The Well-Tempered Ear

A jazz-pop composer is the new director of the UW School of Music | April 1, 2023

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By Jacob Stockinger

Dan Cavanagh (below) from Texas has been named the next director of the UW-Madison School of Music, effective July 1, 2023. 

Cavanagh’s appointment concludes a national search led by Associate Dean Susan Zaeske of the College of Letters and Science; music professors Mimmi Fulmer, Christopher Taylor, Scott Teeple, Conor Nelson and Daniel Grabois; and School of Music Assistant Director Wendy Johnson. 

The Ear can’t be the only person wondering what a jazz and pop musician — a performer, arranger and composer — means for the school that has always selected its leaders from classical music and music education as the top administrators.

But there is no doubt about Cavanagh’s impressive credentials.

Here is the official press release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

“I am thrilled that Dan will bring to the directorship of the Mead Witter School of Music a cutting-edge vision of research and curricular excellence combined with the wherewithal to get things done thanks to his many years of experience as a music and liberal arts administrator,” Dean Zaeske said.  

Cavanagh is a composer and pianist who has garnered numerous awards in both areas. As a composer he has written or arranged for Latin Grammy-winning AfroBop Alliance, the legendary Patti LaBelle, and a wide range of classical and jazz performers across North America and Europe. He has released five critically acclaimed jazz CDs as a leader. 

His music can be heard on many other recordings both classical and jazz and he continues to be commissioned and programmed around the world. Cavanagh has also performed extensively in North America and internationally. He has been a finalist in the EuropaFest Jazz Contest in Bucharest, and in the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Piano Competition.

“I am very excited to join UW–Madison as the next Pamela O. Hamel/Music Board of Advisors Professor and Director of the Mead Witter School of Music,” Cavanagh said. “The school’s national reputation is bolstered by its amazing faculty, talented students, and accomplished staff.”

Cavanagh is currently the interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington. Prior to serving as interim Dean, Cavanagh held various academic leadership roles, including program director, music department chair, and associate dean. He has also served in high-profile shared governance roles in the University of Texas System, including as Chair of the Faculty Advisory Council representing over 21,000 faculty members across the 14 institutions in the system.  

From 2015-2020, he served as the Co-Chair of Region VI for the Society of Composers and currently serves on the executive board of a2ru (the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities). Cavanagh serves on the board of directors for Downtown Arlington Management Corporation (Arlington, TX), chairs Downtown Arlington’s Cultural Arts District Partners group and serves as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Dallas Winds, a five-time Grammy nominated professional Wind Symphony. 

Cavanagh succeeds Director Susan C. Cook, who will be on sabbatical during the 2023-24 academic year after serving 10 years as director of the School of Music. 

“I look forward to engaging with the Board of Advisors, colleagues across the University, and individuals throughout the community to continue growing the impact, reach and excellence the School of Music creates every day, and to advance the ideals of the Wisconsin Idea through the creative work and scholarship we will produce together,” Cavanagh said.

Do you have any questions or comments you want to share?

The Ear wants too hear.


  1. All well and good, Jake. He has found a way of getting out of Texas by embracing the Wisconsin Idea! It shows good sense. I think that we will be pleased to have him here. Joe

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Joseph Wiesenfarth — April 3, 2023 @ 4:09 pm

    • Hi Joe
      Thank you for your reply.
      You make a good point with good sense and an important connection
      I suspect you are on target


      Comment by welltemperedear — April 3, 2023 @ 7:21 pm

  2. The University of Texas-Arlington is an unsung yet storied institution in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

    With several other amazing artistic institutions in the immediate region (University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Texas A&M-Commerce), UT-Arlington continues to promote classical musicians and musicianship but also rounds out with solid musicianship in the jazz and pop veins, and maintains a very competitive position for students.

    Several of their faculty come from nearby classical institutions (Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Opera, etc.), and they have had students who have won numerous awards in the classical and jazz areas.

    I think that this hire for the Mead Witter School of Music will prove to be prescient.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by David Spies — April 1, 2023 @ 8:45 am

    • Hello David
      Thank you for your detailed and informative reply.
      The background you provide helps to explain why the search committee selected him.
      You may well be right about the choice being prescient.
      Best wishes


      Comment by welltemperedear — April 1, 2023 @ 9:11 am

  3. Wondering about this choice? Not with such an esteemed group of Mead Witter School of Music (MWSOM) faculty on the search committee: Mimmi Fulmer, Christopher Taylor, Scott Teeple, Conor Nelson and Daniel Grabois; and School of Music Assistant Director Wendy Johnson. I have absolutely no doubt that they’ve made the best choice.

    I can’t see that it matters one whit Mr. Cavanagh’s composition arena. What matters is that he is a strong advocate at UW for the Mead-Witter School of Music and work well with its faculty, staff, and students. His administrative credentials speak for themselves and that’s what counts. I find it more interesting that for the first time ever, the MWSOM has chosen a director from outside its faculty, and hooray for that. The outstanding SOM faculty should be in classrooms and on concert stages, not behind a desk – especially as UW budget cuts whittle away at teaching and staff positions.

    Outgoing Director Susan Cook deserves high praise for her leadership over the last 10 years: among other things, the Hamel Center for Music stands as a testament to her perseverance. But she’s also a great researcher and teacher and it will be awesome to have her back in the classroom after her sabbatical!

    Welcome, Dan Cavanagh!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy O — April 1, 2023 @ 8:01 am

    • Hi Kathy
      Thank you for your thoughtful reply.
      All the points you make are excellent.

      It also sounds to me like Mr. Cavanagh is very experienced at using publicity and outside resources — a helpful and even necessary talent at this time and with this anti-intellectual and anti-education Wisconsin Legislature.

      Best wishes


      Comment by welltemperedear — April 1, 2023 @ 8:31 am

  4. It’s hard to know what this portends.
    It might not be as radical as it sounds. Sounds like he has administrative talents and has composed in both jazz snd classical
    Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ann Boyer — April 1, 2023 @ 4:01 am

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