Photo by Jim Harrison


Composer & Conductor

Ray Fahrner, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, composes all manner of energetic, rhythmic music: progressive rock, string quartet, jazz, samba, musical theater, and choral works. His compositions mix popular and post-modern musical styles with a dash of humor, a burst of instrumental color, and a powerful pinch of polyphony. Consider his piece for three serpents, tom tom and tam-tam – “Serpent Magic” – and an ensemble of shehnai (Indian oboe), oud, African drums and electric guitar – “The Subbasement of Babel!”

Fahrner began his composition studies with Robert Wason and Arnold Franchetti at Hartt College of Music, University of Hartford. The Ohio years followed. At the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, Fahrner studied with Scott Huston and Norman Dinerstein, receiving his doctorate in 1980. Subsequently, he composed music for and produced children’s theater. Landing at Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio, he taught theory and composition there, founding the electronic music lab. After moving to Boston in 1986, he worked as Artistic Director for Young Audiences of Massachusetts, database administrator at MIT, then – for 14 years – Director of Performing Arts for the Colleges of the Fenway. There, he founded and administered COF Dance, COF Theater, COF Chorus, and COF Jazz Band, conducting the latter two.


An award-winning composer and two-time fellow of the MacDowell Colony, his compositions include works for orchestra, chorus, jazz band,  rock band, and theater.  His composition CIRCLE:  A Circus for Mime and Orchestra received an Ohio Arts Council grant, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Composers Fellowship.  His discography includes The Turning Point (2012), for orchestra, on Ravello Records; Pointed Music (2015), music and poetry, and Blasphemer (2020), progressive rock, with Bill Yarrow; Voices of Earth and Air Vol IV (2022), two choral works; Samba Calleya (2022); and Holckenhavn Quartet (2023) for string quartet.  These are available on Spotify and other streaming services.


As a conductor, Fahrner is a champion of new and American music, having conducted 42 world premieres and over 100 American premieres, including those of Gyorgy Ligeti. Conductor of the Cambridge Chamber Singers since 1988, in 1997 he founded the CCS International Composition Competition, one of the world’s preeminent classical a cappella choral composition competitions. Fahrner has conducted musicians as disparate as clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block. In 2007 he conducted the Cambridge Chamber singers in Sacred Ground: A Centennial Tribute to the MacDowell Colony – a concert of music by MacDowell fellow composers – at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

A native of Philadelphia, Ray spends his Cambridge days composing, creating stained glass art, and writing, as well as cultivating a rare native plant garden.


Influenced (scarred?) at an early age by Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges and Bill Scott (the writer of The Bullwinkle Show), Ray is still looking for his voice. (Perhaps he will see it by the sound by the sea.)

Voices of History

A 45 minute arts-in-education program written for the Handel and Haydn Society, which has received over 1000 performances over the last 20 years.

Juan Amor Gris and The Bootlegger’s Daughter

A book project with poet-friend Bill Yarrow. The critics might say, “If I truly understood all that’s in this book, I would go mad, and I don’t have the insurance coverage for that.”