WSU School of Music Director talks life, career

Greg Yasinitsky has performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope


ABBY LINNENKOHL | The Daily Evergreen

WSU School of Music Director Greg Yasinitsky reflects on some of the best moments in his career so far Tuesday afternoon in Kimbrough Music Building.

YASMEEN WAFAI, Evergreen assistant editor

Growing up, Greg Yasinitsky had a piano in the front room of his home. His mother thought it was important to have music in the house, he said.
Yasinitsky took piano lessons as a child, but felt drawn to another instrument.

“I heard saxophone on a record and I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s what I want to do’,” he said.

He said he told people that he was going to be a saxophone player and write music.

“I’m sure they thought I was a goofy little kid,” Yasinitsky said.

That “goofy little kid” went on to do exactly what he said he would. He became the music director at WSU and was recently nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in music.

Yasinitsky is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and grew up surrounded by people who thought music was important. His grandmother was an opera singer and his grandfather loved symphonies.

He was active in his junior high and high school jazz band and spent time after school organizing rehearsals and writing music.

“I made a million mistakes,” he said, “and learned from doing that.”

Yasinitsky pursued his passion for music at a community college with a strong jazz program, and later transferred to San Francisco State University. There he studied with many members from the San Francisco Symphony, and other people at the university who he learned a lot from.

Yasinitsky met his wife, who is also a musician, at SFSU.

“I thought I was a pretty good flute player until I met my wife,” he said.

During his time in San Francisco, Yasinitsky performed in dance clubs and nightclubs and had the opportunity to play gigs with stars like Ella Fitzgerald and comedian Bob Hope when they came through the area.

After graduating, Yasinitsky began teaching at SFSU, as well as other colleges and universities in the area, sometimes teaching at four institutions in one day. He then decided to apply for jobs at other universities around the country and came to WSU in 1982.

After teaching at WSU for a few years, Yasinitsky went to the Eastman School of Music to earn his doctorate in musical arts. He returned to WSU and became the director of the School of Music in 2011.

Yasinitsky said there have been many highlights in his career, but one was the premiere of his now Pulitzer Prize-nominated jazz concerto.

Timothy Muffitt, conductor of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and Lansing Symphony Orchestra, was one of two people who nominated Yasinitsky for the award. Muffitt said he only knew him as a name on a piece of paper, but when a colleague came to him with the idea of Yasinitsky writing a piece for the Baton Rouge Symphony, he looked forward to it.

“I knew how wonderful his work was,” Muffitt said, “so I was thrilled to be doing that.”

He said he believed the concerto deserved a nomination because it is a quintessential American work, due to its incorporation of jazz and classical music. He felt the piece was unique.

“[It’s] a wonderful celebration of American music,” Muffitt said.

He said working with Yasinitsky was great, adding that he thinks the musician is in his prime.

“He is an immensely gifted composer,” Muffitt said, “and the concept of this work was something that I think the world has been waiting for.”