Sorrel Hays was born Doris Hays in Memphis, Tennessee, but being a “sound” person she decided that “Sorrel” sings (her maternal grandmother’s family name was Sorrels) so in 1985 she adopted the name Sorrel. She moved to Chattanooga with her parents and two brothers when she was four. At 9 years she was performing regularly for the church, at 12 she began accompanying opera singers, and at 15 she became accompanist and piano soloist with the Chattanooga Boys Choir.
She studied piano for eight years with Harold Cadek at Cadek Conservatory, University of Chattanooga, graduating in 1963. A Maclellan Foundation Scholarship allowed her to study piano and harpsichord with Friedrich Wührer and Hedwig Bilgram at the Hochschule für Musik in
Munich, Germany. With fellowships from the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, she remained in Munich for three years, graduating Diplom Meisterklasse. She earned a Master of Music degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, studying with Paul Badura-Skoda and Rudolf Kolisch. After teaching at Cornell College in Iowa, she moved to New York City where Hilde Somer was her coach in contemporary keyboard music.
In 1971 Hays won first prize at the Gaudeamus Competition for Interpreters of New Music in Rotterdam, and began her international career as a performer of contemporary music. She performed concerts at broadcasting stations in Germany, Holland, Italy and Yugoslavia, appeared at the Como Festival and Pro Musica Nova Bremen, and was invited to celebrate John Cage's 60th birthday by performing his Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra with the Orchestra at the Hague. She gave the first performance in Europe of her own music at the Gaudeamus Composers Week in Holland in 1972, a composition called Hands and Lights for piano strings with photocell activated switches and flashlights beamed across the interior of a grand piano, a composition which she later performed for the Chattanooga Debutante Cotton Ball.
Hays and her music are the subjects of a film documentary by George Stoney, "Southern Voices: A Composer’s Exploration", a journey into childhood memories via the melodies and rhythms of Southern dialect. Hays has composed many works reflecting regional influence, including Tunings for string quartet, and an opera The Glass Woman, based on the life of eccentric glass collector Anna Houston, commissioned by the Chattanooga Opera, produced in New York in 1989 and 1993. She created her southern works of the early 80s during stays at the Ossabaw Island Artist Colony off the coast of Savannah.
During 1989-1990 Sorrel Hays was a resident artist at the Yamaha Communications and Research Center in New York City, commissioned to create music for the Yamaha MIDI Grand Piano. These pieces, 90’s, A Calendar Bracelet, for MIDI Grand and tone generator, are recorded by Loretta Goldberg on the CD “Soundbridge” from Opus One.
For a decade, Hays created a series of pieces called Traveling, based on the microtonal fluctuations of tone generators. The most recent is Debushing America, a collaboration with downtown diva Kristin Norderval, at the Flea Theater. "Cumulative ecstasy....contrapuntal/improv tour de force" wrote the Village Voice about the first in the series, called Take A Back Country Road, performed by Hays on electronic saxophone and DX-7 with Brian Charles on oboe, recorded on the New World label.
Sorrel Hays has written music for films, including for Turner Broadcasting, and is herself a filmmaker. Her film "M.O.M. 'N P.O.P." (Music Only Music, Piano Only Piano) was a critical hit at Pro Musica Nova Bremen Festival, and was shown frequently, including at the National Womens Studies Conference. The audio video painting "Flowing Quilt" made in association with audio engineer Marilyn Ries has been exhibited in various film festivals, including the Baton Rouge Revel. Other films include "C.D., The Ritual of Civil Disobedience", shown at the National Video Festival and in a touring exhibit of the American Film Institute. She directed and composed music for the films "House" and "Pill Woo", in collaboration with videographer Barbara Kristaponis, which were part of her Sound Shadows concert at the Whitney Museum Acoustica Festival in 1990. "House" was shown at the Women in the Director's Chair Festival in Chicago and on the Independent Film Series of Channel Thirteen in New York City. She collaborated on a performance with soprano improviser Kristin Norderval in the film “Reconstruction” about New York City building sites.
WOMEN IN MUSIC
Sorrel Hays directed the first American lecture concert series on women’s music at the New School for Social Research in 1976. Her Tunings was performed in the first concert of women’s music at the Library of Congress. From 1976 to 1985 she was an activist for gender parity among composers and the institutions that support cultural life in America. She was assistant chairperson of the International League of Women Composers, directing the activities of the New York branch. She founded and distributed the ILWC's radio series "Expressions". Hays was representative to the National Music Council, and consultant to National Public Radio to help determine policies regarding equity for women in programming and balanced representation and support. She persistently lobbied ASCAP, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts for a fair representation of women in award categories, repertoire lists and fellowships. Her advocacy resulted in women being added to the Standard Awards Panel of ASCAP for the first time in its history; to the addition of female composers to the list of the Rockefeller Foundation's major competition for performers of American music; and increased applications from women to the NEA.
Hays's docudrama about women's peace camps, Disarming the World/Pulling Its Leg, premiered 1986 over WNYC in Manhattan. She collaborated on a series of programs about lullabies, called "Lullaby, The Universal Tradition" which aired in the Horizon series of National Public Radio.
Sorrel Hays was on the faculties and guest lecturer at numerous universities, including Queens College CUNY, Georgia State University, Vassar, Cornell College, Brooklyn College CUNY, the University of Wisconsin, Georgia Highlands College, and in Artist Residencies with Rhode Island College, the Copenhagen Soundlaboratory, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the New York Foundation on the Humanities and the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 1998 she was consulting designer of the graduate program in electronic music at Yildiz University, Istanbul. She lectured on World Music at the University of West Georgia from 2009 to 2017.
From 1974-1984 Sorrel Hays was consultant in new music for a revolutionary text series called MUSIC, published by Silver Burdett. She created compositions for children, found on the series recordings, and taught summer workshops across the United States for teachers, introducing them to graphic notation, electronic music, and nontraditional composition techniques.
Touching Sound, published by Kendall Hunt, second edition, 2016, explores the effects of sound upon the body through conversations of Hays with Annea Lockwood, Pauline Oliveros and others. The text includes two CDs and sixty musical scores of music from around the world. This text is used in world music, women's studies and music therapy.
AWARDS and PUBLICATIONS
Hays is an Artist Fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts, awarded Fellowships in Music Composition, 1998, and in Media Arts, 1985. She received awards from the American Music Center, the Cary Trust, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Council on the Arts, the Astraea Foundation, Open Meadows, Meet the Composer, Eastman Foundation, and the Tennessee Foundation for the Humanities. Her music is published by Henmar Press/ C. F. Peters, Hildegard Music and Tallapoosa Music. Profiles of her work appeared on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and in composer portraits for Australian Broadcasting. Her writing about music was published in EMMA, the Village Voice, Music Journal, Smithsonian Folkways, EAR, Neuland and in the textbook Touching Sound.
RECORDINGS & PERFORMANCES
"Dreaming the World", New World Records 80520-2
90's, A Calendar Bracelet on “Soundbridge” Opus One 152
Past Present and Bits on "Tone Over Tone" Opus One 135
Un-Necessary Music on Tellus #17 Video Arts Music
"Voicings" Smithsonian Folkways FTS37476
M.O.M. ‘N P.O.P. for three pianos Centaur Records CRC2470
Hush on “Sleepers” Finnadar /Atlantic 90266
Sunday Nights on Finnadar/Atlantic "Adoration of the Clash" SR9021
Celebration of NO and Sound Shadows. on Wergo 00846 Riverrun, two cd compilation of Hoerspiel produced for Westdeustcher Rundfunk Cologne
“Sorrel Doris Hays Plays Henry Cowell” on Townhall Records
Live performance from the Cowell festival, Berkeley 1997, on New Albion
The Needy Sound, 17 minute audio art document created with voices of autistic children using the Brooklyn College Computer Music Center voice re-synthesis program and the Fairlight sampler, aided by an artist residency from Harvestworks. Available from Tallapoosa on CD.
In the recordings collection of the Gaudeamus Foundation in Holland, Hays's 1971 live performances of Jos Kunst Glass Music and John Cage's Sonatas for prepared piano.
Video documentary, 60 minutes: "Southern Voices: A Composer's Exploration" directed by George Stoney, awarded the Blue Ribbon at the 1985 American Film Festival.
Distributed by Filmmaker's Library. In the Donnell Library Film Collection, NY City.
In video, a half hour program of Sorrel Doris Hays performing the premiere of Henry Cowell's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra", including discussion between Hays and the conductor. Filmed and broadcast by Nebraska Television at an historic restored movie theater in Omaha. Available from the New York Public Library Research Collection at Lincoln Center, or for educational use from Tallapoosa Music. A copy is also in the Film Center Archives at Berkeley, California.
Available from Tallapoosa Music, 266 Carnes Road, Buchanan, Georgia, 30113 are the following:
16mm. film "M.O.M. 'N P.O.P", 17 minutes, with sound track performances of Sorrel Hays, Loretta Goldberg and Margaret Tan.
Gentle punk video opera "Touch of Touch". 7 plus minutes
Art music video "Flowing Quilt". 9 minutes
The videos "House" 5 minutes and "Pill Woo" 3 minutes ( from the Sound Shadows concert).
“Echo U.S.A.” 1991, hour long docuart with acousticians, audio engineers in discussion with Sorrel, and examples from echoing spaces in nature and from machines. For radio broadcast.