Dennis Kam


A Guide to Dennis Kam's Music.
By John Van der Slice.

This website is dedicated to preserving the compositional legacy of Dennis Kam. It is the result of the efforts of Raymond Lim (project initiator) and John Van der Slice, with the help and encouragement of Cynthia Chun Kam. What follows here by the undersigned is part personal recollection, part subjective interpretation of the composer's music and part attempt at an introductory listening guide. The majority of the works mentioned below are arguably among the composer's most significant and can usually be accessed as recordings and/or scores on this site. Distinctive characteristics of these pieces are briefly described, occasionally in a somewhat technical manner. Some listeners may wish to simply use the highlighted (bold) titles as “suggested listening.”

John Van der Slice.
revised April 2021



Dennis Kam and I met for the first time in 1966 at the University of Hawaii. We shared a passion for contemporary art music and soon became best friends. We later roomed together at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and eventually became colleagues at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Florida. Dennis had a prodigious musical talent that included an exceptional ear for harmonic color. He was also intellectually curious, broadly knowledgable and especially drawn to religion and philosophy. At the same time he was an avid sports fan. He loved baseball and tennis and when I first knew him was such a successful bowler that he had briefly considered becoming a professional.

I recall him during those early years walking along, head down, totally absorbed while silently conducting some imagined music, his downbeat's wrist-recoiling ictus synced to a sudden plosive “bah!” as his eyebrows shot up. That moment of incisive punctuation was something that Dennis seemed to relish viscerally, something perhaps evoking the explosive contact of ball on bat, racket or  ten-pins.  He had an abundance of nervous energy which was often revealed by a punctuative spontaneity in his movement and speech. I might have guessed him to be a percussionist but he was a pianist, an instrument that nonetheless uses a struck string to make sound. His playing technique revealed the pleasure he took in the percussive nature of that instrument and percussive accents were to become an enduring dramatic feature of his music. 

Dennis Kam