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Passages: Emerson Elias Wahl, Alumnus, Percussion Studies

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on June 1, 2022 - 3:18pm
Emerson Wahl
School of Music alumnus Emerson Elias Wahl ('18 MM, Percussion Performance) died on April 25, 2022 after a long battle with colon cancer.

By Bonnie Whiting, UW Percussion Studies

School of Music alumnus Emerson Elias Wahl ('18 MM, Percussion Performance) died on April 25, 2022 after a long battle with colon cancer. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he thrived in many creative settings.

From his cathartic, embodied drumming in a professional  progressive metal band in his native Los Angeles, to his exquisitely beautiful realization of Morton Feldman's delicate King of Denmark on his University of Washington Master's recital (hear excerpts here), to his fastidious preparation as an orchestral timpanist, to his own compositions and arrangements spanning jazz and pop and experimental genres, Emerson was a perennially-curious lifelong learner and eager collaborator. He brought the same inquisitive, generous spirit to his work as an educator; Emerson taught many musicians in his private studio in Seattle.

Emerson performed professionally with Northwest groups Kin of The Moon, The Sound Ensemble, and with the Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra. He toured extensively with various ensembles in the United States and China, and spent two summers studying at New Music On the Point, apprenticing with legendary percussionist Jan Williams.

During his time at UW, Emerson was a regular member of the Modern Music ensemble (listen to him perform with them here), embracing open scores, game pieces, and works with performer choice, like John Zorn's Cobra and Louis Andriessen's Workers' Union. Emerson was a leader and mentor in the UW Percussion Ensemble, distinguishing himself with his beautiful sound choices and flexible, easy-going style as a chamber musician.

On April 24 Los-Angeles radio station KCRW host Nassir Nassirzadeh featured Emerson's music on his show, and you can hear more of his original work on his album, Greenhouse Suite. Emerson was instrumental in the UW Percussion Ensemble's realizations of Pauline Oliveros' Greeting Meditation and Single Stroke Roll Meditation during the NUMUS Northwest conference (2016) and at the Northwest Percussion Festival (2017.) At a small memorial gathering outside his home in April, alumni of the group joined in these meditations to honor his musical life, friendship, and creative spirit. Emerson is survived by his wife, Hannah, his parents Joseph and Lynne, and his sister Aidan. 
The family is organizing a memorial scholarship in Emerson's memory. Details are available here. 
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