Peter Zisa, Ph.D.

Dr. Peter Joseph Zisa is an award-winning performer on the six and eight string guitar. Reviewers and audiences across the U.S. and abroad describe Zisa’s musicianship as “dynamic, sensitive, authentic, inspiring and emotionally expressive”. Zisa is grateful for his studies with David Grimes, and with legendary performers Maestro Andrés Segovia, José Rey de la Torre, José Tomas, and Oscar Ghiglia, who have contributed to his musical development.

Early Training and College Years

Zisa’s training on guitar began when he was ten years old with jazz guitarist Mike Sparr. After hearing Maestro Segovia perform, Zisa turned his attention to classical guitar, studying under Guy Horn, and began performing for audiences when he was thirteen years old. In his college years, Zisa performed extensively at universities and music festivals throughout southern California. In 1979, he was awarded first place in the annual Solo Classical Guitar Competition sponsored by the American String Teacher’s Association and was a semi-finalist in the Young Concert Artist Competition in 1983.

Masters and Doctoral Studies

Zisa holds a Masters Degree in classical guitar performance and a Ph.D. in Education. Zisa’s master’s thesis on Manuel Ponce’s Variations Sur “Folia de España” Et Fugue provides a performance analysis of one of the most influential 20th century works in the classical guitar repertoire. Maestro Segovia, in an interview with Zisa, described Ponce’s Folia Variations as a seminal work which best demonstrated the musical and technical capabilities of the guitar.

Zisa’s doctorate study examined the pedagogic impact of composing activities on the learning experiences of adult community college students. The study investigated whether composing activities would help students better understand and enjoy learning music theory. The study results indicated composing was helpful to adult college students, even those without music training. Ninety percent of the students reported they found composing an engaging, creative, and meaningful experience. Composing turned out to be a powerful motivator among adult students. This was especially noteworthy because 90% of the students had little previous music background. Composing, as a pedagogic tool, is to music theory what writing is to the study of grammar and syntax. There is a paucity of pedagogic materials instructing theory teachers at the community college and university on how to integrate composition in their lessons. In response, Dr. Zisa is currently working on completing a book to help music theory educators create compositional activities that make the learning content enjoyable, fascinating, and creative.

Recent Music and Educational Initiatives

Now a professor of music at Pacific University, Zisa has authored more than a dozen books and articles on topics ranging from music history and music theory to guitar pedagogy and education. His lecture-performances include programs on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Santiago De Murcia, Fernando Sor, Nicolò Paganini, Francesco Tárrega, Alexandre Tansman, Manuel Ponce and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 2007, Zisa formed the world-music ensemble Thousand Waves, featuring Yukiko Yamaguchi on koto and LeeAnn McKenna on flute, with its program theme “West Meets East,” and also instituted the Season of Lights Concert, an annual winter holiday tradition in the city of Portland, Oregon that brings together local musicians at The Old Church for a special, one-night-only musical event benefiting local charities. Zisa is an active supporter for the development and growth of the arts in the community and personally committed to supporting charitable organizations particularly those which benefit children and young people.

In the Spring of 2016, Zisa returned to Japan to give the keynote address for the five-year anniversary 2011 Earthquake-Tsunami and premiere an original composition dedicated to the city of Hiroshima. He also performed works by Vivaldi, Carulli and Ibert with classical guitarist Kazuhiko Yamada and flutist Naoko Hamamoto. An especially moving moment during Zisa’s time in Japan was his visit to the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima.

“Visiting the Peace Memorial was a powerfully moving experience. The stories of the individual lives tragically lost and the devastation of the entire population and landscape of the city was tremendously painful and sad to absorb and relive. How poignant it is to consider how little human leadership in the world has changed. Reflecting on the Peace Message of Hiroshima 70 years later, it is less important to blame the judgment of national leaders of the time than to accept the responsibility here and now to speak out bravely in defense of the innocent and do everything in our power to stand opposed to the tragic brutal taking of life; to be ‘as a voice crying out in the wilderness’ for peace.”

Zisa performs on a 1982 six-string and 1984 eight-string guitar, by master luthier Jeffery R. Elliott.