One Alum's Journey from Dodge Hall to 'Commuting' between Red Square & the Pyramids

Alumnus Gregory Leet '88GSAS, '90GSAS, '02GSAS shares on The Low Down details about his fascinating journey from Columbia to traveling the world for his music career. 

708 Dodge Hall. Columbia University. My first day of graduate school. Tuesday. Proseminar in Historical Musicology. So nervous I could hardly breathe. I knew how challenging this would be…could I succeed at Columbia?

Having just graduated from the prestigious five-year Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music's Double Degree program, as a pianist and French Literature major, with three years of college-level Russian and a music history minor, I felt I might be sufficiently prepared, but…Columbia…?

I could hardly have imagined on that first day at Columbia, 708 Dodge Hall, I would have heard a fellow student's voice, with a slight English accent, that stood out so much from the rest. I was snapped out of my nervousness and simply had to know who had just spoken. I soon learned she was from Egypt; we would later marry, and she would guide me to the completion of a Columbia PhD in Historical Musicology on the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov (with Professor Walter Frisch as my dissertation advisor) and lead me toward a joyful, unpredictable, extra-passport-pages global adventure that has included living in Alexandria, Egypt, for the better part of the past 25 years.

Gregory_1.jpg                                                                       (Leet at the Moscow Philharmonic)  

Gregory_3.jpg                                                       (Leet conducting the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra)

Beginning in Alexandria, I began a streak of 23 consecutive years (without a single sick day!) teaching PK-12 music in international schools in Egypt and Qatar during which time I have composed over 70 works for children, conducted and accompanied for 22 international youth choral festivals in 11 countries, conducted the Cairo Symphony Orchestra five times at the Cairo Opera House, led the Alexandria Chamber Orchestra of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, performed 19th-century American piano music in solo recital, assisted professional orchestras in Budapest, simultaneously translated 90 hours of conducting lessons at the 2nd Moscow Philharmonic International Conducting Masterclass, and much more—using my Columbia education to inspire students and professional musicians of all ages. I am definitely living the dream!

Gregory_4.jpg                                          (After a performance at the prestigious American School of Doha, Qatar)

I learned a vital life lesson in Dodge Hall at Columbia: "There's always room for the best." I have since sought out to continue to follow this relentlessly inspiring dictum to work with and study only with "the best." This has led me, profoundly joyful, to first-hand musical experiences and deeply inspiring, long-term professional relationships with some of the world's best conductors, orchestras, opera houses, and schools, all the while being fortunate enough to experience the true warmth, support, and protection by the people of Egypt for a quarter-century and counting.

Gregory_5.jpg(Leet's "Anansi and the Golden Box," Op. 22, based on a Ghanaian Folktale performed by second-graders from 40 countries)

I plan to visit campus (and Dodge Hall) when I am in the U.S. in 2018 as part of my first world tour of schools, children's theaters, children's museums, universities, and professional opera houses to promote my PK-12 and university-level music curriculum initiatives, as well as my three new works for unison children's chorus.

Music is truly for all, and in gratitude to all those at Columbia who have supported me, I wish to begin to return the favor in 2018 on a global scale by inspiring as many as possible at Columbia, in the Columbia Alumni Association's organizations worldwide, and I hope, also many future Columbia students, even if now in elementary school. 


I am excited to share my new musical compositions with children of all ages worldwide. With my enthusiasm for orchestral conducting, piano performance, profound love of learning, rich, multi-lingual cultural experiences, gratitude for Columbia-powered motivation, and perseverance, I am passionate to empower everyone I encounter in 2018 to know that they, too, can indeed experience life as I do, every day…that is, to "live the dream!"

There's always room for the best!

Gregory Nicholas Leet, PhD, '88GSAS, '90GSAS, '02GSAS can be reached at [email protected].


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