Donald Harris served on the faculties and as an administrator at the New England Conservatory of Music (1967-77) and the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford (1977-88), before becoming dean of the College of the Arts and professor of music at Ohio State in 1988. In 1997, after a thirty-year career as a senior-level administrator in higher education and the arts, he stepped down as dean and rejoined the OSU faculty in composition. From 1954 until 1968, Harris lived in Paris where, among other things, he was music consultant to the United States Information Service, and produced the city's first postwar Festival of Contemporary American Music.
Harris earned bachelor's and master's degrees in composition from The University of Michigan, where he was a student of Ross Lee Finney. He continued his studies with Lukas Foss, Boris Blacher, Nadia Boulanger, and Max Deutsch, a student of Arnold Schoenberg.
Harris has received numerous commissions, including the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in the Library of Congress, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Radio France, and the Cleveland Orchestra. He is co-editor of the W. W. Norton publication of the correspondence between Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, for which he received an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award (1989). He was honored with an award in composition from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1991), which led to a retrospective recording of his work on the CRI label (1994). His music is published by the Editions Jobert in France, and in this country by Theodore Presser and GUNMAR Music. In addition to CRI, his compositions have been recorded on the Delos and NEC-Golden Crest labels.
On the occasion of his eightieth birthday and retirement from the full-time faculty, Harris was the featured composer at the 2011 Ohio State University Contemporary Music Festival. In addition to a concert featuring six of his compositions, the Festival showcased the premiere of a 50-minute documentary film, Sonata 1957, about a piece that Harris composed in Paris as a young man. In June, Harris was honored with the OSU School of Music’s Distinguished Service Award “in recognition of the trailblazing contributions and the dedicated service provided to the music profession and the arts community as a composer, professor, and arts administrator.”
A Letter from Home (Mary Oliver) for two soprano voices, flute, viola, harp, Lucy Shelton. Christine Shumway Mortine, sopranos, COSMOS (Katherine Borst Jones, flute; Mary E. M. Harris, viola; Jeanne Norton, harp), Ohio State University Contemporary Music Festival, Weigel Auditorium, Columbus, Ohio, April 2011. Symphony #2, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, Ohio Theatre, Columbus, Ohio; co-commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, April 2012.
Five Tempi (LUDUS III), Boston Musica Viva, Richard Pittman, conductor, Tsai Performance Center, Boston, MA, Nov. 2010. Lyric Fanfare, OSU Symphony Orchestra, Marshall Haddock, conductor, Contemporary Music Festival, Ohio State University, April 2011. Pierrot Lieder, Lucy Shelton, soprano, OSU ensemble, Russel Mikkelson, conductor, Contemporary Music Festival, Ohio State University, April 2011. String Quartet #1, High Street Four, Contemporary Music Festival, Ohio State University, April 2011. Piano Sonata 1957, Daniel Beliavsky, pianist, Nicholas Roerich Museum, NYC, May 2011.
An essay on Donald Harris’s early Piano Sonata (1955-56), by English critic John France, was published in Great Britain on the MUSICWEB International:www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Aug05/Donald_Harris.htm
Fantasy for violin and piano was presented by Charles Wetherbee and Caroline Hong on March 28, 2005, Ohio State University. Five Tempi (LUDUS III) was heard in an April 4 performance at Ohio State University. On April 12, the Duvall Quartet performed Second String Quartet at Ohio Wesleyan University.