Composer, journalist and author Tom Manoff is best known perhaps as the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered from 1985 -2012. Manoff’s reviews are much coveted by artists and record companies for their ability to move an even unknown artist’s recording to a top place on the Amazon.com classical chart overnight.
Manoff is now head of the fledgling network Washington Public Radio.
Manoff has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and other newspapers. His first book The Music Kit (WW Norton and Company, 1976-2001) has long been among the top selling college textbooks for fundamentals of music. His second text, Music: A Living Language (Norton, 1982), was praised for its groundbreaking approach which placed standard music history in a broader historical, cultural and musical context. Music: A Living Language was the first college text from a major publisher to explore all musical styles as equal art forms. Manoff’s section on Joni Mitchell resulted in the singer asking Manoff to write a history of her music for industry release with her album Turbulent Indigo. Manoff appears also in the PBS American Masters documentary about Mitchell.
Manoff is also active as a composer and record producer. He has a long career as a music teacher and coach. Among his former students have been pianist Susan Manoff (now coach at the Paris Opera,) and actress Mia Farrow.
Born in Hollywood to family of blacklisted screen and theater artists, he was raised in New York.
Manoff started piano studies at age 5. At 10, he began piano, theory and analysis with pianist and conductor David Labovitz, with the music of Bach as the centerpiece. He later sang with Labovitz’s chorus for ten years. More than half the repertoire were Bach Cantatas which Manoff considered one of the most important influences on his musical craft.
Manoff dropped out of Columbia University after one term, unhappy with the music program, and became a civil rights activist. He was a CORE worker in Mississippi in 1964 and 1965 and speaks to young students in America today about its history. Manoff’s involvement in the civil rights movement remains a vital part of his world view.
Manoff enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in 1965, where his teachers were Ludmila Ulehla (theory and composition), Bronson Ragan (keyboard improvisation and figured bass) Hugh Ross (choral conducting), Anton Coppola (orchestral conducting), Nicholas Flagello (orchestration) and additional studies and workshops with David Diamond and Hanz Werner Henze.
Manoff joined the faculty of the Manhattan School’s Preparatory Division in 1967 while still a student, teaching theory, keyboard harmony, ear training and composition until 1978. In 1968 he also became head of theory, composition and teacher training at the Third Street Music School Settlement where he developed intensive programs for young minority students with professional musical potential. Many of these students became professional musicians in New York.
During that time Manoff freelanced in New York as a choral conductor (often with small orchestras when conducting Bach), coaching vocalists and instrumentalists and working in recording studios, composing, playing and producing in a variety of styles to supplement his teaching income.
Manoff’s compositions include music for the Oscar-winning documentary Down and Out in the USA and Honor is so Sublime Perfection, performed at Tanglewood. He is currentlly working on an opera, The Trials of Katherina.
Manoff’s current projects include The Music Kit 5th Edition,The Harmony Kit, Music : A Living Language, second edition for the web, The Trials of Katherina Kepler. an opera, and Chase the White Horse, a political history and memoir about his family and also his time in the civil rights movement.
Manoff lived in Stuttgart for many years when his former wife was a soloist with the state opera, an hour’s drive from Weil der Stadt where his opera takes place, Manoff is now based in NYC and Berlin. He also has an office in Canton, Ms. where he is working with the Canton Freedom House Museum and the George and Rembert Washington History Foundation and other civil rights and community development projects.