Alex Shapiro (b. 1962, New York, N.Y.) is an American composer.
Ms. Shapiro began composing at age nine. At fifteen, she was encouraged by Leo Edwards in her first private composition lessons during a summer program in 1977 at Mannes College of Music, at which she also had her first experience building a synthesizer and writing electronic music. Alex continued to explore acoustic and synthesized pieces the following two summers with Michael Czajkowski and George Tsontakis, as the youngest composer at the time at the Aspen Music School.
Subsequently, Alex was educated at The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, where she pursued electronic music with Elias Tanenbaum, and was a composition student of Ursula Mamlok and John Corigliano. An accomplished pianist, Ms. Shapiro was a student of New York recitalist Marshall Kreisler, and she is an active guitarist as well.
In 1983 Shapiro moved to Los Angeles, eventually settling in Malibu. She composed movie and television scores for the first 15 years of her career, until the joy of scoring a low budget feature film with a small orchestra in 1996 reawakened her love of composing chamber music. By the late 1990s, Alex shifted her focus entirely to the concert world, and devised inventive ways to use the still -new Internet to let people know about this still-new composer. The author of many articles on new media, in 2009 Shapiro was invited to Washington, D.C., to testify in a Federal Communications Commission hearing about broadband access and digital rights.
Alex's concert music is a diverse collection spanning from chamber groups to large ensembles, and from purely acoustic pieces to works that pair musicians with prerecorded digital audio-- electroacoustic pieces for which she is known in the wind band world. Recent such additions to her catalog include the 2015 multimedia symphonic band work Lights Out, commissioned by a consortium of 19 high schools and colleges across the U.S., and Kettle Brew, for timpani, mixed percussion and electronics on which she collaborated with percussionist David Jarvis, who premiered the piece during Shapiro's February 2013 residency as guest composer for Washington State University's Festival of Contemporary Art Music. Tight Squeeze is an uptempo, 12-tone Latin techno bebop electroacoustic wind band work, and was premiered in February 2013 by conductor Miller Asbill at Brevard College, one of the piece's commissioning partners. Alex's 2014 electroacoustic symphonic wind band work, Liquid Compass, explores the balance between the mysterious and the noble, commissioned and premiered by conductor James Ripley and Carthage College to commemorate the school's 140th anniversary. Ms. Shapiro recently finished a 2015 electroacoustic sextet for low winds titled Train of Thought for the Cochran Chamber Commissioning Project, led by conductor Paul Kile, and two more electroacoustic symphonic wind band works: Moment, and Rock Music.
Other notable premieres include Alex's 2011 suite for electroacoustic symphonic wind band titled Immersion for a consortium of universities led by the University of Minnesota and broadcast nationally on Minnesota Public Radio. A 2012 acoustic sextet for strings, winds and piano titled Perpetual Spark was commissioned and performed by Chicago's Fifth House Ensemble, which recorded the piece September 2013 for their 2014 CD titled Excelsior, on Cedille Records produced by Judith Sherman. Another mixed piano sextet, Unabashedly More, was premiered in 2011 at Carnegie Hall by the New York ensemble Lunatics at Large, and pianist Teresa McCollough premiered Ms. Shapiro's solo piano work, Spark, in November 2011 at Roulette in New York City. Shapiro's 2015 solo piano work, Arcana, is a 25-minute suite that was commissioned and premiered by Santa Cruz, Calif. pianist Michael Tierra in 2016, after which Tierra commissioned its electroacoustic counterpart, Arcana Planet, which he premiered in March 2017.
Among the most widely performed of Ms. Shapiro's works has been Paper Cut, for wind band, prerecorded electronics and printer paper, commissioned in 2010 by the American Composers Forum's BandQuest program and the National Endowment for the Arts. While frequently performed by colleges, Paper Cut is the very first electroacoustic work written specifically for the middle school wind band repertoire. Nearly 100 creative videos of performances using black light, dance, and other visuals can be found on YouTube, from concerts all over the globe.
Shapiro is the author of a chapter in the 2013 GIA Publications book, Musicianship: Composing in Band and Orchestra, and both Paper Cut and Tight Squeeze are featured in the book/CD series, Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, Volume 10, edited by Eugene Migliaro Corporon and released by GIA Publications December 2014. Ms. Shapiro was a guest clinician presenting workshops on electroacoustic music and inventive uses of new media at the 2013 Midwest Clinic in Chicago, and the 2014 Texas Music Educators Association in San Antonio, and her in-depth articles on the topic were subsequently published in the June and September 2014 issues of WASBE World, the magazine of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles.
Ms. Shapiro is the recipient of national honors and recognitions including those from the American Music Center, ASCAP, the American Composers Forum, and Meet the Composer, and has been awarded artist fellowships from The California Arts Council and The MacDowell Colony. In 2011, Ms. Shapiro was honored by the national music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon, and presented its highest award given to members, the Award of Merit, for her innovative use of new technologies in developing her composing career and helping colleagues do the same.
Believing that the only artist one is in competition with is oneself, Shapiro co-founded the ASCAP Composer Career Workshop touring series, advising fellow musicmakers on ways to benefit from their creative output. Shapiro is a familiar guest lecturer at universities around the United States, where she mentors students in business practices, as well as in music composition. Alex addresses the philosophy behind a career based on the concepts of kindness, graciousness, and a positive sense of self worth. She has been the composer-in-residence at numerous new music festivals, and has given lectures, master classes, workshops and one-on-one lessons at universities across the United States, including at Yale University, University of Southern California, The Ohio State University, University of Minnesota, Washington State University, Manhattan School of Music, Capital University, University of Wyoming, and University of Chicago, among many.
Ms. Shapiro appears regularly as a speaker at a wide variety of music events, which have included NARAS' Grammy® in the Schools, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's First Nights series, IAWM's International Congress of Women in Music, the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, Colorado, the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, and eight of ASCAP's I Create Music Expos in Hollywood. Between 2000 and 2010 Alex interviewed over 100 composers as the moderator of the Los Angeles Composer Salon series, and of ACF/LA's Composer to Composer series at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
An enthusiastic leader in the new music community, Ms. Shapiro has served as the Symphonic & Concert writer representative on the ASCAP Board of Directors since 2014, and was elected to the board of directors of the ASCAP Foundation in 2015. She is a former co-chair of the Program Council for New Music USA, and in late 2016, Shapiro was elected to the board of directors of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
Shapiro is the past president of the board of directors of the American Composers Forum of Los Angeles, and has also been a board member of U.S. music organizations including The American Music Center, The MacDowell Colony, The College Music Society, NACUSA, and The Society of Composers & Lyricists, of which she was ice president.
Shapiro's volunteer activism extends beyond the music world to that of civil liberties, and includes three elected terms in the 1990s to the board of directors of the ACLU of Southern California. During her film composing days, she served as vice president of the 30,000-member affiliate, chaired its State and National Legislative Action Committee, and received the ACLU’s 1993 Chapter Activist of the Year award. Alex is currently a board member of the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories, a marine science research facility whose mission reflects much of what inspires Shapiro's music.
In 2007, Ms. Shapiro moved to Washington's remote San Juan Island. When she's not composing, Alex photographs wildlife, resulting in sometimes-even-award-winning images. She also composes essays on animals, sea life, and human nature.
Works for Winds
- Ascent (2020)
- Below (2008)
- Beneath. See: Immersion (2010)
- Bioplasm (2005/2012)
- Deep (2004)
- Depth. See: Immersion
- Desert Tide (2005)
- Even Deeper (2014)
- Homecoming (2008)
- Immersion (2010)
- Lights Out (2015)
- Liquid Compass (2014)
- Moment (2016)
- Off the Edge (2019)
- Paper Cut (2010)
- Passages (2020)
- Re:pair (2000)
- Rock Music (2016)
- Shiny Kiss (2000)
- Surface. See: Immersion (2010)
- Tight Squeeze (2012)
- Trains of Thought (2015)
- Water Crossing (2002)
- Water Voyage (2007)
- Alex Shapiro website
- Cardany, Brian M. "Paper Cut." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 10, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 288-293. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2015.
- Thompson, Ken. "Tight Squeeze." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 10, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 504-510. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2015.