Payton MacDonald (b. 1974, Idaho Falls, Idaho) is musician, filmmaker, and ultra-endurance cyclist. 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.
The New York Times described MacDonald as an “energetic soloist.” The Los Angeles Times described him as an “. . . inventive, stylistically omnivorous composer and gifted performer . . .” His compositions have been described as “hypnotically beautiful” (The New York Times and “. . . engaging and utterly beautiful.” (Sequenza 21)
As a composer numerous ensembles have performed his music around the world, including Alarm Will Sound, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, 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 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 a percussionist he was 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 MacDonald made five recordings with them, on the Nonesuch and Cantaloupe labels. Alarm Will Sound has performed in the finest concert halls all over the world. MacDonald currently performs with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and with that group has appeared on a PASIC Showcase concert as well as events in New York City and New Jersey. As a solo marimbist, 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. As an improviser MacDonald has 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. 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. MacDonald has been a featured performer of his own music on festivals in Montreal (Voyages) and Minneapolis (Electric Eyes). He was a TEDx speaker at Elevate, TEDx Bozeman.
MacDonald is also a singer and is currently studying Dhrupad vocal with the legendary 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 performed at the Dhrupad Mela in Varanasi, India, as well as festivals in Chennai, Kolkata, and Bangalore. He has also appeared on the Ragas Live Festival in New York City, the Brooklyn Raga Massive, and the Dhrupad Days of Seattle and Wayne. He was awarded a Senior Fulbright-Nehru 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, Tejas Tope, 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.
Payton MacDonald is a filmmaker whose films and music videos focus on the extreme and the avant-garde. His first documentary film, Sonic Divide, was placed in six international film festivals and won “Best Documentary” at the Helper Utah Film Festival and “Honorable Mention” at the Backpackinglight.com film festival. Sonic Divide has been screened dozens of times at festivals, universities, art galleries, and cycling events. He is currently finishing his second feature-length documentary film, “Ringing Changes, 50 Years of New Jersey Percussion Ensemble.”
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 primary percussion teachers were John Beck and Michael Udow. Further studies include tabla with Bob Becker and Pandit Sharda Sahai, Dhrupad vocal with the Gundecha Brothers, and percussion from Julie Spencer, Richard Landauer, and John Alfieri.
Visiting artist at Arts Letters & Numbers Creative Music Intensive Summer 2018.