cheryl e. leonard
composer - performer - instrument builder

Glass shards and pinecones, glaciers, boxspring mattresses, a flock of accordions, circular saw blades, viola, the erhu, hyenas and whales and elk, Cheryl E. Leonard’s music finds its raw materials just about anywhere. From these diverse sources come works that embrace the spectrum of musical possibilities: improvised to composed, acoustic to electronic, diaphanous to bombastic, notes to noise. Over the last decade Cheryl has focused on investigating sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Many of her recent works cultivate stones, wood, water, ice, sand, shells, feathers, and bones as musical instruments. Leonard uses microphones to explore the micro-aural worlds contained within her sound sources and develops compositions that highlight the unique voices they contain. Her projects often involve constructing one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments that are played live on stage. She is particularly interested in collaborating across artistic disciplines and developing site-specific works.

Cheryl holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MA from Mills College, both in music composition. She studied composition and electronic music with Alvin Curran, Chris Brown, George Lewis, Frederic Rzewski, Laeticia Sonami, Salvatore Macchia, and Alan Bonde; and performance art with Moira Roth, Carole E. Schneemann, and Betsy Damon.

Leonard’s music has been performed worldwide. Her work with natural object instruments has been featured on KQED TV's local arts show Spark, the Hallmark Network's New Morning Show and CBS's Evening Magazine, as well as in Tim Perkis's documentary film Noisy People. She is the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, ASCAP, the American Music Center, the Eric Stokes Fund, Meet the Composer, and the American Composer's Forum. She has been awarded residencies at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, the Arctic Circle, Engine 27, the Paul Dresher Ensemble ARC Program, and Villa Montalvo. Leonard has been commissioned to create music and instruments for Kronos Quartet, the Illuminated Corridor, and Michael Straus. Recordings of her music are available from Nexmap, Ubuibi, Great Hoary Marmot Music, Pax Recordings, Unusual Animals, Apraxia Records, 23 Five Inc, Old Gold Records, and The Lab.


Cheryl's many collaborations with artists from other disciplines include Adfreeze Project with visual artist Oona Stern, Sila with visual artist Genevieve Swifte, Tides:Estuary with visual artist Rebecca Haseltine, and numerous works for dance, film and video. She has created sounds for several exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and, over the past two decades, has played in many experimental music ensembles and noise bands. These days she sometimes performs with Thomas Carnacki and Big City Orchestra.

In addition to her musical endeavors Leonard studies aikido, enjoys rock climbing and mountaineering, and collects pinecones with handles.