alumni music 1000pxOne day in 1971, Nueva piano teacher Vladimir Pleshakov noticed Greg Pliska ’74 trying keys on the piano and suggested he attempt to write a piece of music. Ten year-old Greg agreed and wrote a string quintet — a feat that, at the time, Greg had no idea was unusual for a kid. He then performed his composition with some Nueva classmates and received a standing ovation.

Greg’s debut at Nueva was thrilling and spurred him to become a composer, writing scores for short films, Broadway plays, television programs on Discovery and PBS, and themes for podcasts. Greg now lives in New York City where he composes, orchestrates, and conducts for theater, feature films, documentaries, and television productions. His recent work includes orchestrations of themes for IMAX and the CBS Evening News.

“That I've gone on to a career creating music is due to the willingness on the part of a teacher to meet a student where he is and bring him forward, without regard for what might be normal,” said Greg. “Nueva just made that kind of exploration possible.”

Exploration has continued to serve Greg well as a composer.

“There are physical and acoustic properties of sound that as an orchestrator I am always making use of in very intentional ways,” said Greg. “Musicians combine a fascinating range of tools: physical and mathematical properties, culturally-based responses, emotional expression. It's not just what makes music compelling; it's what makes it eternally fun to work with!”

Greg carries his love of learning into work every day and maintains an inquisitive, open-to-learn approach.

“Early on I thought I was supposed to pretend I knew everything, and not ask questions,” said Greg. “I continue to remind myself, even with all my experience and knowledge, to be willing to ask questions and to not know everything because that's the only way I can grow and embrace new opportunities.”

Greg now channels obstacles into fuel for his creativity.

“If you tell me I can only use four instruments for my next composition, I could decide that was an obstacle to my creativity,” said Greg. “But for me, that's an opportunity; my own creativity is spurred by parameters. Parameters are fundamental to what I do.”

Greg has to contend not just with parameters, but also with the critics who review his work.

“The first time you read a review of your own work and find it full of mistakes—not mistakes of opinion but simple facts—you realize how unreliable reviews are,” said Greg. “Critics serve a purpose for the audience, but if you put any stock in what a critic says of your work—positive or negative—you're sunk.”

Critics’ opinions can drive ticket sales with a good review or wreck a show with a bad one. Rather than listening to the critics, Greg relies instead upon feedback from his collaborators, colleagues, his own instinct and experience, and his perception of the audience's response to the work.

“I’ve learned that success is a metric that I define, not anyone else,” said Greg. “I commit 100% to what I do, I make the best work I can, I work positively and respectfully with my colleagues, and I aim to make the world a better place as I go along. Being fired from a job can hurt, but if I know I did my best, it ultimately isn't failure. And when it has happened and I know how I was culpable in making it happen, I manage to make that a learning experience for the future.”

In addition to his well-received Nueva debut, Greg recalls many other fond musical moments as a student, particularly with legendary music teacher Gigi Fitzmaurice. From singing Pirates of Penzance songs, to creating musique concrète tape loops by layering various sounds, to listening to Stockhausen, students were exposed to all kinds of music from many different composers.

“Fundamental to my education was a love of learning. Everything at Nueva was about discovery, and I hope my children get to experience even a fraction of that.”



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