Michael Rickelton is a composer of “extremely attractive and thoughtfully shaped” (Music Web International) music that “seizes the ear” (Gramophone). An accomplished composer of solo, chamber, and orchestral works, Michael has a powerful and critically acclaimed affinity for the voice. Composer Lori Laitman described Michael as having “a great and clear gift for writing for the voice.” A singer in his own right, Michael brings melodic shape and linear drive to all his pieces, be they solo, chamber works, orchestral music, or electronic sound design.
Renaissance music opened the gateway to Michael’s creative journey through its direct and impactful harmonic language. The inspiration for his work encompasses poetry, prose, visual arts, and diverse musical influences from Hässler to Nine Inch Nails. His involvement in the performance of symphonic vocal music cemented his role as a musician, and sacred works for chorus remain a cornerstone of his compositional output.
Michael’s work echoes music of the past yet lives undeniably within a contemporary framework. He often draws inspiration from combining centuries-old chant melodies with modern harmonies and performance techniques. This fusion of old and new is a central pillar of Michael’s creative process, clearly heard in works such as 27 Tenebrae Responsories and the solo piano piece “It is finished.”
Many of his compositions address intense, challenging experiences that affect people at both personal and societal levels. I am sorry that it has come to this is an examination of Veteran's health care and suicide. “The End of a Season,” written at the request of the Christian Scholars’ Conference, explores abandonment and loneliness. “The End of a Season" begins Michael’s strong connection to the poetry of Dana Gioia, the most recent California Poet Laureate and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Gioia’s poems make up the song cycle Impossible Season. Michael also set Gioia’s “Pentecost,” a reflection upon the grief, anger, and guilt of a parent after the death of their young child. Pentecost was the recipient of the Gregg Smith Choral Composition Award, was the winner of the Pacific Chorale Choral Composition Contest, and was recorded by The John Alexander Singers on their American Voices album with Delos Records.
Recordings of Michael’s music have also been released by Albany Records and Petrichor Records. Time and Memory (Albany) is a portrait album of Michael’s work for solo voice and piano, including Time and Memory: suite for voice and piano on poems of William S. Trout; Battle Songs; and Impossible Season. Michael’s 6:46 was recently released by Petrichor Records on their series New Music by Living Composers. His 2021 release Effuse / Allure / Ancient Light is based on a trio of paintings by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary, who describes her own work as “a window into the chaos… inviting the unconscious.”
Michael’s music has received awards and honors from ASCAP, American Composers Orchestra, The American Prize, Bluffton College, Gregg Smith and Syracuse University, Ithaca College, Lipscomb University, Meistersingers, Southeastern Composers' League, Pacific Chorale, and The Peabody Conservatory. His music has been featured in performances and readings by ensembles such as the Baltimore Symphony, Nashville Symphony, Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Pacific Chorale, and the Choir of the Washington National Cathedral.
Michael is an active and devoted music educator, serving on the music faculties of The Peabody Conservatory, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, and Loyola University Maryland. He also maintains a private teaching studio and co-organizes Go Compose North America, an organization offering online workshops and opportunities for young composers. Michael has taught students from numerous countries and four continents, many of which have had their works rehearsed, performed, and recorded by some of the world’s leading musicians.
As a sought-after vocalist, Michael performs regularly with organizations in Baltimore and the Washington, DC metro area. He has received honors from the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and has recorded as an ensemble singer and soloist with Naxos Records, Decca Records, and Gothic Records.
A native of Charlotte, NC, Michael holds degrees from The Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University (D.M.A., M.M.), where he studied composition with Michael Hersch, and Lipscomb University (B.M.), where he studied with Jerome Reed. Michael also attended the European American Musical Alliance program at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, France, studying Nadia Boulanger’s pedagogical traditions. He resides in Baltimore, MD, with his wife and two sons. Determined to get his 13,000 steps in each day, his athletic pursuits include powerlifting, CrossFit, and coaching both of his sons’ baseball teams.