The secret is out: RIO Revolution no longer has a monopoly on the music of Dennis Belisle.

The music director for the nondenominational church on East Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville will graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Music in December with a master’s degree in composition (along with a theory pedagogy certificate). As part of his work, members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will perform his compositions at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, in the Powell Recital Hall of the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center on the UT campus.

It’s a performance funded by the inaugural Robert W. Pedersen Memorial Research Award, which was given for the first time to Belisle. According to a press release from UT, Pedersen, a graduate of the university, left the money in an endowment earmarked “for awards for outstanding performance by students and/or faculty.”

“The support of this grant is allowing me to follow through with my plans to have professional musicians perform and record my compositions,” Belisle said in the press release. “This concert will make a significant impact on my professional reputation as a composer and help to make a long-lasting impression as a graduate of UT.”

As a nontraditional student, Belisle could have easily continued his career as a commercial musician, music director, teacher and performer, but at age 46, he decided to return to school. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in sacred music in spring 2018 and immediately began work on his master’s.

“I knew that there was more for me to learn, a bigger artistic world for me to explore, and a drive to do the work necessary to move to the next stage of my professional life,” he said.

Belisle credits assistant professor Andrew Sigler with invaluable assistance toward the pursuit of his dream, which is to eventually become a composer of film scores.

“For the last two years, Dr. Sigler has guided me and helped me shape my own compositional voice,” Belisle said. “For my thesis I chose to compose a string quartet, a musical form which stands alongside the symphony and concerto as one of the most challenging tests of a composer.”

As his compositions took shape, he organized a string quartet ensemble from the Graduate Strings Studio at UT to perform a piece at the New Sound concert in April 2018. The success of it emboldened him to do even more.

“As I embark on a career as a composer at the midpoint of my life, it is in my best interest to document as many of my compositions as possible with performances by professional players, including my 20-minute string quartet,” he said.

Reaching out to the Knoxville Symphony to gauge interest in the performance of his piece, he received some encouraging feedback, he added.

“Sean Claire, violinist and longtime KSO member, listened to and reviewed my work and informed me that he was personally interested in performing at my recital, indicating that ‘I wouldn’t miss this performance — you have a great piece of music here,’” Belisle said. “He also informed me that my woodwind quintet pieces, which I also submitted for performance, were so well received by the orchestra’s woodwind quintet that they had asked for permission to perform those works as part of the symphony’s Q-Series concerts as part of their upcoming season. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the interest in my music.”

For Friday’s concert, Belisle wanted members of the KSO to perform his string quartet and three woodwind quintet pieces as well as three mixed chamber pieces incorporating the string quartet, the woodwind quintet and voice. While the cost for the rehearsals and the performance is several thousand dollars, the research grant will cover most, if not all, of the expenses.

According to Sigler, the accomplishment is a hallmark of distinction for both Belisle and the program itself.

“(It) is a really wonderful example of the possibilities for graduate students at the university in general and the School of Music in particular,” Sigler said in a press release. “His hard work and willingness to seize and capitalize on opportunities serve as a blueprint for us all. I couldn’t be prouder of his achievements and can’t wait to see what’s in store for Dennis going forward.”

For more information, visit Belisle’s website at Friday’s performance is free and open to the public.

RIO Revolution music director Dennis Belisle is completing his graduate work at the University of Tennessee School of Music, and members of the Knoxville Symphony will perform his original works on Friday.

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