Although he began his education in engineering, Dr. Frank Tirro has become an accomplished musician and music educator. In high school he excelled in mathematics, so after graduation he attended Cornell University on a scholarship to pursue the field professionally. Dr. Tirro always knew that he wanted to be a musician, however, and upon his father’s passing, he decided to return home to attend the University of Nebraska, where he received a Bachelor of Music Education in 1960. He continued with his education, receiving a Master of Music from Northwestern University in 1961, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1974. In addition, he was presented with an honorary Master of Arts from Yale University in 1980.
Dr. Tirro began his career in 1963 as the chairman of the department of music at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Then in 1970, he briefly served as the director of the University of Chicago Chorus before visiting Florence, Italy with Harvard University as a fellow of Villa I Tatti. He then served as a visiting lecturer of music history at the University of Kansas. In 1973, he joined the faculty at Duke University as an assistant and then associate professor of music. During his tenure at Duke University, he also served as the director of the Southeastern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. In 1980, Dr. Tirro became a full professor at the Yale School of Music, where he also served as dean until 1989. In 2010, he earned the title of professor emeritus. Throughout his career in music education, Dr. Tirro held numerous guest lecturer positions at national and international universities in places such as Warsaw, Poland and Shanghai, China. He also served as a consultant for several universities and foundations, and has been an active member of several professional committees. Currently, Dr. Tirro remains on the advisory board of the University of Nebraska Hixson-Lied Foundation.
Outside of his ventures in music education, Dr. Tirro is also a prolific composer and writer. Currently, he is the associate editor of the American National Biography published by Oxford University Press and he is member of the editorial board of American music for the Wittenberg Review. He has composed, edited, authored, and coauthored countless pieces and professional texts throughout his career. He has also contributed numerous articles to professional journals, including 38 biographies to The World Encyclopedia. Specializing in renaissance music and jazz, Dr. Tirro was able to highlight similarities in the two genres early in his career. At a convention for the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Society for Music Theory, and the American Musicological Society, he presented a paper that explained that the silent theme tradition in medieval music is similar to the improvisations in jazz music. The paper received a standing ovation at the convention as well as a book review in the Aquarian Journal.
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