Not one to mince words, College of Music alumnus Dylan Fixmer gets right to the point: “I want music to have a purpose,” he says. But finding his purpose didn’t come right away.
Fixmer earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in 2010 and went straight into teaching. Which was fine. Still, he admits, “I’d been composing my whole life. I was always noodling on some sort of piece.
“Five years ago, my mom showed my wife [alumna Sarah Off] and me a song I’d written many years ago. I guess I’ve always been a composer.”
But first things first: With an undergrad diploma from CU Boulder in hand, he spent a decade teaching in small Colorado towns such as Hotchkiss and Rifle, also serving as a counselor at the YMCA of the Rockies. Along the way, he earned a master’s in music education from Indiana University. Truth be told, Fixmer got his biggest kick out of time spent in Hotchkiss, population 875.
“I put together a little 8th-grade jazz band,” he reminisces, somehow managing to keep a straight face as he listed the instrumentation: “We had two tubas, a bass clarinet and drums. I played piano and there were some other instruments. But the best part was, they played my compositions.”
Are we starting to see a pattern here? Fixmer, 35, recalls that, yes, while pursuing his degree at our College of Music, he studied composition and theory with noted Professor of Composition Carter Pann. Even as he pursued his graduate degree in music education and found work in the classroom, life as a composer continued to beckon. “I was always going through textbooks on composing,” says Fixmer, exemplifying the college’s universal musician mission. “I wanted to expand my vocabulary.”
And so it came to pass, in a big and meaningful way. Fixmer not only found life as a composer, but he found a way of writing music with a purpose. “I’m not sure I’d ever want to write a piece of absolute music,” he admits, referring to a composition that is simply a collection of melodies with no storyline or subtext. Instead, Fixmer creates for a reason.
Consider his Violin Concerto, premiered by the Greeley Philharmonic in September 2022—in partnership with the Greeley Family House and other homelessness assistance organizations to increase support for the unhoused. This work has such an extraordinary backstory that it deserves a movie treatment. Off performed the premiere on an instrument once owned by Terri Sternberg—an accomplished musician who had fallen on hard times, became homeless and died in 2013. Learning her story propelled Fixmer to create a heartfelt concerto that generated critical raves, a radio broadcast on Colorado Public Radio and eventually helped bring attention to the cause of homelessness as far away as London and Paris.
His deep concern about people goes beyond writing a thoughtful piece of music, he stresses. “In Greeley, I’m on a homelessness task force. That’s part of my desire in identifying topics to write about—ones that focus on human connections.”
Those connections now include some of Fixmer’s neighbors in Northern Colorado. Recently, another of his orchestral works was premiered by the Greeley Philharmonic where he now serves as composer-in-residence and where he’s created an impactful education outreach program. His “Seven Symphonic Portraits: A Weld County Reflection”—commissioned by the Greeley Philharmonic and the Weld Community Foundation—was unveiled in October at the Union Colony Civic Center. “It’s for the people of Weld County,” he says, “to describe the experience of living here, of what brings people to this county.”
There’s not enough space to cover all that the JW Pepper Editor’s Choice Award recipient has to offer. No space to discuss his children’s Spanish-language opera, “Clara y los Cuarto Caminos” (“Clara and the Four Ways”). Nor to get around to his side career in a guitar-fiddle duo with his wife, appearing at folk festivals playing bluegrass and traditional foot-tapping Irish tunes. No time to write about a commissioned work aimed at increasing interest in mental illness.
Once again, Fixmer—with recent commissions and premieres under his belt from UC Health, Opera Guanajuato and the Crested Butte Music Festival, among others—doesn’t mince words. “I don’t want to be typecast,” he says.