Joshua Penman is a polymath composer whose multiple interests have led him in a musical journey around the world. From Carnegie Hall to Burning Man, from the most rarefied of contemporary music performance groups to national TV, Joshua’s musical creations have enthralled, enchanted, and moved very diverse audiences.
Surrounded by classical chamber music as he grew up, Joshua’s first career aim was to be a concert composer. Later, discovering electronic music and world music, and after receiving his first film score commission for the short art film Caravan of Light, his horizons broadened and his ambitions changed.
Whether studying at the feet of a his Indian classical voice guru in Varanasi, in the Amsterdam attic of Dutch postminimalist hero Louis Andriessen, or at the mix console from record industry veteran Eric Peterson, Joshua has a profound curiosity about music: how music defines and transcends culture, how it conveys emotion, how it resonates in space and on recording, how it tells a story, how it alters consciousness.
Joshua is a singer, pianist, gamelan-player, DJ, and record producer, who speaks six languages and writes code. He studied music and mathematics at Yale, and got a doctorate in music composition from the University of Michigan, where he studied with such contemporary music luminaries as William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, and Michael Daugherty.
He has captivated dancefloors at festivals and clubs around the world with his electronica/classical chamber music fusion band Akara, featuring vocals by Grammy-winner Femke Weidema; he has sung traditional Torajan funeral songs with the natives and learned the intricacies of Sundanese gamelan in West Java; he has sung Medieval and Renaissance music, and coached a Georgian choir. He has performed with orchestras and chamber groups as a vocal soloist, including dressing up as a raccoon for his children’s piece Raccoon Tune; and he has written his own show-control lighting software.
Joshua has worked as a researcher studying the physiological effects of music listening as it relates to religious trance, and he has worked as a copyist and orchestrator for the Dutch music publisher Donemus and the rock icon Stewart Copeland. He has taught ear training at the university level, and composition, piano, music theory, and music production privately.
He has fulfilled commissions from such groups as the Montreal new-music powerhouse, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne; the iconic New York ensemble, the Bang-on-a-Can All-Stars; as well as the American Composers Orchestra; the Ann Arbor Symphony; the choir groups Sangita and Lionheart; the Prism Saxophone Quartet; the East-Coast Chamber Orchestra, and more. He has also produced tracks and albums for a handful of singer/songwriters and world musicians including santur virtuoso Alan Kushan.
He has composed music for the PBS documentary Deep Down, as well as for four short films, and six commercials, including three for Microsoft and one for Charles Schwab. He has also fulfilled commissions from a number of media projects in development, including the sci-fi epic The Fifth Sacred Thing, based on the bestselling novel by Starhawk.
His music has been played by seventeen orchestras as well as dozens of choirs, concert bands, and chamber groups over the years. He has been a fellow at the Tanglewood Festival, and has received three ASCAP young composers awards, one BMI award, the Bearns Prize, and the John Golden prize for his electroacoustic opera Samadhi-lila in 2001.