“Sayre’s music is simply beautiful…  it’s characterized by rich melody and popular sound cast in classical forms.”

The Washington Post

“Sayre’s music left a lasting impression of broad, expressive, tender dialogue.”

The Times of Malta

“This [Sayre’s] music allows us to glimpse the rich inner life that true artists lead.”

Charles Krauter, WGTS FM

My Work In Music

I have many interests, but music has always been my passion. When I was young, I could imagine no life other than one defined by music — but now that I can view the full arc of my youth from afar, incredulously, I’m forced to concede that providence did not allow me to devote my life to music in the way I had foreseen when I was young. As Alexander Borodin once told Franz Liszt, I’m afraid that at best I’m a ‘Sunday composer.’ Like Borodin, I can claim to be no more than “a ‘Sunday composer,’” and like Borodin, I was fortunate to have additional interests.

My love of nature, ecology, design, architecture, and teaching are genuine and deeply meaningful parts of my psyche and life — importantly, they’ve also helped me earn an honest living — but I continue my struggle to devote as much time, energy, and focus to music as fate allows. Like Borodin, I have something to say, and ultimately, my heart belongs to music.

I’ve never promoted my own music. I’ve simply never been comfortable doing so, and as a result, I’ve never been good at it either. Nevertheless, some of my pieces enjoy a modest following, which is particularly satisfying for me as a mere “Sunday Composer.” Whenever I hear that my music is being played — often in parts of the world I’ve never seen by people I’ve never met — it’s gratifying to know they’re playing it for no reason other than they want to, and that they’re listening for no reason other than they enjoy it.

Teaching, The Sayre Series™,
and The American Musicianship Suite™

I’ve been teaching since I was seventeen. Teaching is an important part of my life, and it’s one of my greatest joys. I began my teaching career giving piano lessons during my freshman year in college and, soon after, I began teaching harmony, ear-training, and counterpoint as well. Later, my teaching expanded to include several disciplines in the field of landscape architecture: design studios, planting studios, site engineering, and grading and drainage.

My students have ranged in age from three to eighty-seven in venues ranging from private lessons to large graduate programs at lauded universities. My love for teaching, and the breadth and depth of my teaching experience, inspired me to devote considerable time and effort toward creating meaningful, substantive materials for music education. Much of this work eventually took formal shape in The Sayre Series™ and The American Musicianship Suite™.


Selections from my work in music, landscape, design, and ecology

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Formal Musical Biography

Paul Sayre studied music at The Ohio State University, Eastern Michigan University, and The University of Texas at Austin. His greatest teachers were Anthony Iannaccone (composition); Sylvan Kalib and Douglass Green (counterpoint and harmony); Rosemary Platt, Earl Wild, and André LePlante (piano); and Elliott Antokoletz (musicology).

Paul’s primary compositional interests lie in continued refinement of an expressive personal idiom that draws upon several major sources: the pan tonal language of the first two thirds of the Twentieth Century (as typified in the music of Ravel, Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky); the rich fund of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century modal practices (characteristic of Josquin Des Prez, Ockeghem, and Issac); and recent eclectic blends of tonal music from the last few decades (as exemplified in the music of Adams, Pärt, Richter, and Dalbavie).

As a composer, Paul says, I have special reverence for Tchaikovsky’s inexhaustible invention, for Debussy’s breathtaking originality and uncompromising allegiance to beauty in sound, for Ravel’s precisionist technique and iridescent orchestration, and for Bartók’s astonishing architecture, organically derived forms, and highly original harmonic organization.

Although I don’t consider myself to be a music theorist, I have particular interest in modal counterpoint and the polyphonic vocal style of the sixteenth century — especially as it pertains to the transition from modality to tonality and to crystallization of the tonal system — and in the emergence of symmetry as a means of melodic, harmonic, and modulatory organization in early Twentieth-Century music. Secondarily, I’m also interested in pre-collegiate musical pedagogy in service to balanced general education as a democratizing force.

Paul’s primary work as a musical pedagogue is manifest in two formal, large-scale works: The Sayre Series™ and The American Musicianship Suite™. The Sayre Series™ is a suite of teaching materials that offers music teachers and music students of various ages a pragmatic, concise method for achieving significant, balanced, high-quality beginning musical training. The American Musicianship Suite™ is a non-profit organization offering an unparalleled domestic program for serious pre-collegiate musical training. It is accompanied by a ten-volume curriculum combining music history, music theory, and aural skills for cultivating well-rounded musicianship and musical literacy.

A Complicated Journey

The cult of novelty reigned tyrannically when I was “a highly promising student” of composition in musical academia. Writing anything that smacked of traditional harmony was unimaginable — key signatures literally raised eyebrows — and apart from traditional instruments, the “second Viennese school,” and the material of sound itself, use of much of anything from the rich fund of a-thousand-plus years of Western musical tradition was an invitation for ridicule.

Serious students in pursuit of serious composition were expected to eschew mastery of traditional harmonic procedures and to progress largely on instinct, and cultivation of solid traditional compositional technique was at best ignored and at worst disdained. (This, in particular, is especially regrettable.) Subsequently, the obtuse, the bad, and the incomprehensible were roundly accepted stand-ins for invention, originality, and progress. At the time, I was neither mature enough to understand it nor strong enough to survive it. Eventually, I stopped composing and reluctantly withdrew from musical academia.

It’s clear to me now that my traditionally inclined aesthetics were more a matter of superficial style than a defining measure of substance — and that my unique compositional voice was, in fact, the only golden thing among all that glittered during that time. Now, I see that I already possessed the most important components in a composer’s toolkit —apart from school and apart from “the academy” — but I didn’t know it. (It reminds me of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. The good witch Glinda told her that she “had the power [to return to Kansas] all along” … but she had no idea.)

All to say, I lost my way in musical academia. I lost a grave amount of precious time, too, but I slowly found my way back to composition. I also made something of my other interests and, thankfully, I’m now well beyond all of the noise.