Professor of Composition Dr. Morten Lauridsen

Dr. Morten Lauridsen opens up about music, island life and the human voice.

Dr. Morten Lauridsen is a distinguished professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. His work is performed throughout the world and several of his –more than 200– CDs have received Grammy nominations. Much of his music is vocal-based, and recently while in Detroit, WDET’s Alex Trajano had a chance to speak with him about the essence of composition, island life and why he loves the human voice.


“It’s so expressive, and it combines certain elements that I’m very fond of,” Lauridsen says of the human voice. For Lauridsen, the personal quality of the voice and the craft of composition are both crucial. However, when he’s teaching classes at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, poetry is where every class begins.

“The connection with the words and the music…we need voices able to express the words,” he tells Alex of poetry’s important role in his life and his teachings. In the classroom, Lauridsen says his role is the guide, and is always looking for the unique spark within each student.  He discusses scores, pieces, and helps students nurture their understanding of the history of composition through giving them the tools to discover the potential of their ideas and how to make them a reality.

Lauridsen, who grew up listening to jazz, classical and Broadway music, splits his time between a cottage in the Hollywood Hills and a remote island in Washington. Waldron Island, which has no electricity and is only 4.5 square-miles, is where Lauridsen does a great deal of his writing.

“I bought the place for not much money and moved in with a golden retriever and a spinet piano.”

Inside that modest shack during the summertime, Lauridsen says he reaches places he otherwise probably wouldn’t. However, that’s not to say he goes there and simply waits to be inspired. “It takes 99 percent tough work, [writing] is one of the most difficult things for me to do frankly, I write slowly,” he says of his process.

“We all run into brick walls constantly, and what one does is go around those brick walls.”