June 05, 2013 — Coral Gables — Dennis Kam, composer, professor, and chair of the Department of Music Theory and Composition, has retired after 39 years at the University of Miami. He arrived at UM in 1974 after completing two years as the Ford Foundation Composer-in-Residence for the State of Hawaii and attaining his doctorate degree. He became chair of the music theory department in 1976. During his tenure he received many residencies, commissions, grants and awards.
Kam believes it’s good for the institution to change and make room for the contributions of others. He is proud of the change and diversity he brought to UM, and promoted an atmosphere of aesthetic openness that influenced numerous students who went onto flourishing careers of their own. “I don’t know that any of us will every match Dennis’ ability to nurture yet challenge students to think creatively,” said Charles Norman Mason, current music theory department chair.
Kam assisted his former UM colleagues Whit Sidener and Larry Lapin establish the Frost School’s Studio Music and Jazz Department in 1983. “There was no jazz department; the jazz program was part of music theory/composition. I felt like they should have their own department, not only because of their size, but because of what they wanted to do. I didn’t feel like it was right for them to always check with me,” said Kam.
A career filled with so many highlights makes it difficult to single out each and every one, however Kam considers the performance of his compositions by the Julliard Ensemble which began with several notable musicians and later became Speculum Musicae. He also enjoyed hearing The Composers String Quartet perform the premiere of his Second String Quartet No. 2 at Festival Miami in 1986. As a professor he chose to strongly emphasize his students’ individuality and special strengths and brought many important composers to campus who themselves are diverse individuals. He also arranged music and accompanied Bette Midler who wanted him to be her arranger and subsequently declined another request from Midler to finish his master’s degree.
Kam looks forward to composing and completing his unfinished works, continuing to conduct and perform in the Old Cutler Presbyterian community orchestra, organize his papers and respond to doctoral students completing their dissertations who wish to cite his work. He will also enjoy the time to pursue his intellectual interest in the philosophy of science and philosophy and the aesthetics of music and play tennis.
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