When Paul Fowler ’01 answered his phone one day in the spring of 2006, he was notified that his entry had been selected as the winner of a composition contest for the New York Youth Symphony. He was surprised, to say the least. “I had completely forgotten I had submitted the piece,” says Fowler, who found himself in the sonorous and renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City last February listening to the first stroke of a violin part written for his debut piece, Tapu’at.
It’s not often that such an honor is bestowed on a composer, especially one as young as Fowler, just 27.
But that’s how it’s always been for this musically inclined jack-of-all-trades. “I’ve ended up doing all the kinds of stuff I wanted to do,” replies Fowler. “Because I had a really good foundation, I can work in most fields of music.”
Fowler originally came to Ithaca College to get a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater. “I picked Ithaca specifically because there were a lot of strengths in many different avenues,” says Fowler. “As a musical theater major I wanted [the college I chose] to have a strong music program.”
In no time, Fowler immersed himself in almost every form of art that Ithaca had to offer. He studied acting and voice while arranging music and singing in the vocal jazz ensemble.
In his sophomore year, he asked music professor Greg Woodward to be his mentor in composition. “When he came to me, he hadn’t written a single piece of music,” says Woodward, who is also the dean of graduate studies. “It turns out he was great.”
As Fowler continued to study composition, later declaring it his major, Woodward saw his raw talent and commitment develop. “Everything he writes has some story behind it,” says Woodward, who also noted the melding of drama into Fowler’s compositions. “The performers are like actors in a play.”
As Fowler’s college career advanced, he didn’t stay cloistered in the music school. He saw musical opportunities emerging all around him. “[Ithaca] was flexible enough so that I could work in different schools,” says Fowler. “I could collaborate with dancers and filmmakers.”
One film project in particular allowed Fowler to record his music with a 30-piece orchestra, a memorable first for the young composer. “I had never heard a full orchestra play a piece of mine,” says Fowler.
On top of his ubiquitous composing presence at Ithaca, he was also a voice major and performer, playing keyboard at such as events as the Ithaca Jazz Festival and the Founder’s Day Concert. Following in the footsteps of his parents, who are both opera singers, Fowler played the lead role of Nerone in Ithaca College Theatre’s production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea during his senior year.
Currently, Fowler is busy producing a record with his band Jetpack Rental, an improvisational jazz trio based in Sante Fe, New Mexico. He also plans to work on his second solo album, featuring voice and piano. Fowler has received many composition offers from musicians around the country, partly owing to the success of his Carnegie Hall debut and a rave review from the New York Times.
This past fall, Fowler came back to Ithaca to teach a composition seminar based on his winning piece. Though much has happened since his undergraduate days, he remembers the music school faculty fondly, especially their appreciative contribution to his senior recital. “I managed to get faculty to perform a piece of mine for my composition recital,” says Fowler. “That was something that hadn’t been done before, which was pretty cool.”
At a glance, Fowler’s success may seem incredible, but those who genuinely know him believe otherwise. When asked about Fowler’s numerous musical accomplishments, Woodward replies, “People like that, the world just makes a path for.”
And indeed this rings true for Fowler, whose path through Ithaca and beyond has made significant and lasting impressions.
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