Featured Alumni Profiles

Edward Green

Edward Green

A 2003 graduate of the Composition and Performance Program in Steinhardt's Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, Edward Green spent his childhood and early teenage years on Long Island in a way that would not make you think he'd end up as a musician. He dreamed instead of outer space and rocket ships, and planned to pursue a career as an aerospace engineer.

So how did he become a distinguished composer and music educator? How did he come to have a doctorate in music from NYU, and several CDs to his name? Here's the story:

As a young boy, thinking of himself as a future scientist, and imagining space-stations orbiting Mars built to his blueprints, Edward was also drawn to music. Like many other young Jewish boys on Long Island who felt an impulse towards music, he took inspiration from the famous American composer and pianist Leonard Bernstein, who at the time was conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein was famous for his regular series of TV shows explaining classical music to young people, and also for his musical West Side Story. He seemed both sophisticated and popular at once-and that combination was exciting to Edward, as it was to his friends.   

So Ed asked his parents if he could study piano. They said yes, and took him to Herbert Green-a Juilliard graduate who lived and taught just blocks away in Ed's hometown, Jericho.  Herbert Green was not a relative, but he was a good musician who encouraged Ed to keep his interest in music wide: to study (ala Bernstein) both its classical and popular aspects. By exploring these different genres, Edward developed an understanding of both technical theory and ear-training. And perhaps even more important for his future as a composer, studying popular piano required improvisation and this planted the seed for his later creative work. His first composition, in fact, arose from a very emotional improvisation. It was written at the age of ten, as a tribute to the family pet, Kippy, who had died just days before. "It was modeled, I see now," Ed says, "on Dvorak's New World Symphony. But I didn't know it at the time. It just seemed to pour forth. It was heartfelt. I have to say, I still like it." 

Yet despite his obvious talent, Edward's interest in music remained a hobby throughout his childhood and junior high years. Science seemed a serious thing to him-an important thing. His father, after all, had a factory which made electronic equipment, including radar cabinets. And his father had blueprints! Music seemed fun-something that Ed knew would always be part of his life, but he thought of it then just as a hobby, nothing more.

Then, at the age of fourteen, he came across a book which changed his outlook completely. It was a copy of Eli Siegel's The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict, a work explaining the true importance of art in the world. The slim, forty-page work-actually a chapter from Siegel's philosophic masterpiece, Self and World: an Explanation of Aesthetic Realism-explained that what made for beauty in art was the same thing that people are looking for in our lives in order to be happy. Music puts opposites together, and that is what we want to do.  

For example, music is, at the same time, both orderly and free; it is strong, and it is sweet; it requires discipline but also spontaneity. One of the great sentences in Eli Siegel's book, Edward told us, was this: "Beauty has to be seen as complete logic, good sense carried further than usual: resplendent sanity." 

Inspired by these great ideas, Edward began studying music far more seriously and with increased dedication. He took lessons with Morton Estrin, a world class classical pianist and a professor at Hofstra University, and took weekly trips into Manhattan to study composition with Meyer Kupferman, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College. Following high school, Edward enrolled at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and began penning avant-garde classical concert pieces, which he describes as  "atonal and athematic."  "It was the hip thing to do, in those days, and I wanted to be impressive," he told us.

Then, without warning, the bottom seemed to fall out. It was during his sophomore year that Edward began to struggle with his compositions, and soon he found it impossible to write anything at all. He felt weighed down by an inability to compose freely and passionately, as he once had, and none of his professors could tell him why. At that point, he left the Conservatory, and took a degree at Oberlin College instead.  

Fortunately for Ed, he did his senior year at Oberlin in a program based in New York City, and also, at the same time, began to study at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. In consultations with its faculty, he learned what had gone wrong at Oberlin. "It wasn't the school's fault," he said; "it was my own. I came to see that even though I was studying a very beautiful thing – music – my purpose with it wasn't beautiful. I was living a contradiction, and didn't know it. It's a contradiction many young music students are in the midst of. I was using music to be competitive with other people, and to feel superior to people who weren't in the arts-people I very arrogantly imagined weren't as deep as I was. It was a very ugly way of using music. And among the people I did this with were my parents, which I regret very much. When I learned from Aesthetic Realism how to criticize myself, and how to have a kind and respectful purpose with music, I not only became a better person, I also got my art back-and stronger than ever."

Aesthetic Realism is a philosophy developed by the renowned poet and critic, Eli Siegel, who began teaching it in New York in 1941. As Ed attended courses at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in SoHo, and later became a student with Eli Siegel, he learned the defining principles of this great, new way of seeing the world, art, and people. He learned that beauty is the making one of opposites; that everyone's deepest desire is to like the world on an honest basis; and that the desire to have contempt – the hope to make less of other people as a way (seemingly) of building oneself up-is the main cause of unhappiness in this world; and is definitely behind all unkindness between people and social and economic injustice. He also learned that respect, the desire to see as much meaning and value as possible in the world and in other people, is the cause of art. And learning this changed his life. "Eli Siegel was not only the finest scholar I ever met," Edward Green told us, "he was also the kindest person. It was an extraordinary honor to have been his student."

As he continued his studies, both musical and philosophic, Edward's compositions became increasingly melodic. "I changed technically, but more importantly, I changed my purpose with music," he said. "I once wrote music to impress people with how much more complicated my mind was than theirs – which, though I didn't know it at the time, is contempt. But in the process of having this untrue purpose with music, I also robbed myself – and didn't express my own feelings truly. Trying to be superior to other people is no way of finding out what you sincerely feel. In fact, it's a great way to be insincere-to make decisions on the basis of what you think will impress other people, rather than on the basis of you really want most candidly to say about your own feelings. So I was actually using music to hide from people. When I changed, I saw that I wanted to write music that communicated something large and warm – music that would have big emotion in it, and could encourage people to like the world." And he added, "Melody is not something you can hide with.  It either works or it doesn't.  There is something universally communicative about a beautiful melody, and so you can't write real melody and hide."

Edward brought his renewed outlook on composing to all aspects of his life, including his role as a professor at the Manhattan School of Music, where he has been teaching since 1984. After almost two decades of teaching there, he made the decision to go after a graduate degree and felt immediately drawn to NYU.  He enrolled at Steinhardt, and received his master's in 2003.

Edward fondly remembers his time at Steinhardt, citing both the structure of the arts programs its stellar faculty. "I was impressed with the way Dr. Lawrence Ferrara spoke about art philosophically," Edward says. "It was refreshing to hear him make the junction between philosophy and dance, theatre, and music.  As far as I know, there is no other university whose performing arts programs are predicated on the idea that all students should approach their studies philosophically – that you'll become a better singer, actor, dancer, pianist, composer by thinking philosophically." He also fondly remembers the faculty at Steinhardt as having played an important role in his development, and said he especially enjoyed studying with Professor Emeritus Dinu Ghezzo, who was, at the time, head of Steinhardt's composition program. Edward refers to Ghezzo as a "fine composer and a good and generous musician," even comparing him, in his constant efforts to encourage younger musicians, to the famous and much-loved composer, Franz Liszt, who did the same in the 19th century.  

Edward's appreciation of NYU didn't stop at Steinhardt. After completing his master's degree, he returned to pursue doctoral studies in musicology at the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. "GSAS is one of the few departments left in the country where you can get a PhD in music, not just ethnomusicology, history, or theory," he says. "Loving music, I came to see through Aesthetic Realism, really means trying to know and be fair to all  of what music is-just like loving a person means trying to know and be fair to everything he or she is.  So loving music means wanting to know its theory, history and composition; its relation to all other arts; its relation to philosophy and social justice. And certainly it's crucial, if one really loves music, to think of it in terms of all of the world's cultures – not just the one you happen to be born into."

Edward completed his PhD work in May 2008, writing his thesis on the late vocal music of Haydn and Mozart. But he hasn't left NYU behind. Last Fall, he taught an undergraduate class at Steinhardt in Film Music History and Aesthetics, and he continues to be active in the NYU community as a double alumnus.  He attends somewhere between ten and fifteen shows and alumni events per year, and this year, particularly enjoyed the double bill at Steinhardt of  Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, and Menotti's The Telephone. "That was some of the best opera directing I've seen in years," he said.  "And the students performed wonderfully."

Edward's portfolio of compositions now boasts a widely diverse collection of pieces. He has written for orchestra, chamber ensemble, choir, solo guitar, and more.  His music has been performed across the county and in many countries overseas, including Argentina, Romania, Norway, Italy, and Japan. Several of his pieces have also been released on CD-including, recently, three concerti:  one for trumpet (on Albany Records), another for saxophone (on Arizona University Recordings), and one for piano (on North/South Consonance). He is the composer-in-residence for Imagery Films, whose president is the Emmy award-winning filmmaker Ken Kimmelman. Among their films together was one sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless. It is called What Does a Person Deserve?, and is based on a question Eli Siegel asked-a crucial, ethical question: "What does a person deserve by being alive? What does a person deserve by being a person?"

Edward continues to teach theory, jazz history, world music, and more at the Manhattan School of Music, and he is also on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. His scholarly articles focus on everything from Haydn to Duke Ellington, from Stephen Foster and Richard Rodgers, to the medieval troubadour Marcabru-and they have been published in renowned music journals worldwide. His efforts, both as a composer and scholar, have been recognized with countless awards, including the 1995 Zoltan Kodaly International Composer's Prize, and he was included in Who's Who Among America's Teachers-nominated by his students at Manhattan School of Music. Recently, he was chosen as a new sponsored artist by The Field, a service organization for independent artists. And he is the editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington, as well as of the book China and the West: the Birth of a New Music which is coming out, this May, in Chinese, from Shanghai Conservatory Press.

With such a diverse array of professional and creative outlets, Edward's advice to Steinhardt students today rings true. "An important thing to remember is this: you will spend more time with your profession than any other thing in your life. So you must choose a profession that expresses your deepest desire.You need to think, what work can I do which will enable me most deeply to like the world," he says. "No matter what you choose, make sure it is work that has good will in it for other people. That way-no matter what the economics of the world are, and no one can guarantee that they might not be difficult – you'll always be proud of yourself at the end of the day. You'll know you had a good effect on other people. Good will, I learned from Eli Siegel, always makes a person proud. And it also makes for beauty and real creativity."

Ed currently resides in the Lower East Side with his wife, singer/actress and Aesthetic Realism consultant Carrie Wilson and their cat, Gulliver, who is almost twenty years old, "and still happy and still very sweet," Ed says.