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Elinor Armer

Elinor Armer headshot


Office 611


Courses Taught

Applied Lessons

Composer at the Piano


MA, California State University, San Francisco

BA, Mills College

Armer… a kind of musical fabulist, spinning fantasies about actual and mythical beings with humor, affection, and a sense of wonder. Her musical style is distinctly modern, but freely and authentically so, projecting her own individual voice."

— San Francisco Classical Voice


What is your hometown?

David, CA

What is your favorite recording?

A 78 RPM record of Gershwin playing Rhapsody in Blue with Paul Whiteman's band.

What are you passionate about outside of music?

Friendship, writing, nature, and politics.

Who were your major teachers?

Darius Milhaud and Alexander Libermann.

What is a favorite quote that you repeatedly tell students?

“Don't try to reinvent the wheel in an effort to be original; your music will always have your own personal stamp.”

What was a turning point in your career?

More of a turning back point: I worked in advertising for a year, and had to return to music making and teaching, for sanity and fulfillment.

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?

I would be someone else.

If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?

Bach, Bartók, and Mahler.

From a music history perspective, what year and city are most important to you?

Paris, 1915.

What are your most important collaborations?

Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts with Ursula Le Guin; Leonardo's Riddle with Corey Jamason and SFCM Baroque Ensemble; Will You, Won't You? with Mariya Kaganskaya, mezzo.

Who are three students you have had the privilege of teaching?

Aleksandra Vrebalov, Dan Becker, and Carolyn Yarnell.

What recordings can we hear you on?

Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts, Koch International

Music of Darius Milhaud, Kleos

Recollections And Revel, Music and Arts Programs of America

What is your unrealized project?

Currently working on an opera based on Ursula Le Guin's novel Lavinia.


Composer Elinor Armer comes from a family of writers, artists, and inventors. Born in Oakland, California in 1939, raised in Davis, and educated in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has spent her life on the West Coast and closely identifies with Northern California. Armer earned a BA at Mills College, studying composition with Darius Milhaud and piano with Alexander Libermann, and an MA in composition from San Francisco State University, working with Roger Nixon. Armer’s music is widely performed throughout the United States and abroad. It includes solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal, and choral works, many devoted to word-setting. For the 2014-15 concert season, Armer mounted nine retrospectives of her music, including four one-woman shows and four world premieres, celebrating her 75th birthday in a Diamond Jubilee series. Among her best-known works for a variety of forces is ‘Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts’, an eight-part fantasy series created over a ten- year period with writer Ursula K. Le Guin. All of Armer’s music is published by Subito Music. For all of her adult life, Armer has taught piano, theory, composition, and music history at every level, in schools and universities and at her home in Berkeley, California. She has also given master classes in the U.S. and abroad, including China’s Shanghai Conservatory. For the last 50 years she has been affiliated with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where in 1985 she established the composition department, and where she continues to teach composition. Since 2014, the Conservatory has awarded the Elinor Armer Scholarship in Composition to qualifying applicants. Countless of Armer’s students have achieved success and recognition as composers and continue to thrive as a result of her mentoring.