Forrest Pierce

Forrest Pierce
  • Professor of Composition
  • **KU Safe Zone Member

Contact Info

436 Murphy Hall
1530 Naismith Drive
Lawrence, KS 66045-3103


D.Mus. Indiana University; M.A. University of Minnesota; B.A. University of Puget Sound

Forrest Pierce composes music steeped in religious mysticism and contemporary virtuosity. Sincere, often triadic, and blatantly tuneful, it draws on both non-western and rock-era traditions to depict an authentic world of sacred unity and natural beauty. His works have been performed in sacred and concert settings around the world, on noteworthy concert series and by diverse ensembles such as the BBC Singers, Brave New Works, the Chamber Players of the Society of New Music/ISCM, the BMOP chamber series, DuoSolo, the Chamber Orchestras of Portland and Kansas City, Khorikos, the Indianapolis and Walla Walla Symphonies, Volti, the Concord Ensemble, Octarium, the Seattle New Music Ensemble, the Latvian Radio Choir, the Oregon and Northwest Repertory Singers, the Boston Choral Ensemble, the Dublin and Canadian International Organ Competitions, Songfest, and by numerous distinguished soloists in North America and abroad. Pierce is the past resident composer of the Seattle New Music Ensemble and was the founding artistic director of Portland's Friends of Rain Contemporary Ensemble. His catalog is led by over 50 works for voices, including operatic, choral, and solo vocal forces. He has been the winner of the 2012 Barlow Prize in Composition, the Robert Avalon International Composition competition, was named a winner of the 2012 Ortus International competition, was first prize recipient of the Boston Choral Ensemble and Boston Chamber Singers choral competitions, and was composer-in-residence of the beautiful—if short-lived—International Meeting of Choral Music at the University of São Paulo—Riberão Preto, Brazil.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Forrest Pierce was raised in the empty Columbia Plateau region of eastern Washington State, the grandson of Dust Bowl emigrants. A pianist and cellist in his youth, Pierce began composing at an early age. It was on a steady stream of top-40 radio, record-store punk, new wave, and common-practice music from the local NPR station that Pierceʼs compositional voice developed. Pierce attended the University of Puget Sound, where he sank  all available time into composing, roaming beaches and mountains, and reading the classics of world religion. He graduated from the Honors Program in the Classics in 1994, summa cum laude, having won a Watson Fellowship to study the traditional music of Madagascar. He got married, instead, and papered the walls of Minneapolis with love songs.

Two years of study under the great American operatist Dominick Argento at the University of Minnesota cemented for Pierce a passion for the vocal instrument and the people who wield it. A Doctorate at Indiana University, where he was awarded the Deanʼs Prize in Orchestral Composition, completed Pierceʼs formal training, with the help of teacher Don Freund. Since that time, Pierce has enjoyed teaching positions at the University of Texas-Austin, at Lewis & Clark College, and at the University of Kansas, where he is Associate Professor of Composition.

At one time or another a student of Tango, piano, North Indian classical singing, cello, poetry, and Chishti Sufism, he teaches and drinks espresso at the University of Kansas, and serves on the vividly convivial faculty of the Cortona Sessions for New Music in Cortona, Tuscany.

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Second Lai: "Fall to Me" from Need-Fire