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PhD Dissertation Commentary

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Award winning composer Dr. Michael Merrill was born into a military family in 1988 in Tachikawa, Tokyo, Japan, and claims Albany, Oregon, USA as his home. He began taking piano lessons like a good little boy as a child, but quickly grew bored of it and quit like a normal little boy. He began playing the saxophone in 5th grade and singing in choir during high school, getting involved in theater and stage musicals along the way. He started “composing” at around twelve when he would fiddle around at the piano, trying to play various tunes by ear and experiment with different patterns. He changed his mind from wanting to be a history teacher to a professional musician after playing in band under the direction of Stuart Welsh at West Albany High School, Oregon, who premiered his first orchestration for band in Spring of 2006.


Beginning later that year, he attended Brigham Young University-Idaho where he studied music education for the first few years. After some changes in mind and heart, he ultimately decided to change from music education and saxophone performance, under the tutelage of Dr. Mark Watkins, to composition. The big realisation came when he found himself tinkering around the piano, coming up with new melodies and harmonies, when he should have been practicing. Following the sage career advice to do what you think about when you don't have to think about anything, he made the switch.  He was accepted into the then-budding composition program in 2012 and began his studies under Dr. Daniel Kerr, and later with Darrell Brown.

While at BYU-Idaho, Michael received commissions from various students for their senior recitals, including one from a particularly lovely lady who would later become his wife. He received many awards and recognitions for his music, including two 2nd prizes (Glory to God in the Highest, Winter 2012, and Anthem for Doomed Youth, Fall, 2012) and one 1st place in the school’s Research and Creative Works Conference (Mass for the Last Days, Winter 2014). Anthem for Doomed Youth was also the winner of the school’s first art song competition in June of 2012, where Michael also won the “Audience Favourite” award with Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too (text by Shel Silverstein). In the fall of 2013, Michael’s operetta Perfection of the Life (libretto by Ray Alston) was selected for performance by the school’s opera scenes program, and was well received by the audience on its premiere in December of that year. In 2015, Mike was asked to be the guest adjudicator for the Upper Valley Music Teachers' Association's Young Composers Festival in Rexburg, Idaho.

Mike graduated with a B.M.A. in Composition and Saxophone Performance in April of 2014. In 2016 he earned an MMus in Vocal Music with commendation from the University of Aberdeen under the tutelage of Royal Composer Paul Mealor OStJ, where he studied under the auspices of the Paul Mealor Scholarship for Vocal Composition.


In March 2020, he successfully defended his doctoral thesis focusing in part on the growing concert music tradition from the membership and culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Michael has had works commissioned by middle schools, high schools, universities, and professional ensembles in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His music has been performed by internationally renowned performers including Alex Boyé, the Canadian Brass, and Pro Coro Canada.

Most recently, Mike was selected as the winner of the University of Limerick Ceremonial Music Competition. His piece for organ and trumpet, As an tSionainn: Music for Ceremony and Celebration, is now the official graduation music for the university.


He is the founder of Two Bridges Music Press, a publishing company dedicated to championing the music of composers in the early stages of their careers, and making it easier for performers and composers to make music together.

As a performer, Mike has sung for dignitaries, heads of state and churches, and to worldwide audiences, including in two general conferences of the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for former British PM Theresa May, Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the then-HRH the Prince of Wale and Duchess of Rothesay. He is currently a member of the Willamette Master Chorus.

Mike currently lives in Salem, Oregon, with his wife, Helen, and their two children, Elijah and Sophie.

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