Mara Gibson

Composer Mara Gibson on map-making, escapism, and taking inspiration from poetry.


Composer Mara Gibson is originally from Charlottesville, VA, graduated from Bennington College and completed her Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo. She also attended London College of Music as well as L’École des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau, France and the International Music Institute at Darmstadt, Germany. She has earned grants and honors from the American Composer’s Forum; the Banff Center; Louisiana Division of the Arts; Arts KC; Meet the Composer; the Kansas Arts Commission National Endowment for the Arts; the International Bass Society; ASCAP, the John Hendrick Memorial Foundation; Virginia Center for the Arts; and Yale University. Recently, she enjoyed a residency at the MacDowell Colony. Internationally renowned ensembles and soloists perform her music throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, Asia, and Europe.

Gibson’s music has been described as “shocking, gripping and thought-provoking… conjuring a flurry of emotions” (PARMA recordings).   She is a regular cross-disciplinary collaborator, having worked with choreographers, visual artists, writers, film makers and musicians.  In 2015, Gibson released her first compilation CD, ArtIfacts, with her second recording, Sky-born, following in November 2017 through Navona/Parma Recordings.  The latest presents new works including “Blackbird,” which features Cascade Quartet. The music draws inspiration from a variety of artistic mediums: “haunting and epic with visceral energy.” Her piano preludes “Conundrums” are inspired by a series of paintings by Baltimore-based artist Jim Condron and performed by Holly Roadfedlt.  Pieces by long-time collaborators Michael Hall, UMKC colleagues and Megan Ihnen are also featured on the new album in “Spark” and “One Voice.”

Dr. Gibson taught as an Associate Teaching Professor at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance for over ten yearswhere she was founder of the UMKC Composition Workshop and co-director/founder of ArtSounds.  From 2015-2017, she coordinated undergraduate composition, managing to triple the Conservatory’s undergraduate composition enrollment. Gibson has also contributed to New Music Box and in fall 2017, she joined Louisiana State University as a Visiting Assistant Professor;  fall 2018, Gibson became Associate Professor of Composition at LSU.


Blackbird begins at 00:38. Recorded in May 2016 by Cascade Quartet in Great Falls, Montana.

Sky-born begins at 5:17, featuring the UMKC Conservatory Singers (including Vicki Olson, Melissa Edwards, Lorissa Sampson, Mindy Guidroz, Michael Patch, Matt Wilson, Joshua Maize, Thou Yang), led by Robert Bode with Samuel Huang, Elaine Ng, violins and Ezgi Karakus, cello. 2016.

E: clipse(d) begins at 9:47. Performed by the UMKC Wind Symphony in 2014.

Map of Rain Hitting Water begins at 17:42. A collaboration between composer, Mara Gibson, film-maker, Caitlin Horsmon and percussionist, Mark Lowry. Studio recording made at the UMKC Recording Studio with Bob Beck. Map of Rain Hitting Water was commissioned by the performer and inspired by a poem by Wayne Miller.

Mentioned in this episode

A map of “Map of Rain Hitting Water” drawn by Mara Gibson

A map of “Map of Rain Hitting Water” drawn by Mara Gibson

Lyrics to Sky-born:

Music, by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), 
American essayist and transcendental philosopher

Let me go where'er I will,
I hear a sky-born music still:
It sounds from all things old,
It sounds from all things young,
From all that's fair, from all that's foul,
Peals out a cheerful song.

It is not only in the rose,
It is not only in the bird,
Not only where the rainbow glows,
Nor in the song of woman heard,
But in the darkest, meanest things
There alway, alway something sings.

'T is not in the high stars alone,
Nor in the cup of budding flowers,
Nor in the redbreast's mellow tone,
Nor in the bow that smiles in showers,
But in the mud and scum of things
There alway, alway something sings.