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Every day there are exciting things going on in Rochester's cultural arts community. Classical 91.5 hosts collaborate with and create highlights of various arts organizations, musicians and artists in and around our community.

How Maria Newman Found Her Compositional Power

Eastman School of Music

To get to know Maria Newman, you have to understand who her father was.   She is the daughter of nine time Academy award-winning film composer Alfred Newman, who wrote the 20th century Fox fanfare.  Her brothers and cousin are equally famous; there’s Randy Newman of Toy Story fame, Thomas Newman, who scored Finding Nemo and Shawshank Redemption. Her brother David has scored nearly 100 films such as Galaxy Quest

It’s no exaggeration to say she comes from a musical dynasty.

“When we were all little,” she said, “nobody had attained that sort of fame, but they were still my big brothers and very intense.  It was absolutely wonderful to have them around and at the same time, terrifying.”

After high school, Newman decided to forge her own path by applying to a small music school in Upstate New York.

“When I auditioned for and was accepted to Eastman,” she said, “I ran here as fast as I could. I really tried to stay out of composition, which was a very large force in my family.  I was intimidated.”

Credit Maria Newman on Facebook

Newman had also fallen in love with concert music and wanted to learn from performers she admired, including members of the Cleveland Quartet.   In Rochester she studied violin with Peter Salaff and piano with Blair Cosman, earning a Bachelor of Music degree in 1984 with high honors.

Her time as an undergraduate was transformative, she said.   It made her want to write her own music, in part because she was sometimes criticized for her dramatic playing style, particularly when performing music by J. S. Bach.

“I decided I was going to write my own music because nobody would be able to tell me how to play my own music,” she said.

But there was a problem. 

Maria Newman has written for many silent films, starring Mary Pickford among others.

Newman was afraid to be a woman composer, she said, and furthermore, being a performer playing her own music at that time meant she would risk not being taken seriously.  So she published original work as “M. Louis Parker,” a name she borrowed from her great grandmother.  But after a while, Newman said, people wanted to know too much about the mysterious Parker.

“So I came out of the compositional closet,” she said, “and I started writing under my own name, Maria Newman.”

Decades later, Newman has earned her own brand of respect. Her original concert works are performed around the world in such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and NYC’s Symphony Space.  Her movie scores have been presented by 20th Century Fox, MGM, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros., and she’s developed a specialty in creating original music for silent films.  

Credit Eastman School of Music
Maria Newman and WXXI's Brenda Tremblay

During her week-long residency at the Eastman School of Music from September 7-13,she’ll talk with students, perform, and hear the world premiere of a new piece she’s written for friend and guitarist Nicholas Goluses.

On Wednesday, September 11 at 7:30 p.m., Newman will play own works in a concert “In Remembrance: a Tribute to Courage, Heroism, and Hope for the Future.”  A Hatch Recital Hall audience will hear Songs from Time of War: A Breath of the Mississippi with Isabella Thatcher, soprano, Scott Hosfeld, violin, and Wendy Prober, piano; and Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express, performed by Newman, Thatcher, Scott Hosfeld, Prober, and Joaquin Hosfeld, percussion.

“I’m hoping our world will heal,” she said, “and maybe music is a way to bring that across.”

Hear an extended conversation with composer and performer Maria Newman and WXXI's Brenda Tremblay.

Brenda Tremblay has served as weekday morning host on WXXI Classical since 2009.