Daniel John Plonsey


Born September 1, 1958 (Labor Day)
Cleveland, Ohio

Presently living in
El Cerrito, California

Dan Plonsey: composer & saxophonist
5670 Ludwig Avenue
El Cerrito, CA 94530


Dan Plonsey was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Cleveland Heights. He has lived in California for 24 years, and in El Cerrito for 14.



Since 1978, Plonsey has written hundreds of works for large and small ensembles. He has received commissions from: The Jewish Music Festival (Berkeley), Dandelion DanceTheater (Oakland), Real Time Operai (New Hampshire), the Bang on a Can People's Commissioning Fund (New York), Theatre of Yugen (San Francisco), the Museum of Children's Art (Oakland), Milkbar International Film Festival (Oakland), the Berkeley Symphony Children's Concert Series, and New Music Works (Santa Cruz).

Most of Plonsey's work has been written without commission, deadline, or any significant outside influence for Daniel Popsicle, his 10-20 person ensemble of unfixed instrumentation. Plonsey terms this work "Music of El Cerrito," as it is impossible to identify by genre. Some pieces are short, such as the 99 pieces of "Color Music" and the 155 "New Monsters;" others are an hour or longer in length, including the Kingdoms Diptych, and the five "Seasons" pieces. Plonsey has also written many pieces for ensembles of multiple (3-13) saxophones; and for chamber opera. He recently began a series of concerti for "guitar and strange ensemble," the first of which being What Leave Behind for Fred Frith and Toychestra.

On a much larger scale, Plonsey is focussed on a series of evening-long music/dance/theater pieces. The first of these was the opera "Leave Me Alone!" with libretto by Harvey Pekar (of American Splendor fame), which was premiered at Oberlin College, January, 2009. This was followed by "Dan Plonsey's Bar Mitzvah," a collaboration with Eric Kupers and Dandelion Dancetheater, which was performed at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco in July, 2010. Next in this cycle will be "The Geometry Teacher" which is about the many connections between math and music, the Pythagoreans, and about the agonizing everyday complexity of teaching.


Plonsey was one of just seven musicians nationwide to win a United States Artists Fellowship in 2009. Plonsey has also been awarded several "Meet the Composer" grants, and an American Composers Forum "Subito" grant for the work with Theatre Yugen.


Inspired by music from many times and places, Plonsey's compositions often arise from a loosely dialectical approach in which pieces are both rational and irrational, simple-minded and overly complex. Plonsey's process of composition often involves the invention of imaginary societies in which imperfection is not only accepted but celebrated. He considers his works the natural result of being "at least slightly out of step with nearly everything. It draws upon all of my weaknesses as much as upon my strengths."


Much of Plonsey's music has been documented on CD; see: Dan Plonsey Discography for full details.

Plonsey is one of eight musicians profiled in Tim Perkis's documentary film, Noisy People.

Plonsey performs his own music and music of others frequently in the Bay Area and beyond in a wide variety of contexts, including, most recently, Anthony Braxton's tentet (a DVD of 6 hours of music to be released in 2005); John Shiurba's 5x5; TriAxium West (a cooperative group devoted to the music of Anthony Braxton); John Schott's Diglossia ensemble; Ben Goldberg's Brainchild; and Eugene Chadbourne's Insect & Western ensembles.

In the previous decade, Plonsey was known as the co-founder of three composers' collectives (New Haven's "Sheep's Clothing," Stamford's "AMP," and the Bay Area's Composers' Cafeteria); the co-founder and occasional editor of the experimental music journal "Freeway;" the bass player in the art-rock band Dreamland; and as founder and curator of the weekly Beanbender's Creative Music Concert Series in Berkeley (weekly from March, 1995-1999, ongoing occasionally).

Plonsey teaches math at Berkeley High School, and lives in El Cerrito with his wife, Mantra, and their two sons, Cleveland and Mischa.