Forrest Pierce composes music steeped in religious mysticism and contemporary virtuosity. Sincere, often triadic, and blatantly tuneful, it draws on both non-western and rock-era traditions to depict an authentic world of sacred unity and natural beauty. His works have been performed in sacred and concert settings around the world, on noteworthy concert series and by diverse ensembles such as Brave New Works, the Chamber Players of the Society of New Music/ISCM, the BMOP chamber series, DuoSolo, the Chamber Orchestras of Portland and Kansas City, the Indianapolis and Walla Walla Symphonies, the Concord Ensemble, Octarium, the Seattle New Music Ensemble, the Oregon and Northwest Repertory Singers, the Boston Choral Ensemble, the Dublin and Canadian International Organ Competitions, Songfest, and by numerous distinguished soloists in North America and abroad. Pierce is the past resident composer of the Seattle New Music Ensemble and the founding artistic director of Portland's Friends of Rain Contemporary Ensemble. His catalog is led by over 50 works for voices, including operatic, choral, and solo vocal forces. He has been the winner of the 2012 Barlow Prize in Composition, was first prize recipient of the Boston Choral Ensemble and Boston Chamber Singers choral competitions, and was composer-in-residence of the beautiful—if short-lived—International Meeting of Choral Music at the University of São Paulo—Riberão Preto, Brazil.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Forrest Pierce was raised in the empty Columbia Plateau region of eastern Washington State, the grandson of Dust Bowl emigrants. A pianist and cellist in his youth, Pierce began composing at an early age. It was on a steady stream of top-40 radio, record-store punk, new wave, and common-practice music from the local NPR station that Pierceʼs compositional voice developed. Pierce attended the University of Puget Sound, where he avoided practicing for four years, sinking all available time into composing, roaming beaches and mountains, and reading the classics of world religion. He graduated from the Honors Program in the Classics in 1994, summa cum laude, having won a Watson Fellowship to study the traditional music of Madagascar. He got married, instead, and papered the walls of Minneapolis with love songs.
Two years of study under the great American operatist Dominick Argento at the University of Minnesota cemented for Pierce a passion for the vocal instrument and the people who wield it. A Doctorate at Indiana University, where he was awarded the Deanʼs Prize, completed Pierceʼs formal training, with the help of teacher Don Freund. Since that time, Pierce has enjoyed teaching positions at the University of Texas-Austin, at Lewis & Clark College, and at Kansas University, where he is Associate Professor of Composition.
In recent years, Pierceʼs textural conception has become primarily heterophonic, largely derived from Rock root-position progression and florid Qawwali music. A student of both North Indian Classical Voice and Milonguero-style Argentine Tango, his rhythmic language has become an alternation and collision between freely improvisatory meditative landscapes and consistently pulsed motoric dance rhythms.
Pierce is a member of the exceptionally convivial faculty of the Cortona Sessions for New Music, in Cortona, Tuscany.