composer highlights

Composer Biography:

Nina Shekhar (b. 1995) is currently a fifth-year undergraduate at the University of Michigan pursuing a B.M. in Music Composition and a B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering. Her works have been performed in concert by leading artists such as ETHEL, soprano Tony Arnold, Third Angle New Music, and saxophonist Jan Berry Baker and have been featured by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Flute Association, 2017 TUTTI Festival, Bowdoin International Music Festival, New Music on the Point, and the Detroit REVIVAL Project in collaboration with Detroit-based dance troupe ArtLab J. She has also previously collaborated with the JACK Quartet, and upcoming events include a performance by the L.A.-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, a commission for the New York Virtuoso Singers (conducted by Harold Rosenbaum), a featured concert at National Sawdust, and performances at the 2018 North American Saxophone Alliance (NASA) Biennial Conference by members of the Mirasol Quartet. Her piece Quirkhead, about O.C.D. and mental illness, is scheduled to be featured in an upcoming PBS documentary chronicling the inaugural Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. Nina is a recipient of the 2015 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and a finalist in the 2017 Morton Gould Awards.

Aside from composing, Nina is a versatile performing artist. As a flutist, she currently studies with Amy Porter and has previously performed in masterclasses given by flutists Claire Chase, Tim Munro, composer/flutist Ian Clarke, and electronic flute duo Flutronix. She has also premiered fellow composers’ works at the Midwest Composers Symposium and the New Music on the Point Summer Festival. As a pianist, she has performed in the Poland International Piano Festival as a soloist with the Lublin Philharmonic and studied under Tomoko Mack. Nina was selected to perform in the Detroit International Jazz Festival with her jazz band in 2012 and 2013 as lead alto saxophonist.

Nina currently studies with Evan Chambers and has previously studied with Bright Sheng, Michael Daugherty, Kristin Kuster, and James Hartway. She is a native of Northville, Michigan.




Academic Work:

Comparing Hindustani Khyal and Thumri Text-Setting Practices to Western Musical Traditions

Web Articles:

Masala Music: My story of being an Indian-American female music composer
Classical Music Network

Overcoming My Fears
Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music

Upcoming “I CARE IF YOU LISTEN” profile – “Turning up the Volume” series – February 2018

Upcoming Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra interview – March 2018



Selected Works:

Cajón (2016) for solo cello
Winner in Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s Call for Scores (2017-2018 season)
2017 ASCAP Morton Gould Award Finalist
Performed by Joshua DeVries

Program notes: A cajón is a box-shaped Peruvian instrument that is played by tapping it on its sides to make percussive sounds. My original idea for this piece was for a cello to play along with a cajón, but then I wondered what if the cello were the cajón itself. The piece places the instrument in a new context by exploring modes and rhythms common to Indian and Arabic music.



Quirkhead (2017) for soprano and string quartet
Written for Tony Arnold and Third Angle New Music

Program notes:

I was born a quirkhead. I was the little girl who tapped every wall she walked by and believed that vegetables had feelings. I made up thought rituals that I would perform every day to alleviate my fears of losing those I loved. I counted the number of times I swallowed, and I put my hangers in my closet a certain way because I was terrified that one item out of place would trigger the next apocalypse. And it would be all my fault.

I didn’t know that millions of others lived this way, until my seventh grade teacher observed that I wrote sentences in a specific arrangement. I was both amazed she noticed and completely mortified that someone had seen my most vulnerable self that I had been trying to hide for so long. I explained to her that I associate letters and words with certain connotations, and because I like the word “left” better than “right,” I write the words I like better to the left and the ones less so to the right. After hearing about some of my other rituals, she told me about obsessive-compulsive disorder. I felt liberated knowing that I was not alone, but I grew to hate myself. I felt so ashamed that everyday tasks that were so easy to others felt impossible for me to complete.

Through years of counseling and self-healing, most of the tics subsided. But it took me years to realize that having OCD didn’t make me a horrible human being. In fact, it made me a better one because it gave me immense patience and diligence through performing endless compulsions. It allowed me to be more accepting and empathetic towards others. And it made me love those close to me more. My brain will always be wired differently, but maybe that’s okay. And I’m finally proud to be myself – I’m proud to be a quirkhead.



Rain on me (2017) for orchestra
Performed by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra (Rotem Weinberg, conductor)

Program notes:
Rain on me was inspired by my attempt to change my perspective of the rain. I always hated the bitter coldness of raindrops against my skin, the way wet socks felt on my feet after being soaked from stepping in a puddle, and how muddy water would dirty everything in its path. I have several friends from Seattle, though, who always loved the rain and would dance outside while being drenched from the downpour. When I asked them how they could enjoy such a thing, they replied, “It feels like home.”
Rain on me represents my efforts to see rain as something more – perhaps a sign of life, a reminder of a previous memory, or a new beginning.



FOOD FIGHT (2017) for soprano, alto saxophone, and piano
Performed by Amy Petrongelli (soprano), Jan Berry Baker (saxophone), and Huizi Zhang (piano)

Program notes: FOOD FIGHT is a humorous take on all of the fun, drama, and toils of the titular battle. The text (written by me) describes the joy of seeing everyday foods such as eggs, peas, and flour thrown across the room at one’s opponent… and then the misfortune of having to clean up the mess made afterwards.

yellow eggy splatters
on my purple itchy sweater
and my polka-dotted trousers.
chocolate smears on my cheeks,
my hands covered in slimy goo.
and on it goes,
this dirt tea party
with bread crumbs in my hair
throwing food at you
as we enter this glorious food fight.
splashing the tomatoes
flying peas in the air
sugar on the floor
brown rice
throwing all-purpose flour.
pie in the face –
pie in my face?
pie in your face!
oh, what a mess we’ve made,
but before we clean up…
just one more splatter!



Postcards (2014) for solo piano
2015 ASCAP Morton Gould Award Winner
Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra Call for Scores Finalist (2017-2018 season)

I. traffic jam
II. on an old sidewalk
III. merry-go-round
IV. light up

Performed by Jeannette Fang



Urban Development (2017) for two alto saxophones
Commisioned by Lisa Keeney and Andrea Voulgaris

Program notes: The title Urban Development is a play on words. As composers, we are always taught to fully develop our ideas in order to create a cohesive piece. I tried to take a short four-note motive and develop it to its maximum capacity to serve as the basis for the entire piece. We also tend to associate the sound of saxophones with big city life, so I tried to capture the fast-paced bustle and energy of a city in this Urban Development.


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