Dr. Jay A. Kawarsky is an accomplished composer, teacher, and performer, with an impressive resume both at home and abroad. Possessing degrees in music from Iowa State University and Northwestern University, Kawarsky has spent extensive time in Israel, where he studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and conducted the Opera Company of the Negev Region in Be’er Sheva. At home, Kawarsky was the founder and conductor of the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus. He is an avid composer, having written for multiple genres and received six Composer Awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Education, performance, and care for the development of young musicians and scholars all remain priorities for Kawarsky.

Today, Jay is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. This is Jay’s second interview with us, and we are excited to dive deeper into his musical inspiration and motivations. Read on for Jay’s advice for budding musicians…

How have your influences changed as you grow as a musician?

As my “style” continues to evolve, I always come back to the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. I find new orchestrations in the music of Stravinsky, Ravel and Shostakovich. I find that score study, though often difficult, is rewarding. I find that I have less and less appreciation of Schoenberg and Webern and more and more for Berg. I truly agree with our theater colleague that composition rests on 3 things: 1. Content dictates form; 2. Less is more; 3. God is in the details.

What was the first performance you remember seeing?

I was in 5th grade at Western Hills Elementary School in West Des Moines Iowa and our music teacher, Mrs. Rupert, had been preparing us by having us listen to different themes and mottos and doing her best to interest our young little minds with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt —  quite the long, drawn out story. The Des Moines Symphony was young also. They too have grown, but hopefully they never program Peer Gynt for children.

What other passions besides music?

My other passions are my Jewish faith, Israel, and the way democracy is carried out in the United States. I am concerned about guns in this country, the number of mass shootings that have occurred, and the debate over making military guns illegal. Every day that I teach, I know that someone could walk into my class and cause mayhem. I’m old enough to put myself before these minds. Teaching is a passion. My joy is to make them curious, not frightened.

What advice do you have for young musicians?

Listen to everything. Learn to read scores. When you compose, always compose in transposed scores. Ask your teachers for suggestions. Fall in love with one piece at a time. And most important of all, learn to play the piano!

  • J. A. Kawarsky

    Dr. J.A. Kawarsky (b. 1959) is Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton in NJ. Dr. Kawarsky received his B.M. in composition from Iowa State University and his M.M. and D.M.A. from Northwestern University.  At Northwestern he studied with John Paynter, Alan Stout, and Frederick Ockwell. In 1982, Dr. Kawarsky conducted the Opera Company of the Negev Region in Be’er Sheva in Israel. Before coming to Westminster in 1989, he taught at Fort Hays State University, the University of Wisconsin, and Moraine Valley Community College.