Larry Polansky (1954–2024)

The department and the College mourn the loss of Larry Polansky, Jacob H. Strauss 1922 Professor Emeritus of Music, who died on May 9. "A multifaceted composer, guitarist, mandolinist, theorist, performer, editor, writer, and teacher who illuminated the intersections between music, mathematics, and computer science, Larry left an indelible mark on the field of music," Dean Elizabeth F. Smith wrote in a message to the Arts and Sciences community. 

Please see here for a message in memoriam from the College. The obituary quotes remembrances from Prof. Emeritus Melinda O'Neal and Profs. Ted Levin and Kui Dong. Below, we include additional remembrances from Profs. O'Neal, Levin, and Dong, as well as from Christian Wolff, Jacob H. Strauss 1922 Professor of Music, Emeritus. 

Among his wide-ranging areas of expertise, Larry and I shared interests in the guitar, folk music, and community/student music-making. Perhaps little known, he collaborated with local educator and scholar Mary Ann Hagen to highlight the Shaker music traditions of nearby Enfield, N.H. I valued his deep musicality, endless energy, never-deterred enthusiasm and focus, and his insistence on seeing beyond perceived boundaries.

– Melinda O'Neal, Professor of Music Emeritus, conductor of Handel Society and Chamber Singers

Larry Polansky was a charismatic and caring teacher whose spirit of artistic adventurousness and voracious intellectual curiosity inspired a generation of Dartmouth music students. Larry's contributions as a virtuosic guitarist, composer, scholar, and cultural activist ranged from Indonesian gamelan and Appalachian folk music to the most cutting-edge directions in contemporary music. The graduate program that he energetically helped build from its earliest years is part of his legacy. He epitomized a life in music, well lived. 

– Ted Levin, Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music

Larry was a fantastic guitar player, improviser, composer, teacher, and researcher of computer music and American folk music—a true Renaissance man. I was lucky to have played free improvisation with him and Christian Wolff for 10 years. 

– Kui Dong, Professor of Music

We met, I think, almost immediately on Larry's arrival in Hanover, and became good friends from the start. His energy and enthusiasm were evident right from the start. Then gradually I became aware of the extraordinary range of his interests, knowledge and activities.

Of course experimental music right away connected us and we performed together many times (I had a kind of floating band for performances of my music and Larry was the guitar player). He also played extensively on one of my favorite CDs, ten exercises. Then there were the improvisation sessions which included Kui, weekly when we were all in town (and made a CD of them too). His playing was always "right," musically tuned in to what the occasion might call for. He played all the plucked instruments and he sang. Apart from new music, he played bluegrass (on some occasions with Mike Seeger) and he could sing for you a wide range of folk songs. And Shaker song music. And he could play gamelan (had spent time in Indonesia learning it).

Larry's compositional output was very large and varied. My favorite probably the "Lonesome Road" variations for piano (about 70 minutes), mostly tonal. A lot of the music was quite abstract, derived from computer programs that he designed himself. He also had a sideline in producing rounds (traditional format), dozens and dozens. And another interest was microtonality and new scales.

Larry was close to a number of notable composers, like James Tenney and Lou Harrison, and many others who came through to visit, and whose work he supported and furthered. He worked to make better known important but neglected figures like Joanna Beyer and Ruth Crawford Seeger (whose writings on folk song he collected, edited and had published). To make available the work of many composers of interest and quality whose work had not been obtainable he founded an independent music publishing operation, Frog Peak Music that continues to be active (and all profits go to the composers).

I've probably forgotten a number of Larry's so many activities. He had such a variety of interests. On a bookshelf in his house I noticed the complete set of the Anchor Bible (one volume for each of all the old and new testament books). And once it slipped out that Larry knew all about lesbian detective fiction. And then when we met up with the jazz drummer Joey Baron who is seriously involved with magic tricks, they got into long discussion on that subject, about which Larry was totally knowledgeable.

Oh, and with all that, Larry was a generally cheerful and open person and often very funny.

– Christian Wolff, Jacob H. Strauss 1922 Professor of Music, Emeritus