David Ward-Steinman (1936–2015)

David Ward-SteinmanI received word yesterday that the composer and pianist David Ward-Steinman has died. Dr. Ward-Steinman was a teacher of mine at San Diego State University and one of the first people who encouraged me to compose music. My first memories of him was walking into his office and showing him some early, early works of mine (works I’d never let anyone know about today). “The fugue is better than the prelude,” he said before urging me to submit them both in my portfolio for entrance into SDSU’s composition program.

A couple years later he was my instructor for 20th century music. I was blown away by his ability to sight read anything on the piano, and he would often tell the class about his time studying with Nadia Boulanger. That semester he taught me the valuable lesson of trusting my ears no matter what the printed page may say.

Dr. Ward-Steinman was a powerful influence at SDSU: he designed the comprehensive musicianship curriculum, was a teacher to almost every music student in the program, and mentored dozens of student composers. In addition to being their teacher, Dr. Ward-Steinman would often champion their works to the school’s ensemble directors. “If you wrote something for orchestra, David would make sure you got at least a reading,” I was told by one of his fellow professors.

When I studied with him it was at the end of his career at SDSU, and I only worked with him for a couple years. Nevertheless, his instruction remained with me for many years, and his influence could be felt every day on campus—even years after he had retired and accepted a position at Indiana University. He will be fondly remembered by many.

David Ward-Steinman is survived by his wife, Patrice Madura Ward-Steinman, Jacobs professor of music education, two children and three grandchildren.

The funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, at First United Methodist Church, 219 E. Fourth St., Bloomington. Visitation will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 17, at Allen Funeral Home, 4155 S. Old State Road 37, Bloomington.

His obituary published by Indiana University may be read here.

10 Responses

  1. cindamackinnon April 24, 2015 / 2:04 PM

    Nice tribute. I so loved my piano teacher all through elementary school. I was never much of a pianist but the lessons were a springboard for playing other instruments, singing and music appreciation.

    • Jude Thomas April 24, 2015 / 2:06 PM

      He was your piano teacher in elementary school? That’s amazing!

      • Jenna Ward May 1, 2015 / 10:23 AM

        I don’t think she was talking about DW-S, he was definitely never a piano teacher

  2. Jenna Ward April 30, 2015 / 8:38 PM

    Thank you for your beautiful words. I am his daughter, and have been a teacher at various points in my life so I can really appreciate what you wrote. My father gave me some invaluable advice about teaching, the most important was “never tell a student anything you can get a student to tell you.” It served me very well. My brother, Matthew Ward-Steinman, is a very talented composer and pianist, although he never studied or pursued it professionally, he continues to compose and perform when in Seattle, where he lives with his family. My mother, Susan L. Ward-Steinman, also taught at San Diego State for many years, co-authored a textbook (“Anthology of Musical Forms,” I think it’s called, and has a Rothko on the cover) and she also wrote several libretti for his pieces. She lives in Florida now. My Dad is also survived by a sister, Judy (technically “Judith” but she hates that) Ward-Steinman Karst-Campbell (I gave her my hyphen for Christmas one year), and an assortment of devoted nieces, nephews, and cousins. Thanks again for your tribute, it’s a great comfort to me.

    Yours sincerely,
    Jenna Ward

    • Jude Thomas May 1, 2015 / 11:07 AM


      Thanks for the kind words and thanks for reading. Like I mentioned, I didn’t study with him as closely as some of my colleagues at SDSU, but I still definitely feel his influence. When ever I re-connect with old friends who took courses with him we often reflect upon those days. His death has caused many of us to reach out to each other.

      Also, thanks for telling me about his sister and other family members.

  3. Ernie Centofanti May 21, 2015 / 11:47 PM

    I studied Composition with Dr. Ward-Steinman at SDSU from 1977-82. Out of all of my academic experiences, the private lesson with him was the one to which I always looked forward each week. I also had the privilege of doing parts preparation in pen and ink for much of Dr. Ward-Steinman’s music during the earlier years in which he made me his official copyist. Just recently he had begun to have me do digital music engraving for him, and I had the opportunity to ready two ensemble pieces of his for publication. We kept in touch via telephone and email up until two months ago. I was heartbroken when I got the news of his passing. A friend and mentor for 38 years, David has been an inspiration I will never forget.

  4. Jenna Ward May 27, 2015 / 9:12 PM

    Thank you for your post, Ernie, I remember you!

  5. Jeff Stone April 9, 2016 / 10:10 PM

    Regretfully, I came across this news only now as I was searching for his book “Toward a Comparative Structural Theory of the Arts:. I studied composition with Dr. Ward-Steinman at SDSU from 1992 – 96, and as a professional composer and teacher of composition now, his pedagogical approach and ability to find something worthy in students’ work at every level remains the standard for which I strive. To this day the spirit of Comprehensive Musicianship lives with me as a professional and I can only hope to pass it along to my students so that they may be as influenced by it as I am.

    Cheers to David!

    Jeff Stone

    • Jude Thomas April 10, 2016 / 7:54 PM

      Jeff—thank you for reading & sharing your memories of David.

  6. Claudio Martin June 22, 2019 / 3:18 AM

    I learned so much from him at SDSU. He was tough but so knowledgeable. A class act and teacher.

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