John Shirley is a Professor in the Music Dept. at UMass Lowell.

John F. Shirley, Ph.D.


College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Music Department
Durgin Hall, Room 314


Sound recording and mixing, music technology, Max/MSP, composition, performance, electroacoustic music, & harmonica

Research Interests

Music and audio technology, DSP, electronic music, music for VR and 360 video, performance, guitar and harmonica.


  • Ph.D.: Music Composition, (1998), University of Chicago  
           Supporting Area: Computer Music 
  • B.M.: Music Composition, Peabody Institute of The John Hopkins University 
           Supporting Areas: Classical Guitar, Music Technology, Organ


John is a composer, technologist, audio engineer, record producer, software designer, author, singer and multi-instrumentalist (specializing in harmonica, guitar and synthesis). 

He has published 76 articles, a book and two CDs of original multi-genre music; one focussed on pushing the boundaries of repertoire for harmonica and one published by Cycling 74 dedicated to varied approaches to composing and performing with the Max/MSP programming language. In addition, he has composed over 60 works across multiple genres, ensemble types and media, including orchestra, string quartet, metal/rock band, jazz quintet, wind quartet, EDM, pop and even electroacoustic music with harmonica. 

One of his most recent projects, Borderless, is a 360-degree music video for VR that, when viewed with VR headset and in/over-ear monitoring, features a binaural mix, with Dolby Atmos, that facilitates a 360-degree audio experience where musical instrument locations follow the listener’s head movements and on-screen position. Inspired by his increased focus on multimedia expression, John has also recently been serving more in the role of cinematographer and camera operator for other musical artists, including grammy-nominated Birdsong at Morning. 

As a singer, guitarist and harmonica player, John performs regularly in downtown Lowell with his band, John Shirley and The Lifers. John and the band were a featured act at the 2021 Society for the Preservation and Advancement of Harmonica Convention (SPAH) giving a 35-minute performance of classical, jazz, blues and rock musics, each piece demonstrating new approaches to harmonica performance and featuring the MiniMIDI Joystick, a small usb MIDI controller he co-designed. 

Serving as chair of the Music Department for 7 years, John initiated and oversaw an overhaul of the core music curriculum, and then the professional accreditation of all of the programs and new core by the National Association of Schools of Music. He also founded the Contemporary Electronic Ensemble, the Metal Ensemble and the Blues ensemble (which plays four two-hour shows at a downtown restaurant each semester). 

After serving full time in the Sound Recording program for two decades, John has taken on coordinating and teaching in the new Composition for New Media program. 

John has an active YouTube channel that features some of his performances, tech experiments, music videos, and demonstrations.