Amir Zaheri

Area Coordinator, Composition & Theory
Associate Professor of Composition
University Organist & Denny Chimes Carillonneur


  • DMA, The University of Alabama
  • MM, Georgia State University
  • BA, Western Kentucky University


Dr. Amir Zaheri (b. 1979: they/them/their/he/his) is an American composer, conductor, performer, and educator of Persian and Appalachian lineages. A Kentucky native, Zaheri holds degrees in music from Western Kentucky University, Georgia State University, and the University of Alabama. He has maintained a multifaceted career spanning more than two decades in professional, faith-based, and academic settings.

Amir’s compositions demonstrate a genuine interest in diverse media: from works for the concert hall and operatic stage to those for electronics, film, screendance, and other dramatic art forms. Consequently, he is uninterested in composing within a singular style but prefers to create and express through an expansive breadth of musical languages and in myriad genres. Zaheri studied music composition with Michael Kallstrom, Nickitas J. Demos, C.P. First, and Peter Westergaard. He regularly shares his affection and gratitude for Kallstrom’s mentoring, who impressed upon Amir early that he should “Write what you know.” and “Write what you want to hear.” In addition, Amir is forthcoming about his enduring and ever-deepening admiration for Johann Sebastian Bach, Burt Bacharach, Francis Poulenc, and Stephen Sondheim, noting their profound influence on his musical life.

An ardent supporter of collaborative art-making, Amir frequently allies with choreographer and screendancemaker Rebecca Salzer. The duo continually examines issues of social justice and the experiences of those who have been Othered. On numerous occasions, the pair have addressed issues related to human imperilment; one such example is the humanitarian toll of the refugee crisis in Greece witnessed firsthand by the two collaborators in 2016.

Amir and Rebecca have recently partnered on several projects that have earned selection for performance and garnered awards from numerous eminent international venues, such as the ScreenDance Miami Festival (2023, for Gliff), the International Competition of Animation Films in Lisbon, Portugal (2022, for Gliff), the Frame X Frame Filmfest in Houston, Texas (2022, for Gliff), the International Fine Arts Film Festival in Hollywood, California (2022, for Gliff), the Critical Mass: CI@50 Dance Film Screening in Oberlin, Ohio (2022, for Gliff), Official Selection and Award Winner for the Berlin International Art Film Festival (2022, for Gliff), the On Art Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland (2021, for Gliff), the Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema in Boulder, Colorado (2021, for the window kind of opens by itself), the Contact Dance International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada (2021, for the window kind of opens by itself), the Dansmuseet in Stockholm, Sweden (2021, for the window kind of opens by itself), the International Conference Theatre Between Tradition and Contemporaneity in Styria Province, Austria (2019, for Explorations of Loss), and the International Experimental Film Forum in Los Angeles, California (2017, for May I Take Your Picture?).

Additional examples of Zaheri’s up to date creative activity includes receiving the appointment of finalist for the American Prize in Composition (2021, for The Flow of Boats) and the same designation for the American Prize in Composition (2021, for May I Take Your Picture?), the premiere of Queer Canticles I-V: I May Have Been Dorothy Parker by the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra (2021), recipient of the American Prize Judges Citation: “Special Achievement in Music for a Documentary Film” (2021, for May I Take Your Picture?), appearing on Martin King’s solo album “The Phoenix” (2020, Secret Winter), a performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Emerald Theatre and Greenside Venues (2019, Beauty, Identity, and Release), a performance at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference (2019, St. Vincent), the premiere performance of This Must Be What Keeps Them Quiet, a concerto for horn and wind ensemble, by the United States Army Field Band at the International Horn Society Conference (2018), multiple performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2018, Cesium Singing), and the premiere performance of Villian Hell (to hail with the chief) at the Southeast Horn Workshop (2018).

In frequent demand as a conductor, most notably with festival and all-state choirs, Amir has directed countless performances with diverse instrumental and vocal ensembles throughout the United States. His principal conducting teachers were Ronnie Oliver, Jr., and Alan Raines. Undoubtedly, Gary Conn McKercher’s impact on Zaheri’s life as a conductor and teacher is immeasurable. From Fall 2020 to Spring 2022, Amir served as the Interim Director of Choral Activities at the University of Alabama, conducting the Treble Chorus, University Chorus, and University Singers. In June 2022, under his baton and in collaboration with the New England Philharmonic Ensemble, Zaheri’s interim appointment with the choirs of the University of Alabama concluded with a Carnegie Hall performance of John Rutter’s Gloria and the world premiere of Amir’s composition After a Season of SilenceA Huxford Hymn, the second of his pieces to receive its inaugural performance at the celebrated venue.

Vocal music has long played a vital role in Amir’s life and career. Following the early and influential training of Merry Kay Winter, he continued with principal teachers, soprano Nancy Cron and baritone Michael Sokol. As both an avid supporter of the choral art form and a longtime chorister, Zaheri considers his period as a member of the world-renowned Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus a tremendous highlight and honor.

An esteemed organist, Amir’s primary teachers were Larry Keenan and Andrew Risinger. In addition, he often notes and expresses gratitude for Scott Atchison’s significant influence on his skillfulness, particularly in advanced service-playing techniques. Zaheri has given solo performances throughout the United States and several European cities and has been featured in concerts with numerous choruses and orchestras. Further, he enjoyed an extended and dynamic career in multiple Music and Worship-Arts settings, perhaps most notably during his tenure as a member of the acclaimed Peachtree Road United Methodist Church Music Program in Atlanta, where he served as Chapel Organist and Choirmaster and Composer-in-Residence. In 2007, USA Today cited Peachtree Road United Methodist Church as one of the “10 great places to hear heavenly music” in the United States. Today, Amir serves as Organist at the historic First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa.

Before joining the faculty of the University of Alabama School of Music in 2013, Amir held the prestigious Ben and Coy Narramore fellowship while pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Composition. At the same time, Zaheri also completed a secondary concentration in Musicology, concentrating on the music of Nazi Germany and “degenerate art,” most notably the early music of Paul Hindemith.

In the last year of his doctoral studies, Amir joined the faculty of the School of Music. Deeply committed to the complete success of the School of Music, Zaheri is the Area Coordinator of the Music Composition & Theory Area, an Associate Professor of Music Composition, the Artistic Director of the Contemporary Music Ensemble, the University Organist, and the Carillonneur of the University’s beloved Denny Chimes. In addition, he guides and mentors a full and vibrant studio of undergraduate and graduate Music Composition students, teaches 18th-Century Counterpoint at introductory and advanced levels, and offers courses in the analysis of 20th- and 21st-Century music, often focusing on minimalism and musical theatre. Also, Amir serves as the Artistic Director of the Contemporary Ensemble. Exceeding these recurring teaching assignments, he has taught more than ten distinct Music Composition, Theory, and Music History courses, led three choral ensembles and served four years as the Music Director of the Tuscaloosa Youth Symphony.

Guided by a deep devotion to the present and future successes of the students of the entire program, Amir is extensively involved in wide-ranging administrative operations, serving as the Associate Director of the School of Music, the Director of Academic Affairs, and the Director of Student Affairs & Student Wellness. In these capacities, he works closely with the Director of the School of Music, Charles “Skip” Snead, whose invaluable guidance and mentorship Zaheri regularly relies upon and respects greatly.

Amir constantly seeks new ways to understand as best as possible and address the needs of the “whole student,” emphasizing the importance of a more holistic strategy to education, extending well beyond an “academics alone” approach to student support. Born out of the necessity to address issues such as nutritional wellness, sleep hygiene, access and success for low-income students, personal finance, potential adverse effects associated with the use of social media, anxiety and depression, and suicide prevention, Zaheri worked with colleagues to apprise the School of Music community on various “dimensions” of wellness. One such effort was developing and implementing “Life Wellness for Musicians,” a weekly, 50-minute convocation that proved immediately successful. Each term, to a student audience averaging 100-150 in attendance, guest speakers from various campus programs and resource offices, as well as professionals from throughout the community, give presentations on Career, Creative, Digital, Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Mental, Nutritional, Physical, Social, and Spiritual Wellness, in addition to other topics recommended or requested by the student or faculty bodies.

As a result of this and other such initiatives, and with the validating cooperation of the faculty and staff, the School of Music continues to undergo expanded recruitment, improved retention rates, improved grades and attendance, increased awareness and usage of campus resources, increased engagement within the School of Music, across the University, and throughout the Tuscaloosa community, and the acquisition of substantial financial gifts from donors committed to supporting efforts related to fostering and sustaining student wellness.