Creative Space: Composer by numbers featured in Annapolis Chamber Players concert

Selene San Felice

Beethoven was inspired to write music from its vibrations. Antonio Vivaldi was inspired by the changing seasons. Annapolis composer John Leupold is inspired by math.

Leupold, 36, is an associate professor of music theory and composition at Washington College on the Eastern Shore.

Leupold has been making music since he was 5 years old, starting with piano. As he grew up, he became a trombonist and percussionist, then finally in high school, a writer.

“I enjoyed playing things that had already been written, but I had a lot more fun when I had the freedom just to do whatever I want. That turned into the composition as the most common sense outlet for me. People like to play my pieces so I was able to keep going with it,” he said.

Leupold’s work will be featured Sunday when the Annapolis Chamber Players perform “Lyric Convergence” at the First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis.

While many composers write music based on their feelings or senses, Leupold is excited by numbers.

“If you start reading my pieces, you’ll see a lot of them have some sort of math influence that kind of ties into the rhythm,” he said.

“A lot of times I’ll be reading something about math, science or astronomy and that will inspire me to start writing. Or I’ll see a very interesting number sequence and think, ‘Oh, that would make a really cool sequence of pitches.’ … It’s kind of like a logic puzzle almost, figuring out how all these parts can fit together.”

This makes Leupold’s music writing a blend of Count von Count from “Sesame Street” and Stephen Hawking.

His song “Trio Simpatico” was inspired by the theory of Riemann surfaces and hyperbolic geometry, which involves the 2-3-7 triangle group. The piece is based on the number seven and played at a time signature in seven.

Another one of his songs, “Threes on the Line,” is all about the number three, with the pitch material drawn from the phone numbers of the performers he had in mind. The resulting group of pitches became his scale for creating melodies and pitches. At one point in the song, both of their phone numbers are stated in their original sequence.

“Threes on the Line” is also influenced by Leupold’s love of world music, using north Indian rhythms from the tabla, a pair of Indian drums. He learned to play the steel drums while studying in Trinidad and Tobago, and the tabla while spending time in India. He also keeps his love of these sounds alive on the Eastern Shore, where he directs the Washington College and Chestertown Community steel bands.

Leupold has also been inspired by the stars, turning astronomical charts into music.

His piece “Envisaging a Supercluster,” from his 2016 album “Exasperating Perpetuation,” uses the constellations Leo, Monoceros and Taurus to create a song. Leupold traced the charts for each constellation onto graph paper, then translated those into pitches and rhythms for a section of the song on each constellation.

“The first is Leo, the lion. This section is serious. It starts slow and ominous but quickly picks up the pace,” Leupold said. “The second section is Monoceros, the unicorn. This is slower and a bit more ambiguous, much like the mysterious nature of the unicorn. In the final section, Taurus is featured. Taurus is a representation of the bull and the music reflects this. It is strong and powerful. As it progresses, the music becomes stern and stubborn.”

His music is classical, but listeners shouldn’t expect Beethoven. He’s got a bone to pick with the old names in the business.

“Of course, everybody loves Mozart and Beethoven and Bach and Brahms and all those people — and you have to — but there’s a little animosity sometimes with modern composers and all the old dead composers,” he said.

“When you go to concerts, you almost always hear them and you never hear living composers. Modern composers feel they’re being underserved by modern musicians who only play Bach and all that old stuff.”

Before his music is played in Sunday’s Annapolis Chamber Players “Lyric Convergence” concert, Leupold asks listeners to keep their ears and mind open.

“They think if it’s a 21st-century piece it’s going to be weird or something like that. That’s not the case. There are a lot of familiar sounds. I reference a lot of pop music in my pieces and there’s a lot of rhythm, so you can find it really engaging if you just go in with an open mind and try to enjoy the concert.”

How to listen

John Leupold's songs will be played at the Annapolis Chamber Players Lyric Convergence at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, 171 Duke of Gloucester St.

You can also hear his songs at

Send tips about Anne Arundel artists with unique talents and stories to Selene San Felice at and Thalia Juarez at

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad