NEELY BRUCE (b. 1944), Professor of Music and American Studies at Wesleyan University, is a composer, conductor, pianist and scholar of American music. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa; he received his DMA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His principal teachers were Ben Johnston, Hubert Kessler, J. F. Goossen, Lara Hoggard, Charles Hamm, Byrnell Figler, Roy McAllister, Soulima Stravinsky and Sophia Roso!. He has been visiting professor and artist-in-residence at Middlebury College, Bucknell University, the University of Michigan, and at Brooklyn College. He is the chorus director for Connecticut Opera, and, with his wife Phyllis, co-director of music at South Congregational Church in Middletown, Connecticut.
His largest work is entitled CONVERGENCE. [STEPPIN’ OUT, Continental Harmony, Charles Ives Newsletter – Here’s to Ives, Commissioned by the American Composers Forum, as part of its Continental Harmony project, this composition received its premiere on June 18, 2000 as part of the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas. On August 18, 2002 Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors presented a revised and expanded performance of this piece, enthusiastically received by an audience of 10,000. A new production of CONVERGENCE has been proposed in Danbury,
Connecticut (birthplace of Charles Ives). Bruce’s opera Hansel and Gretel, commissioned by
Connecticut Opera, received its ﬁrst performances as a chamber work for children (soloists with piano and/or small ensemble) in 1997. The full-scale work (adding dancers, chorus and orchestra) premiered in March of 1998 at The Bushnell in Hartford. In December 2002 Trinity College of Music, London, presented the ﬁrst student production of this opera, the composer conducting.
In July 2003 he composed the score for Benedict Arnold: A Brave Revenge by John Basinger. Produced by Connecticut Outdoor Historic Drama, Inc., this epic was presented in Washington Park, Groton, Connecticut, on the spot where British troops mustered prior to the Battle of Groton Heights, the very conﬂict enacted at the climax of the play. Other works for the stage include an allegorical opera of the American Revolution, Americana, or, A New Tale of the Genii (libretto by Tony Connor). This full-length work was begun on a fellow-ship from the National Endowment for the Arts
Bruce composed original music for three documentaries directed by Rocky Collins and produced for National Public Television’s The American Experience. He has composed and arranged the scores for two documentaries about African Americans in Connecticut, produced by Connecticut Public Television and directed by Karyl Evans. His score for Nook Farm: Mark Twain’s Neighbor-hood,
directed by Roynn Lisa Simmons, ﬁrst aired in January 2002 on CPTV.
Bruce has worked indefatigably to promote American music of all periods. He was on the Editorial Committee of New World Records and was the ﬁrst chairman of the New England Sacred Harp
Singing. He is one of nineteen living composers represented in The Sacred Harp, and music in this style is an important part of his output. In June of 1997 Larry Gordon conducted Village Harmony, an
inter-generational choir of shaped note singers, in a touring program devoted to Bruce’s music in
shaped note style. Gordon’s recording of these choruses was released in 2000. In 2003 Bruce, along
with Peter Amidon and Larry Siegel, conducted the choral group Festival Harmony in pieces from
their shaped-note œuvre. Festival Harmony plans a complete performance of Emily’s Flowers in the summer of 2004
He has conducted new works by over sixty composers, including major premieres of Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros, Gerald Shapiro, David Borden, Ronald Kuivila and Henry Brant. In recent years he has worked extensively with Brant; he obtained for Brant a commission from Wesleyan University in honor of the school’s sesquicentennial, and was the coordinator of two major works commissioned by Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors; 500: Hidden Hemisphere, and Dormant Craters. In March of 2003 Bruce conducted the American premiere of Brant’s Ghosts and Gargoyles, played by members of the New York Flute Club, with soloist Robert Aitkin.
Long associated with the works of the late John Cage, principally as a performer in HPSCHD and Song Books, in 1988 Bruce planned and executed a major symposium about Cage and his cultural inﬂuence entitled John Cage at Wesleyan. In 1996 he and his wife, along with Linda Hirst, produced Cage’s Europeras 3, 4 and 5 for the Dartington International School of the Arts in Totnes, England.