes philosophical when he says all genres of music are the same language – just different dialects – and he appreciates all of them.
So what part did Judaism play in his Podgursky’s life? He recalls that he wasn’t aware of the influence until he met an old German man in Chicago several years ago who told him that he should seek support for his work from his own Jewish community. The man explained that no group has ever supported the Arts as strongly as the Jewish community. “Turn to them,” he advised the young composer. “That enabled me to relate my people and the Arts,” says Podgursky, “and it is a beautiful thing.”