the songwriter side of….
Award-winning educator Larry Lesser is also an award-winning songwriter! Larry has lived in El Paso since 2004 and songs such as “Border Town” show its influence on his muse. In one of his recent KTEP-FM interviews, Larry played his call for deeper dialogue on campus gun violence, “What We Carry Now”. At a 2018 concert, UTEP’s stellar middle eastern music ensemble premiered Larry’s song “Break”, a peace-seeking culture-bridging song inspired by conversations with a former UTEP colleague who grew up in Ramallah. And in 2020, UTEP’s Religious Studies program sponsored events at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts for the release of SPARKS, Larry’s album of original nonliturgical songs grounded in Jewish text with universal lessons.
Larry’s songwriting began in college, then came of age during his grad school years in Austin, where he served as ASG VP, had a (cassette!) album release (which yielded his first radio airplay), interviewed a major-label artist, and won song contest awards. While full-time academia has kept him too busy to record subsequent albums, Larry has had several songs win contest awards (e.g., 2nd place in the fall 2012 El Paso Songwriting Contest) or get recorded by indie artists and Larry has also published poetry.
As UTEP’s Professor Lesser (hey, that rhymes!), Larry is gratefully surprised that his longtime love for song has overlapped with his academic endeavors (HERE’s a lively example) and helped lead to prestigious teaching awards. On using music/song with teen/adult math/statistics learners, Larry has published pioneering journal articles (and some 100 educational lyrics), won over a dozen awards for songs/videos in recent national contests (e.g., NSF, ASA, MoMath, CAUSE, QL-SIGMAA), given banquet/keynote presentations, was featured guest and lyricist for 6 STEM episodes of a PBS-TV station’s children’s show, had newspaper/TV coverage (especially for “American Pi” and “The Gambler”), and has a current NSF grant to create and assess interactive songs to help students learn introductory statistics, an effort that includes collaboration with UTEP music faculty Dominic Dousa and Stephen Haddad, and has spread to other disciplines (VOICES).
A 2006 visit from songwriting influence David Wilcox (on a cross-country Airstream family journey) sparked Larry’s parallel repertoire of spiritual/Jewish songcraft, aligned with his role as Affiliated Faculty in UTEP’s Inter-American Jewish Studies Program. For example, his “Healing Song” appears on CDs (by former UTEP instructors Ellen Wilson and Larry Bach), has been used by congregations in several cities, and was featured in an NPR station interview and in the blog of the literary journal of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University. And he co-wrote a song (with renowned Jewish artist Robbi Sherwin) that appeared on the debut CD of a top contemporary Jewish music group (Sababa).
Larry’s performances often raise money or awareness for community organizations/events such as: Northern Colorado Animal League, a county-wide AIDS Day program, UTEP Religious Studies’ International Day of Peace celebration (with Sara Potter), Insights El Paso Science Center, the Center Against Family Violence, Kelly Memorial Food Pantry, soup kitchen El Caldito, and food pantry Casa de Peregrinos. Larry has also opened for nationally-touring artists such as Roy Zimmerman, Chava Mirel, Shmuel Geller, Charlie King and Karen Brandow. Larry has written and/or performed songs for UTEP organizations (Religious Studies Program, Centennial Museum, Social Justice Initiative, Women’s History Month conference, Club Zero, and Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) and written tributes for UTEP’s 2014 Centennial and 2016 Quality Enhancement Plan and President Dr. Diana Natalicio (in 2018, when she announced plans to retire).