Spencer Arias

Photo of Spencer Arias
Spencer Arias (Spencer)
Pronouns: He/They
Instructor, Music Theory/Composition and Concerts Assistant
(269) 387-4678
(269) 387-1113
2151 Dalton Center, Mail Stop 5434
Mailing address: 
School of Music
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5434 USA
  • D.M.A., Music Composition, Michigan State University
  • M.M., Music Theory, Michigan State University
  • M.M., Music Composition and Theory, New York University
  • B.M., Music Composition and Theory, Arizona State University
Teaching interests: 
  • Music Theory
  • Music Composition
Research interests: 
  • Music Theory Pedagogy
  • Performer/Composer Collaborations

Spencer Arias is a composer, improviser, and educator based in Michigan who creates people-centered music based off shared and contrary experiences focusing on themes of social, political, and environmental changes. They believe that community should be put at the center of music and art and that it should not live within a hierarchy, and that Composers, performers, conductors, and audiences do not have any more or less to offer, and all these spheres are essential to creating new and old music. At the center of this are questions of identity, with a particular interest in Queerness, Gender, and Inclusivity.

They enjoy working with a wide array of different types of collaborators, which is evident from their upcoming album Oceans of Time, a collaborative indie-pop album collaborating with Nick Zoulek, Aaron Jay Myers, Bryan Hayslett, Jocelyn Zelasko, Amy Petrongelli, Megan Ihnen, Alan Theisen, and Chris Sies. Spencer also enjoys working with individuals on smaller scale highly personalized projects. Their recent book Ethos of Saxes was a concept to rethink the consortium model of commissioning. They partnered with 16 saxophonists, including Nick May, Kate von Bernthal, Zach Arthur, Wilson Poffenberger, Don-Paul Kahl, Sean R. Garde, Connor James Mikula, Lois Hicks-Wozniak, Andrew Hosler, Scott Phillips, Drew Whiting, Soren Hamm, Andy Hall, Grace Gelpi, Kyle Jones, and Joshua Thomas. These collaborations created 16 new works specifically designed for these saxophonists. Where the result was a book with music that is groovy, noisy, ambient, melodic, beautiful, campy, gay, high, low, soft, loud, nostalgic, and new with a mix of fully notated, graphic scores, test- scores, and somewhere in between. This book was designed to celebrate our aesthetic individuality and show that we all still matter while we aren't all important.

While a large amount of Spencer's music is for smaller forces, they have enjoyed writing for bands and orchestras. The collaborative and communal work Concerto for Audience, commissioned by James Brinkmann for the Michigan State University Concert Orchestra alongside composers Elena Specht and Evan Snyder, had the strict goal of showing audience members that they are creative and are essential to the artistic process. This thinking was also crucial to their work Colorful Clouds, which asks the performer to view themselves as creative and vibrant. For Open Instrumentation and Electronics, it has been performed by small to medium chamber ensembles, including the Oklahoma State University Frontiers New Music Ensemble and wind ensembles such as the Seattle Pacific University Wind Ensemble.

They have had performances throughout the US and Europe, having been performed by musicians such as the JACK Quartet, The Columbus Symphony Woodwind Quintet, Quartetto Indaco, the Rogue Trio, The Lotus Trio, The New Thread Quartet, PRISM Saxophone, Quarte, and Nick Photinos. They have won numerous awards, including the Music Now Competition, The Jere Hutcherson Large Ensemble Competition, and the Most Inspirational Performance Art Award at the 2020 Michigan State University Social Justice Art Festival.

As a performer, they work primarily as an improviser using piano, voice, and electronics. They won an East Lansing Cultural Arts Grant to collaborate with fellow composers Lyn Goeringer and Kakia Gkudina on a project called Queerbending, whose goal was to create inclusive queer spaces for the queer residents of East Lansing. As a soloist, they are interested in creating primarily long-form ambient, textural music that does not take itself too seriously.

Spencer believes in multidisciplinary work, which is why much of their work collaborates with non-musical components. Currently, they are working with Plant Biologist Berkley Walker on a project called the Falling Tree Collective which is part of a large National Science Foundation grant which includes a Ted Talk style lecture concert on Plant Biology topics and new music written inspired by these topics, which will appear on PBS in 2023.

Spencer recently finished their Doctorate in Music Composition at Michigan State University, where they studied primarily with David Biedenbender, Alexis Bacon, and Lyn Goeringer. Before that, they did a Master's in Music at New York University, where they studied with Justin Dello Joio and Julia Wolfe. Finally, they did their Undergraduate degree at Arizona State University, where they studied with Roshanne Etezady, Timothy McAllister, Jody Rockmaker, and Rodney Rogers. They are currently an Instructor of Music Theory and Composition at Western Michigan University, as well as the Concerts Assistant and does theory research on Inclusive approaches to Pedagogy.

For more info visit spencerarias.com

Spencer's work is published exclusively with https://www.justatheorypress.com