Arts and Humanities People and Community

Frost School faculty member celebrates in ‘Stride’ with Pulitzer win

Tania León, the 2021 Distinguished Composer-in-Residence for the Frost School of Music, was recently awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in music.
Tania Leon
Tania León, the 2021 Distinguished Composer-in-Residence for the Frost School of Music

Tania León’s music journey began at an early age when her grandparents realized she had a love for the art form. 

“My grandmother decided to take me to a music conservatory in Cuba at just four years old because she said I was totally enamored of sound and melodies. She claims I always stood by the radio to flip through the stations to find music to dance and enjoy the rhythm to,” recounted León. “My grandfather even bought me a piano at the age of 5. That’s the beginning of my story with music.”

The Cuban-born composer’s love and dedication to music carried throughout her life—leading her to most recently winning the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for music for her orchestral composition, “Stride.”

“I must say I have never chased after any awards, so I was in shock when I found out I won because I had no idea this was happening. I got very sentimental and started to cry. I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was an amazing feeling,” said León.

León, who is currently the 2021 Distinguished Composer-in-Residence for the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, explained that the award made her ruminate about different points of her life. 

“Now, reflecting at what this award means to me personally, it truly represents all of my hard work and sacrifices I’ve made over the years. And that's part of the reason why I became so emotional when I found out I received this prize,” explained León. “It made me reflect upon my arrival to the United States from Cuba many years ago, and it even made me reflect on the beginning of my music career when I started studying in Havana, Cuba. My mind all of a sudden went to all of these memory files.” 

According to the musician, “Stride” is a piece that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the nation. 

“I was very inspired by the life of Susan B. Anthony, who was a leader of that movement. Listening to her voice and listening to her proclamations gave me the drive to show the resilience of somebody that has so much passion to spark change in the world,” León said. 

She pointed out that the title of the piece was inspired by her personal accounts of witnessing the dedication of people fighting for a cause they believe in. 

“For example, when I arrived in the U.S., I saw the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. on television and that made a big impression on me. So, I put together a coalition of memories that had the same energy, and it gave me the idea of titling the piece ‘Stride,’” she shared. 

Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider, artistic director of the Henry Mancini Institute. Photo: Jenny Abreu for the Frost School of Music

Maria Schneider, artistic director of the Frost School’s Henry Mancini Institute, was also celebrated as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in music for her double album, “Data Lords.” It was released last year and features the world-class Maria Schneider Orchestra and won the Grammy Award for best large jazz ensemble album. 

“I feel it as a great honor. I’ve served on a couple of Pulitzer committees in the past,” said Schneider. “And I know the mountain of music they comb through, and I know the great care they take to choose a winner and any finalists. So, I know what it means to be chosen to be in this elite group. It’s very exciting.”   

She also said she is proud to be in León’s company at the Frost School of Music. 

“The students must be loving the opportunity to work with her as well. When I've heard Tania talk about process and motivation in writing music, it sounds so similar to my own. That, to me, is powerful—to have people having similar motivations and processes to write, but to come to very different results based on each person’s unique paths in life,” Schneider explained. 

The Pulitzer Prize in music is awarded to one person each year for a distinguished  composition, who is chosen from three nominated finalists. 

“This year we congratulate two of our esteemed faculty—the 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner, our Distinguished Composer in Residence, Tania León, and our artistic director of the Henry Mancini Institute, Maria Schneider, a nominated finalist in the jury decision,” said Shelton G. Berg, dean of the Frost School. “Both of these brilliantly talented composers have contributed inspiring works that are a commentary on our history and the state of the world. I join in congratulating Tania and Maria on their extraordinary achievements and am thrilled our students get to experience studying with these great music masters.”

Charles Mason, chair of the Department of Theory and Composition at the Frost School of Music, said he is excited and not surprised about León’s big win. 

“Our students have been extremely fortunate to have been able to study with her one-on-one throughout the spring semester and will continue to do so during the fall term,” said Mason. “She is always kind and encouraging, challenging the students to broaden their music awareness and to reach further into their natural creative forces to realize that music has a voice, has something to say.” 

León is excited to see what the future holds for her. 

“My goals are always changing. One of the things I have learned in life is to be flexible with myself, which is something that is a big challenge. I want to let life show me the way,” León remarked. 

She instills the same advice to her students.

“I sincerely hope that they take chances and risks. Not only in their writing but in the progress of their life,” León said. “Without taking risks, sometimes we don’t go into the most important thing in life, which is discovery.”