By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
As a teenager, she was an enthusiastic student, eager to tackle complicated piano pieces and fascinated by musical structure and composition.
That’s the way teacher Rudolph Nemeth, a Roane State adjunct faculty member, remembers Ellen Reid, the Oak Ridge native who won the Pulitzer Prize in music this year. Nemeth is a member of the community college’s Humanities Division and taught Reid for some five years, from when she was 14 until she graduated from Oak Ridge High School in 2001.
“I was lucky enough to teach her, and really enjoyed working with her,” Nemeth said of his once-a-week lessons with Reid at his recording studio in his Oak Ridge home.
“Rudolph Nemeth was always a generous teacher,” Reid said. “He helped me play the pieces I wanted to play, and honored multiple styles of music within his teaching. He takes his students into his home and helps them love music.”
Reid, now 36, won the Pulitzer Prize for her debut opera, titled “prism.” The Pulitzer Prize Board calls the opera “a bold new operatic work that uses sophisticated vocal writing and striking instrumental timbres to confront difficult subject matter: the effects of sexual and emotional abuse.”
“She worked very hard to absorb music,” Nemeth said of the teenaged Reid. He has taught music appreciation classes and piano courses at Roane State since 1999. Nemeth also teaches dual enrollment classes at Anderson County High School.
Nemeth said he also taught piano lessons to Reid’s brother, Austin, and mother, Karen, and remains friends with the family.
Karen Reid, in fact, phoned him about her daughter’s prestigious award, saying she wanted to be the first to tell him the good news. Karen Reid and husband Randy are Oak Ridge residents.
“I am blown away and incredibly honored to receive this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music,” Ellen Reid wrote on her website, ellenreidmusic.com. “Composing ‘prism’ was a challenging, rewarding and deeply personal experience.”
The opera was enthusiastically received by sold-out audiences on the East and West Coasts.
Reid is a composer and sound artist whose talents span sound design, film scoring, ensemble and choral writing, and opera. This fall, she begins a three-year appointment as creative advisor and composer-in-residence for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Nemeth said when he taught Ellen Reid, “she was interested in every genre of music, including classical. She played complicated pieces by Chopin, Liszt. She was very determined to learn.”
Nemeth, his wife, Eva and son, Rudolph Jr., escaped from communist Czechoslovakia as the Soviet Union was about to unravel and received asylum in Germany while seeking to move to America. The Oak Ridge Alliance Church sponsored the family’s move. Nemeth said Dr. Geol Greenlee, Roane State music department director, asked him to teach classes at the community college.
Eva Nemeth graduated summa cum laude in paralegal studies from Roane State and works in Knoxville Juvenile Court. Rudolph Nemeth also works as the organist at Robertsville Baptist Church in Oak Ridge and continues to offer private piano lessons. He was the recipient of the Clyde James Dunigan adjunct faculty award for teaching excellence in August 2016.
Caption: Roane State adjunct faculty member Rudolph Nemeth is pictured with Oak Ridge native Ellen Reid, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in music. They’re shown following the premiere of Reid’s composition titled “Knoxville Summer of 2015” at the Tennessee Theatre.