William Brooks



William Brooks studied music and mathematics at Wesleyan University (BA 1965), then received degrees in musicology (MM 1971) and composition-theory (DMA 1976) from the University of Illinois. Among his teachers were Charles Hamm in musicology and Ben Johnston, Kenneth Gaburo and Herbert Brün. He has been associated with John Cage as both performer and scholar; he played in the world premiere of HPSCHD and has several times directed productions of Cage’s Song Books. Brooks taught at the University of Illinois (1969-73) and at the University of California (1973-7), then worked as a freelance composer, scholar and performer before returning to the University of Illinois (1987). There he was Associate Professor of Composition, director of the Contemporary Chamber Singers, and Chair of the Composition-Theory Division for many years. In 2000 he took up his present post at the University of York.

Departmental roles

  • Chair, Finance Committee
  • Department Management Team



  • American music
  • Popular music
  • Experimental music
  • Music and culture
  • Music and memory
  • Extended vocal techniques
  • Musical theatre and film musicals
  • Quotation and reference
  • Mutable (open) forms

Research group(s)

Since 2009, Brooks has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Orpheus Research Centre in Music, Ghent, Belgium, where he also serves as chair of the Editorial Board.

He is a member of the American Musicological Society, of the Society for Composers, Inc., and of the Society for American Music, where he serves on the editorial board.

His music is published by Frog Peak Music.


  • Newberry Library Short-term Fellowship, Newberry Library, Chicago, 2006.
  • Mendel Fellowship, Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington, 2006.
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council Extended Leave, 2006.
  • Associate, Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois, 1994.
  • Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Music Composition, 1986.
  • National Endowment for the Arts Composer's Fellowship, 1982.
  • Smithsonian Institution Research Fellow, 1979-80.
  • Fulbright-Hays Senior Professor of American Music, University of Keele, 1977.


Selected publications

  • Progress, Protest, (Im)possible Music. Contemporary Music Review 29:4, pp. 405–411
  • MetaCage: Essays on and around Freeman Etudes  / Fontana Mix  / Aria. Ghent: Orpheus Institute (Collected Writings of the Orpheus Institute), 2009. 98 p.  
  • Pragmatics of Silence, chapter 6 in Silence, Music, Silent Music, ed. Nicky Losseff and Jenny Doctor (Adershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), pp. 97–126.
  • Music:Sound:Technology, chapter 17 in The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 332–353.
  • Music II: from the late 1960s, chapter 8 in The Cambridge Companion to John Cage, ed. David Nicholls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 128–147.
  • Music in America: an overview, chapters 2 and 10 in The Cambridge History of American Music, ed. David Nicholls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 30–48, 257–275.
  • On Being Tasteless, in Popular Music 2, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 9–18


  • Six Mediaeval Lyrics (2011). For women's choir. 
  • Lombardiran (2009). Theatre piece for alto and baritone, with auxiliary instruments. 
  • A Wake of Music (2008). Four songs to texts by Emily Dickinson, for soprano, clarinet, cello and piano.
  • Metamorphoses (2005). For baritone, soprano, surround sound, and video projection.
  • Small Talk (2002). For four unlike instruments.
  • Common Ground (1995). For large wind ensemble and steel band.
  • Dancing on Your Grave (1990). For chamber orchestra. 
  • For Violin (1990). Violin solo.
  • De Harmonium (1986). For amplified SATB quartet, amplified string quartet, and prerecorded tape (of the same ensemble).
  • Footnotes (1981). Six pieces for solo guitar. 
  • Madrigals (1977). Four pieces for SATB quartet, amplified.



  • The Music of John Cage
  • The Music of Charles Ives
  • Situating Popular Music
  • Music Before Elvis
  • The American Experimental Tradition
  • Composition and Reference
  • Composition
Professor William Brooks

Contact details

Prof. William Brooks
Department of Music
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 4449