In the Spotlight

Michael Kropf Michael Kropf headshot

Michael Kropf is a composer whose work deals with hidden emotions and evocative places. He has collaborated with Marin Alsop, the Telegraph Quartet, the San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, and the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. Michael completed his Master’s degree in Composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2016, and he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in music composition at the University of Michigan. Michael attended the Creative Musicians Retreat in 2015 and is a faculty member at the Young Musicians Program.

How and when did you relationship with Walden begin, and what has been your involvement since then?

I first got to experience the Walden community when I attended the Creative Musicians Retreat (CMR) in the summer of 2015. It had been strongly recommended to me, and that was a summer when I wanted to do composition programs. I did a couple programs in that one summer, and CMR made much more of an impact than anything else I did that summer. I was really impressed by the program, really liked the musicianship curriculum, and enjoyed the choral singing. I made some great connections with teachers and other composers, even in that short time. It was really a pivotal moment for me. Two years later, I graduated from my Masters program and started teaching full time in San Francisco. I learned Walden was hiring faculty for the Young Musicians Program (YMP), so I applied, and have been a teacher for that program ever since!

Could you describe a favorite memory from attending CMR?

The program is relatively short compared to other types of programs, but it is packed with so many fantastic and valuable learning experiences! I remember feeling like I accomplished more in 9 days than I usually accomplished in an entire summer, in terms of my musical education. At CMR there are many optional activities, and I signed up for a lesson with D. J. Sparr, who was on faculty. I was working on an orchestra piece, and I brought it to him, and we had a whole lesson about orchestra writing. It’s a lesson I still refer back to when I’m writing for orchestra, because it was so incredibly helpful. So that lesson is one memory, but it was also surrounded by so many other wonderful things.

Could you describe a favorite memory from your time on faculty?

There are so many great ones, so it is difficult to choose! In the summer of 2019, the entire camp had reached the summit of Mount Monadnock and broke out in a spontaneous choral performance of Andrea Ramsey’s Stomp on the Fire. I loved that moment because it combined many of my favorite things. There was hiking, we were out in nature, and it was near the end of the summer, so all the students have this wonderful confidence in their own musicality and musicianship, and it shines through. They’re singing this complex choral piece really well, so much so that it was a challenge to keep up. That’s satisfying because you see how the students have blossomed as musicians throughout the summer. It’s also really beautiful because Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains in the country, so there are a lot of other people at the top, and you could see how much they were enjoying being on top of a mountain and hearing music. It was just this incredible moment where it felt like our joy in music-making spread beyond us, brightening the day of people around us. That was really special.

Outside of Walden, how are music and/or creativity part of your life?

I am currently working towards a doctoral degree in Music Composition at the University of Michigan, which involves both a lot of composing and teaching. I’m constantly drawing on my experiences from Walden for both! Music and creativity have been a helpful way for me to work through this difficult year – right after the pandemic began, a number of Walden community members began doing informal zoom improvisations and performances of Pauline Oliveros, and I found those very grounding. More recently, I had the opportunity to perform a movement of a new violin concerto that I’m writing, alongside a masked and socially-distanced orchestra, which was amazing. I think this year has helped me realize just how important the communal aspect of performing and listening to music together is for me.

What is a non-musical hobby that’s part of your life?

The 2019 YMP participants might know this a little too well, due to a certain activity involving spray-painted rocks, but I really enjoy gold-panning. I think there are a number of similarities between gold-panning and the way I like to compose, just in terms of that incessant searching and sifting through sand/musical ideas to find ones that “sparkle.” I took a geology class last fall, and I think both my composing and gold-panning have improved from that.

What is your hope or dream for Walden’s future?

The most immediate part is of course for us to meet in person again. Beyond that, the thing I hope for, which I think already happens, is that the creativity and the joy for music that exists at Walden continues to filter into the world around us. I do wish our society and the world around us could be more like that. I think everyone who has a camp or a musical experience where they feel that spirit ends up taking that with them as an aspiration. Walden is a very aspirational community.

I have a theory about that and the music of Pauline Oliveros. Oliveros’ music kind of takes the temperature of a community. If there is a lot of generosity and patience and the other good things we want our communities to have, the music goes really well. If those things are absent, that music does not function very well. I think Oliveros’ music being such a big part of Walden is indicative of the health of the community, and I wish for that to spread. I want the kindness and joy of music, and the sincerity I find in the Walden community, to keep spreading into the world around us, because those are very important and needed elements, as is the music itself.