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Bill Pfaff

Associate Professor of Music Theory, History, Composition

The music of Bill Pfaff is characterized by a masterful use of musical space, timbral juxtapositions and gestures that have been described as “profound and extravagant.” His harmonic language reflects deep levels of evocative and potent sonic interactions. Known for his collaborative impulse, Bill has produced music for theater, dance, film, and art installations, working across styles and genres. Within this cross-disciplinary context, his language embraces electronic sources, traditional acoustic instruments, electric guitar and found sounds. Recent commissions include Thoreau Piano Trio, Consortium Ardesia and Cadillac Moon Ensemble. As a performer on the highly nuanced soundplane, Bill explores composition that combines physical modeling synthesis, granular synthesis and acoustic instruments.

Inspired by the unique geography and cultural landscape of the United States, Bill has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Ucross Foundation, Escape to Create, Petrified Forest National Park, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. He was selected as a fellow and composer-in-residence at California State University at Monterey Bay, Lafayette College, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, High Point University, Wellesley Composers Conference, June in Buffalo, and May in Miami.

Bill’s sustaining interest in ethnomusicology, particularly the music of indigenous Americans, has led him to be inspired by and integrate traditional Native American instruments, musical concepts and cosmology in his work. In 2014, he traveled to the Caribbean, where, as Composer-in-Residence at Birdsong Academy of Music in Trinidad and Tobago, he created and composed for the Birdsong New Music Ensemble, a fusion of steel pan and traditional instruments. An ever-evolving and developing composer, Bill’s creative output represents several decades of immersive dedication to his craft. Bill’s work has been performed throughout the United States and abroad and a selection of his compositions may be found at billpfaffmusic.com.

Bill holds a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory from Brandeis University and a M.A. in Music Theory and Literature from the University of New Hampshire. His principal teachers were Martin Boykan, Allen Anderson, Ed Cohen, Niel Sir, and Pulitzer Prize-winner and Guggenheim Fellow, Yehudi Wyner.

In recognition of his innovative, student-centered instructional approaches, he was the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2013.


  • Ph.D. in Composition and Theory, Brandeis University
  • M.A. in Music Literature and Composition, University of New Hampshire
  • B.A. in Economics, Minor in Music, University of New Hampshire

Teaching Areas

  • Music Theory (I, II, III, IV)
  • Contemporary Music History
  • Introduction to Music Technology
  • Composition (all levels)
  • Songwriting
  • Improvisation
  • Senior Seminar (capstone)
  • Creativity and the Creative Process
  • Analysis: Form and Structure
  • History of Electronic Music (GE)
  • Music Appreciation (GE)
  • Ethnomusicology: music of the Diné (Navajo) and Adirondack Folk Traditions

Awards and Professional Involvement

  • Board Member for Composition, College Music Society Northeast Regional Chapter, 2017-2019
  • Featured Scholar, SUNY Plattsburgh Celebration of Scholarship, 2015
  • Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, 2013
  • Treasurer, College Music Society Northeast Regional Chapter, 2013-2015
  • Fellow, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, SUNY Plattsburgh, 2010
  • Treasurer, College Music Society Northeast Regional Chapter, 2013-2015

Ensembles and New Music Promotion

  • Artistic Director, billpfaffmusic.com, curated solo shows – soundplane, acoustic/electric guitar, fixed media
  • Co-Director with Ann Ellsworth, Palo Alto, CA, New Music Productions
  • Co-Founder with Dr. Whitman Brown, Walnut Hill School, Trapeze (electric guitar duo)
  • Artistic Director, SUNY Plattsburgh Guitar Festival
  • Board of Directors, Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival


  • Dedications, Accretion Audio, works for soundplane, autoharp, electric and acoustic guitar, 2017
  • There Is No Silence, Accretion Audio, works for soundplane, 2016
  • Ripples, Navona Records, compilation, includes Lichen, marimba and piano, 2015
  • Looping Pool, Asilowerks Productions, compilation of works for electric bass and looping devices, includes Cairns, RipTide, Looping_1 (Surfaces), 2015
  • Unconformities, Asilowerks Productions, EP includes Unconformities and Etched in Sacred Time, electric bass, synthesizer, percussion, found sounds, 2011


  • Diné bahane’: Dr. Paul Zolbrod’s Journey into the Voice of the Navajo Creation Story, documentary with soundtrack, Jóhonaa’éí – soundplane, fixed media, 2015
  • Night Ocean, NASA video footage – soundplane and fixed media, 2015
  • There is No Silence, Pfaff photographs/video – soundplane, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, bass, percussion, 2014
  • This Perfect Universe, score for independent film – electric guitars, synthesizer, piano, fixed media, 2014

Selected Compositions

  • Arcturus, piano, 2017
  • Departing Landscapes, piano trio, 2016
  • Angles of Incidence, acoustic guitar, Virta synthesizer, 2016
  • Ice Bridges, acoustic guitar (scordatura), 2016
  • Adagio for Piano and Soundplane, piano, soundplane, fixed media, 2015
  • There is No Silence, soundplane, acoustic guitar (scordatura), synthesizer, bass and percussion for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, 2014
  • ballad_for_birdsong, flute, clarinet, trumpet (2), tuba, electric bass, tenor pan (2), double tenor pan (1), double seconds pan (2) and 4-cello pan (2), 2014
  • Lichen, marimba and piano, 2014
  • Nahootsoii, ondes Martenot, horn, bass clarinet, viola, 2014
  • Cytherean, amplified acoustic guitar (scordatura), prepared piano, tam tam, 2014
  • Merging Dawn, horn, bass clarinet, piano, 2013
  • Diné be’ iiná, fixed media, music concrete, six guitars, for Hubbell Trading Post NHS, 2013
  • Metes and Bounds, cl/bass cl, horn, cello, piano, 2013
  • The Road is All, chamber orchestra, 2012
  • Beyond the Anchoring Ground, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, violoncello, 2012

Selected Publications

  • “An Analysis of Cadence Formation in the ‘Introduction’ to Roger Sessions’ cantata, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Spring/Summer 2006, Ex Tempore
Recent Published Abstracts (*student)
  • Pfaff, W.P. 2014. “Participant Observation: Constructing a Cultural Context for the Music of the Diné (Navajo),” College Music Society Northeast Regional Chapter Conference
  • Pfaff, W.P. and Abigail Clark*, Elidia Lopez*, Elizabeth Raner*. 2013. “Let the Students Teach: Illustrations in a Cross-discipline Collaborative Learning Environment,” SUNY Plattsburgh Conference on Teaching and Learning
  • Pfaff, W.P. 2013. “Listening To My Heart in a World Not My Own,” SUNY Plattsburgh Tuesday Reflections Faculty Lecture Series
  • Pfaff, W.P. and Waters, A., 2011. “Extended Techniques and Real Time Digital Processing in a Composition for Solo Electric Bass,” College Music Society Northeast Regional Chapter Conference
  • Pfaff, W.P. and Waters, A., 2010. “Facilitating Effective Communication between Students, Instructors and Administration in the E-learning Environment,” Lilly-East Conference on College and University Teaching, U Delaware, Newark, DE
  • Pfaff, W.P. and Kasper R., 2010. “Technology and the Pedagogy of Community in the Classroom,” Conference on Instructional Technology (CIT), SUNY Plattsburgh
  • Pfaff, W.P. 2006. “Form and Structure Interactions in Canons (to the memory of Igor Stravinsky),” by Roger Sessions, College Music Society Northeast Regional Chapter Conference

Other Research Interests

  • Soundplane: Open Sound Control (OSC) instrument (madronalabs.com)
  • Electronic sound synthesis, audio recording, sound design
  • Inter/Intra-disciplinary collaboration
  • Music of Roger Sessions, Seymour Shifrin and music of the Diné (Navajo)
  • Student-centered teaching and technology applications to promote diverse learning outcomes

Website/Social Media

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