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Assistant Professor Andrew Sigler works with graduate student Dennis Belisle.

At 46, in the midst of a successful career as a commercial musician, music director, teacher, and performer, Dennis Belisle decided to enroll in UT’s School of Music to pursue a new dream—being a composer.

He completed a bachelor’s degree in sacred music in spring 2018 and immediately began working on his Master of Music degree in composition degree with a theory pedagogy certificate.

Graduate student and composer Dennis Belisle

Belisle graduates in December, and he’s wrapping up his studies on a very high note: members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will perform his musical compositions during a special concert at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 15, at the Powell Recital Hall in the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center.

Belisle received the inaugural Robert W. Pedersen Memorial Research Award to fund the performance. Pedersen, a UT alumnus, left money to the university in an endowment earmarked “for awards for outstanding performance by students and/or faculty.” 

“The support of this grant is allowing me to follow through with my plans to have professional musicians perform and record my compositions,” said Belisle, who now works as music director for Rio Revolution, a nondenominational church in Maryville, Tennessee, with more than 2,000 members. “This concert will make a significant impact on my professional reputation as a composer and help to make a long-lasting impression as a graduate of UT.”

Belisle said he decided to come to UT because he aspired to accomplish even more than he had in the first half of his career. His dream is to become a film score composer.

“I knew that there was more for me to learn, a bigger artistic world for me to explore, and a drive to do the work necessary to move to the next stage of my professional life.”

Throughout his studies, he’s been mentored by Assistant Professor Andrew Sigler.

“For the last two years, Dr. Sigler has guided me and helped me shape my own compositional voice,” he said. “For my thesis I chose to compose a string quartet, a musical form which stands alongside the symphony and concerto as one of the most challenging tests of a composer.”

As Belisle saw his compositions coming together, he organized a string quartet ensemble from the Graduate Strings Studio at UT to perform a piece at the New Sound concert in April 2018. When that went well, he decided to go a step further.

“As I embark on a career as a composer at the midpoint of my life, it is in my best interest to document as many of my compositions as possible with performances by professional players, including my 20-minute string quartet.”

Belisle reached out to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra to see if they’d be interested in performing his work—and how much it would cost to stage a concert.

“Sean Claire, violinist and longtime KSO member, listened to and reviewed my work and informed me that he was personally interested in performing at my recital, indicating that ‘I wouldn’t miss this performance—you have a great piece of music here.’

“He also informed me that my woodwind quintet pieces, which I also submitted for performance, were so well received by the orchestra’s woodwind quintet that they had asked for permission to perform those works as part of the symphony’s Q-Series concerts as part of their upcoming season. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the interest in my music.”

For his concert, Belisle wanted members of the KSO to perform his string quartet and three woodwind quintet pieces as well as three mixed chamber pieces incorporating the string quartet, the woodwind quintet, and voice. 

He was told the cost for the rehearsals and the performance would fall somewhere between $3,300 and $4,075. The research grant will cover all—or at least most—of the expense.

Belisle said Sigler has been a constant source of support as he’s planned the concert.

“From guiding me through the contracting process, steering me through the publishing details as well as how to record the event to achieve the highest possible results, he has been there,” Belisle said. 

Sigler said Belisle’s story “is a really wonderful example of the possibilities for graduate students at the university in general and the School of Music in particular. His hard work and willingness to seize and capitalize on opportunities serve as a blueprint for us all. I couldn’t be prouder of his achievements and can’t wait to see what’s in store for Dennis going forward.

Listen to samples of Belisle’s work on his website,


Amy Blakely (, 865-974-5034