Dr. Pfaff’s compositions are characterized by a strong sense of line, clear harmonic motion, and gestures that have been described as “profound and extravagant.” Guitarist Ted Mann states, “Bill’s unique compositions for guitar show a deep sense of creativity and form. Quirpon, written for acoustic guitar, exhibits classical and extended techniques and a refreshing and challenging sound. Reading the Water shows knowledge of scordatura tuning and facility on the electric guitar. In these pieces, Bill bridges classical and many other genres to create a remarkable blend and a new type of concert repertoire.” In 2006, Pfaff created the annual SUNY Plattsburgh Guitar Festival to showcase these works and other explorations in the genre. In 1994, he co-founded the electric guitar duo, Trapeze. The ensemble is dedicated to free improvisation and interdisciplinary collaboration. Trapeze has performed concerts and presented workshops in a number of venues including the SUNY Plattsburgh Guitar Festival, Society of Composers, the College Music Society and the Boston Microtonal Society.
He has received commissions from the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival, Mastersingers, Frontier Saxophone Quartet, Kalliope Trio, JW Turner, Michael Arnowitt, and Karen Becker. In 2009, Pfaff presented the premiere of Give Me an A for two electric guitars at the SUNY Plattsburgh Guitar Festival. Also in that year, Dr. JW Turner gave multiple performances of Elegy for solo cello in Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In 2008, The Color of Snow was premiered at the Fiftieth Anniversary College Music Society Conference. Dr. Karen Becker premiered All Goodbyes Are Dreams at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, in 2007. The Biava String Quartet premiered In the Abode of Soundless Poetry at SUNY Plattsburgh in 2007. He is currently composing a work for oboe, string trio, and piano.
Pfaff has collaborated with Dr. Drew Waters (California State University at Monterey Bay) for over six years and co-produced a variety of multimedia projects. Their work, Unconformities, combines Pfaff’s composition for five electric basses and his photographs from the Petrified Forest National Park. Dr. Waters performed bass, engineered the recording, and completed post-production. Their current collaboration is a co-composed work for guitar, bass, and the digital media software, Max/MSP. Dr. Pfaff’s collaborations extend to theater and dance. In 2007 he worked collaboratively with director Dr. Timothy Palkovic to develop the dramatic concept of the SUNY Plattsburgh mainstage production of Fuddy Meers. The incidental music he created merged character detail and large-scale dramatic pacing. Later that year, Pfaff was commissioned by the group Norte Maar to create music for the Leger Ballet Project. He produced the electronic score, Solitude of Sea, for choreographer Julia Gleich (London, UK).
His theoretical work, “An Analysis of Cadence Formation in the ‘Introduction’ to Roger Sessions’ cantata, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” was published in Ex Tempore (a journal of compositional and theoretical research). The research focuses on hierarchical cadence articulations in Sessions’ rich, chromatic language. Other research on Sessions includes “Form and Structure Interactions in Canons (to the memory of Igor Stravinsky),” presented at the College Music Society. His music theory pedagogy research has been presented at the Society of Composers, the College Music Society and the SUNY Conference on Instructional Technology.
Pfaff and Waters also have collaborated in area of online instructional design. They have developed innovative theory and music appreciation pedagogies, created a framework for effective communication in the e-learning environment and extended collaboration into the online curriculum by integrating open source tools. Their research has been presented at the Lilly-East Conference on College and University Teaching, SUNY Plattsburgh Conference on Teaching and Learning, SUNY Conference on Instructional Technology and the Successful Teaching Conference (NY).
Dr. Pfaff has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Petrified Forest National Park and the Ucross Foundation. He was a fellow at the Gregg Smith Singers Choral Workshop, Composer/Conductor Program at the Hartt School of Music, May in Miami Festival, June in Buffalo Festival, and the Wellesley Composers Conference.
He holds a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory from Brandeis University and a M.A. in Music Theory and Literature from the University of New Hampshire. His principal teachers were Martin Boykan, Yehudi Wyner, Allen Anderson, and Niel Sir. He is an Assistant Professor of Music at SUNY Plattsburgh and is currently a fellow at the Institute for Ethics in Public Life at the college.