Dates: August 8, 1921 – October 13, 2009
Period/Era/Style: 21st century
Nixon was an American composer, musician, and professor of music. He wrote over 60 compositions for orchestra, band, choir and opera. Nixon received multiple awards and honors for his works, many of which contain a feel of the rhythms and dances of the early settlers of his native state of California.
Nixon was born and raised in California’s Central Valley towns of Tulare and Modesto. Nixon attended Modesto Junior College from 1938–1940 where he studied clarinet with Frank Mancini, formerly of John Philip Sousa’s band. He continued his studies at UC Berkeley, majoring in composition and receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1941. His studies were then interrupted by almost four years of active duty in the Navy during World War II, serving as the commanding officer of an LCMR in the Atlantic.
Following the war Nixon returned to UC Berkeley, first receiving a M.A. degree and later a Ph.D. His primary teacher was Roger Sessions. He also studied with Arthur Bliss, Ernest Bloch, Charles Cushing, and Frederick Jacobi. In the summer of 1948, he studied privately with Arnold Schoenberg.
From 1951 to 1959, Nixon was on the music faculty at Modesto Junior College. He was then appointed to the faculty at San Francisco State College, now San Francisco State University, in 1960 and began a long association with the Symphonic Band, which premiered many of his works. Most of Nixon’s works are for band, but he has also composed for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo piano, choral ensembles, as well as song cycles and an opera. His most popular and most-performed work is Fiesta del Pacifico, a piece for concert band.
Nixon received several awards including a Phelan Award, the Neil A. Kjos Memorial Award, and five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was elected to the American Bandmasters Association in 1973, the same year he won the association’s Ostwald Award for his composition Festival Fanfare March. In 1997, Nixon was honored by the Texas Bandmasters Association as a Heritage American Composer. At his death, he was Professor Emeritus of Music at San Francisco State University.
His students at San Francisco State University include Kent Nagano.
Nixon died on October 13, 2009, from complications from leukemia at Mills Peninsula Hospital in Burlingame, California.