Antonio celaya

Chabuca Granda Fellow


“I must acknowledge the wooly mammoth in the room: The fact that I am 61. I am not a young, fresh face in the crowd… Yet, I refuse to become a permanently “submerged” composer. I can give you no rational reason why I continue to compose. It costs me money. It takes an absurd amount of time… I write music because unlike images or words, music never lies. Music may be boring, inane, deadening and may express the most despicable parts of human experience, but it never lies… If an audience were to jump up during a concert and dance to my music, I would take that as the highest compliment.”

— Antonio Celaya


I was born and raised in Tucson. In elementary and middle school I played cornet and the horn. I sang with two choirs my last three years of high school, and played horn in the orchestra my senior year. I heard little of the European canon growing up, but heard Yaqui Deer Dance, Mariachi, Chicken Scratch, Norteña and Country Western music. In college (1974-1979) I studied Swedish and Danish choral music intensively. The school produced fine marching band directors, but there was no composition program. I worked on my own, composing for choreographers and creating tape music on the school’s barely functioning Moog. My senior year I taught K-5 music in Tucson schools. After college I worked a year for the Bach and Madrigal Society (now Charles Bruffy’s Phoenix Chamber Choir). I copied parts, maintained the library, sang, wrote program notes, press releases and acted as a factotum. On the side I occasionally wrote dance and music reviews for the Scottsdale Progress. After the choir job ended, I became office secretary for a Flamenco troupe. I studied flamenco dance and rhythm. Soon they ran out of money. I then worked in a tortilla factory, picked citrus and cleaned in a nursing home. I saved my money to go to Sweden or Denmark to study composition and immerse myself Nordic choral music. I never earned enough for my adventure. In 1982 Phoenix there was not even talk of New Music in my life. I wrote less and less. I was on my way to being a self-declared “artist” who had not created a work in 50 years. I emerged from my time lost in a dark wood after law school (that’s another story).

Coming to the Bay Area in 1987, I studied privately, revisiting counterpoint and harmony with Berkeley composer Larry London. My two college semesters of counterpoint and the incidental harmony taught in theory classes were geared towards musicology – inadequate for composition. I studied composition with Mexican composer Arturo Salinas, Elinor Armer, and voice with Cheryl Keller. I have sung with various Bay Area ensembles and have sung roles in contemporary works with Oakland Opera Theater. In 1989 I helped found Composers Anonymous, a composers’ collective, which for 3 years presented concerts of music by members and many guest composers. In 1995 my day job was driving me towards the edge, so I took a leave of absence and spent two months in Bali, writing music and learning about the structure of Balinese music. The real lesson was meeting phenomenal musicians, painters, sculptors and dancers who worked the rice fields, all artists of the highest order. I saw music could be a deeply embedded part of a culture. Bali saved my sanity. In recent years I’ve had a number of performances, including one at a NACUSA national convention, and at Portland’s March Music Moderne Festival, which commissioned two pieces including my first electronic work in 35 years. I am on the verge of emerging into some new phase.