Susanna Payne-Passmore


Third Year Graduate Student in Composition


As a composer, I like to create musical journeys that reveal the inherent or obscured beauty of that which is strange or queer. I especially enjoy crafting and exploring evocative sonic realms through the use of new harmonic paradigms. Typically, I create new work for  instrumental ensembles or individual performers, but I also love to collaborate with artists working in other mediums, especially the visual arts, storytelling, and movement. I also write songs and librettos, including those for my own dramatic works.

At Penn, I’m looking forward to learning more about electronic and electro-acoustic music, improvisational practices, and contemporary orchestration, as well as expanding my harmonic techniques. I am also looking to develop myself as a performer of contemporary music on piano and as a vocalist. One of my main research interests outside of composition is the folk polyphony of the Republic of Georgia, where I lived from 2012-2013 on a Fulbright. I also enjoy learning about the pedagogy of musicianship, the cognition and perception of music (especially the temporal aspect of it), and the systems of harmony used by composers of the mid-20th century.

I am excited to return to Philadelphia to pursue a PhD in Music Composition at Penn, as I grew up here. It was a collaboration with at Philadelphia’s Astral Artists that first inspired me to consider composition. I later studied composition New College of Florida with Stephen Miles, where I graduated after competing an interdisciplinary thesis that examined how music creates meaning. Later, I  received my M.M. in Music Composition from the University of Oregon, where I studied with Robert Kyr and David Crumb and mounted my first large-scale work, Captain: a chamber opera.

When not composing, I enjoy sipping tea, playing with cats, devouring books, and plotting new librettos.  For more about my music, visit my website:

Please note: my pronouns are they/them.