Jacobs student wins American Academy of Arts and Letters award

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom colleague Jaclyn Lansbery:

Jeremy Podgursky, a doctoral student at the IU Jacobs School of Music, compares music composition to architecture: you envision the building in your mind, draft the piece and then hand it over to a group of builders.

“It’s enthralling and exciting if you’re willing to wait for the results,” he said.

The Louisville, Ky., native was one of six recipients of the $7,500 Charles Ives Scholarship, given annually by the American Academy of Arts and Letters to composition students of great promise. Podgursky will receive the award during a ceremony in New York in  May.

Jeremy Podgursky

Jeremy Podgursky. Credit: Rachel Seed

“I am honored, humbled, and thrilled to receive this award. The Academy is such a prestigious institution, and to be recognized by their members has left me elated. I would not have been worthy of this award had it not been for my mentors and colleagues at the Jacobs School,” he said. “The resources and opportunities for growth as a composer in Bloomington are abundant and are undoubtedly why I was even in consideration for this honor.”

In addition to finishing up the last leg of his Music Doctoral Fellowship at Jacobs, Podgursky composes music and curates concerts for Holographic, a local ensemble  of musicians from the Jacobs school who aim to bring contemporary classical music to the Bloomington community. The group, which features different composers’ new pieces in each performance, recently made its Buskirk-Chumley Theater debut during “The Burroughs Century” festival at IU Bloomington.

All of the group’s founders are either current Jacobs students or alums, but Holographic is no way restricted to the Jacobs community, Podgursky said.

Chamber music vs. rock ‘n roll

Being a part of Holographic was not Podgursky’s first foray into alternative music composition. Playing classical piano since he was 6 years old, Podgursky played and wrote music for the punk rock band Dybbuk as a high school freshman, and later formed the rock band Lather.

“It was kind of strange, because at the time I felt (playing classical music and being in a rock band) was a dichotomy, but it was actually eventually going to meet somewhere in the middle anyway,” he said. He was lucky enough to be admitted to the music composition program at the University of Louisville, despite having no experience notating music.

Needing another avenue to explore music, he started the rock band The Pennies. By the time he graduated with a bachelor’s degree, the band – whose music has since been featured in two episodes of Showtime’s comedy-drama “Shameless” – was offered a record deal. Instead of taking the deal, they spent the next two years and their own resources to record an album themselves.

But in the middle of production, the band split up, leaving Podgursky with the need to clear his head.

The Pennies

The Pennies. Credit: Rachel Seed

He moved to Chicago, where he taught private piano lessons and worked a sales job for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “But I wasn’t writing music for the first couple of years I was there, and after being at a few concerts, it really inspired me and I realized I had to go back to school and finish what I started,” he said.

Returning to his hometown, Podgursky balanced his studies with teaching music composition to non-majors at U of L. He also helped start after-school music programs for Ballard, Eastern and Henry County high schools.

Podgursky soon decided to pursue a doctoral degree, and he knew from hearing music by IU graduates that the resources at the Jacobs school were unparalleled. During the admissions interview, Podgursky felt that the faculty seemed just as interested in his rock ‘n roll pursuits as in his chamber music experiences.

While teaching high school students in Louisville, Podgursky would often play music by The Beatles, Bjork and Radiohead, drawing connections between classical and modern genres.

“I found that the students were sponges. They were incredibly open and incredibly willing to try new forms of expressions that you don’t hear on the radio or TV,” he said. “And I think that the general public can be open to these abstract, adventurous pieces of music that composers write these days, and so that’s part of why I’m doing Holographic.”

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