Payton MacDonald (b. 1974, Idaho Falls, Idaho) is a composer, improviser, percussionist, singer, and educator. He has created a unique body of work that draws upon his extensive experience with East Indian tabla drumming and Dhrupad singing, Jazz, European classical music, and the American experimental tradition. He works across multiple musical genres, often at the same time. Several recordings of MacDonald’s music exist, including the critically acclaimed Payton MacDonald: Works for Tabla on the ATMA label.
The New York Times described him as an “energetic soloist.” The Los Angeles Times described him as an “. . . inventive, stylistically omnivorous composer and gifted performer . . .” His music has also been described as “hypnotically beautiful” (The New York Times and “. . . engaging and utterly beautiful.” (Sequenza 21) MacDonald has been a featured performer of his own music on festivals in Montreal (Voyages) and Minneapolis (Electric Eyes).
As a composer numerous ensembles have performed his music around the world, including Alarm Will Sound, Los Angeles Philharmonic, JACK Quartet, New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, So Percussion, To Hit Duo, Young Voices of Colorado, Quintet Mont Royal, Classical Jam, guitarists Mak Grgic and Eliot Fisk, tabla soloist Shawn Mativetsky, accordionist Bill Schimmel, french hornist John Clark, and many others. He has received grants and awards from Fulbright Foundation, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, American Music Center, American Institute of Indian Studies, as well as fellowships from Yaddo and Ragdale. He has also composed music for the Silken Dance Company.
As an improviser MacDonald tours as a marimba soloist with Super Marimba. With Super Marimba MacDonald performs his own music using looping machines and delay pedals. He has also performed with Elliott Sharp, Billy Martin, Kevin Norton, Aakash Mittal, Peter Evans, Tim Feeney, Todd Sickafoose, Theo Metz, and many others. MacDonald has released several recordings and YouTube videos of his improvisations.
As a classical percussion performer he is a founding member of Alarm Will Sound, a new-music chamber orchestra. Alarm Will Sound is currently regarded as one of the foremost new music ensembles in the country and they have made five recordings, on the Nonesuch and Cantaloupe labels. The New York Times wrote that they are “the future of classical music.” Alarm Will Sound has performed in the finest concert halls all over the world. MacDonald has commissioned many works from other composers, including Charles Wuorinen, Robert Morris, Caleb Burhans, Don Freund, Peter Jarvis, Elliott Sharp, David Saperstein, Michael Udow, and Stuart Saunders Smith. MacDonald has released five solo marimba recordings on a variety of labels. From 1994-2004 MacDonald performed with Verederos, a flute and percussion duo. Verederos recorded two CDs under the Equilibrium label. He has also appeared as a soloist in England and Croatia, performed with Present Music and the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, toured Japan with Keiko Abe and the Galaxy percussion group, and performed and recorded with acclaimed singer/songwriter Noe Venable. With New Jersey Percussion Ensemble MacDonald has released several recordings and been involved with many collaborations with composers.
MacDonald is also a singer and is currently studying Dhrupad vocal with the famous Gundecha Brothers. Payton has performed as a Dhrupad singer at concert halls, yoga centers, and universities in India, the U.S., Europe, and Canada. He has appeared on the Ragas Live Festival in New York City and the Brooklyn Raga Massive, as well as the Dhrupad Days of Seattle and Wayne. He was awarded a Senior Fulbright Fellowship to spend nine months in India studying with the Gundecha Brothers. He has performed with pakhawaj and jori drummers Pandit Akhilesh Gundecha, Roman Das, Dibyarka Chatterjee, Peter Fagiola, Dnyaneshvara Deshmukh, and Shawn Mativetsky.
As an educator MacDonald serves as a Full Professor of Music at William Paterson University, where he teaches contemporary music, percussion, composition, improvisation, and Hindustani music. He is also the Co-Artistic director of SHASTRA, an organization dedicated to bringing together the music of India and the West.
MacDonald studied music at the University of Michigan (BFA) and the Eastman School of Music (MM and DMA). His composition teachers include Sydney Hodkinson, Robert Morris, Dave Rivello, Bright Sheng, and Augusta Read Thomas. His percussion teachers include John Beck and Michael Udow. Further studies include tabla with Bob Becker and Pandit Sharda Sahai and Dhrupad vocal with the Gundecha Brothers.