Handrummer and world music pioneer Adam Rudolph, ’72, has been composing since he was 10—though his piano teacher wanted him to stick to learning his scales.
“Sometimes I think of myself more as an inventor than a composer,” said Rudolph, who, in addition to leading his own Go: Organic Orchestra and Moving Pictures ensembles, has collaborated with such luminaries as Don Cherry, L. Shankar, Pharoah Sanders, Fred Anderson, and Yusef Lateef. “What I do in performance is spontaneous composition. Surprise is one of the qualities that I appreciate and I try in my composing to cultivate an environment in which surprise can happen.”
Luckily, his art and music teachers at Lab focused on cultivating intuition, creating new techniques, and experimentation. There, his music class was visited by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and he began hanging out on Promontory Point, where he was mesmerized by people playing hand drums. “I would listen to the drummers out there, and there was something so beautiful and organic and powerful about it that called to me. That experience opened me up to a lifelong avenue of learning and creative activity,” he said.
Later, when he went to live and study in Ghana, he was moved by the idea that there’s a transference of energy created from the skin of the hand touching the skin of the membrane that forms the surface of the drum. In addition to African traditions, Rudolph has also studied Cuban, Haitian, and Indian drumming—to name a few.
With his wife Nancy Jackson, ’73, he debuted an opera in 1995 called The Dreamer. Jackson, an artist, created a book of paintings based on texts by philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. Rudolph was then inspired to write music for each. His most recent album, Ragmala, came out in October. He’ll soon release his next album, Imaginary Archipelago, followed by a project created with gypsy musicians recorded in Turkey and a new string quartet.
With each endeavor, he tries to do something he’s never done before, pushing boundaries and stepping out of his comfort zone. If he follows his creative imagination wherever it leads, he hopes someone else listening will be inspired to be who they truly are.
“When music is treated merely as a commodity, we lose sight of the fact that music exists and moves in this vibrational sphere. I have the intention that when I conduct my orchestra or send sound into motion by striking a drum, those vibrations move through the air and can affect people in an emotional and transformative way,” said Rudolph. “To me,
this is the mystery and miracle of music.”
- Alumni Profiles