Leah McGray, a doctoral candidate in conducting at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, was honored recently with a fellowship from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). McGray will receive $20,000 for each of the next two years while she works on completing her dissertation. 

McGray, who hales from the small farming community of Brooklyn outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, plans on focusing her dissertation on the wind band music of Joel Puckett, composer and professor of music theory at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Puckett has recently been serving as composer-in-residence for the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, where McGray has had the opportunity to observe him as he readied new work for premiere.

“It’s amazing to have this kind of relationship with composers,” said McGray, who met Puckett at clinics and conferences. “We live in an age where composers are willing to explore and experiment, and [musicians] can be a part of that. This is new research, and I want to lay a really good foundation so that future researchers can take this and see how Puckett’s work evolves over time.”  

Mallory Thompson, professor of conducting and McGray’s advisor, has known the student for several years. “Leah has been an outstanding student and contributor to ensembles and the conducting program at Northwestern,” Thompson said. “This award is going to help her focus on her dissertation as well as assimilate everything she has been studying over the last two years. I know she has a very bright future.”

After the school year, McGray will be moving to Memphis, Tenn., where she will continue her studies and work toward finishing her doctorate. Following graduation she plans to continue her teaching career with a collegiate or university band program. 

This is not McGray’s first award from the SSHRC; she also received a fellowship that helped her complete her master’s degree from the University of Toronto.


  • Mallory Thompson
  • conducting
  • fellowships