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Melissa Dunphy '09 Really Digs Composing

Bruce E. Beans of West Chester University Magazine

When composer Melissa Dunphy ’09 and her husband Matt bought a defunct magic theater in Philadelphia in 2015, they envisioned launching a multidisciplinary performing arts venue, the Hannah Callowhill Stage. But then they learned that two privies buried within the foundation walls contained what archaeologists have called artifacts of “national importance,” including a 1770s ceramic bowl.

“It’s too cool to ignore,“ she says of their ongoing excavation, which has delayed the venue’s opening until next year.

An immigrant from Australia, the violist/cellist graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of music degree in theory and composition in 2009, then earned a doctorate in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania. “The West Chester faculty offers the resources to allow you to go way past the curriculum, which enabled me to go straight into Penn’s Ph.D. program,” she says.

Dunphy is now an acclaimed composer specializing in vocal, political, and theatrical music. She first gained national attention with a piece she conceived at WCU with the encouragement of Robert Maggio, chair of music theory and composition: “The Gonzales Cantata,” which the Wall Street Journal and MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show covered.

Dunphy’s works have since been commissioned and performed, winning awards throughout the country. She has been a composer-in-residence, including for the St. Louis Chamber Chorus; composes and designs sound for regional theaters; and is the director of music composition at the National Puppetry Conference. Speaking of both the theatre building and her career, she says, “You take a chance and go where your passions lead and, suddenly, you’re living an adventure.”

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