Harper College

Joseph Plazak, PhD


Joseph Plazak photo

2022 Distinguished Alumni Awards Honoree
Joe Plazak, PhD

Your favorite movie soundtracks could very well be using Sibelius, the world’s leading music notation program, for which Joe Plazak is a developer, designer and the product owner.

Plazak works for Avid Technology in Montreal, Canada, serving as the voice of the Sibelius team, implementing what customers want and deciding how the team will build those features.

Plazak’s path to Sibelius has been shaped by his time as an artist, teacher, scientist, engineer and visionary – all within the domain of music. And it began at Harper College, where he learned skills from how to read music to how to be a leader. He credits Steve Suvada, an adjunct music faculty member, for teaching what Plazak calls the formalities so he could be successful in college and beyond.

“As soon as I got on campus, I couldn’t get enough,” says Plazak, who attended St. Edward Central Catholic High School in Elgin. “It was clear to me that this was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.”

Plazak also served as Harper’s student trustee, a role that taught him how leaders need to listen before they judge. The lesson helps him today as he leads a team of software developers.

After graduating from Harper in 2005 with his associate degree in fine arts, Plazak went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and music from Elmhurst University, then a master’s and doctorate in music theory and cognition from Ohio State University. He promptly landed his tenure-track dream job as a professor and music theorist at Illinois Wesleyan University, studying music as a way to modify the way people feel, for the better. People can see something that triggers a song or hear a song that triggers a memory.

 “The brain uses music as a catalyst for binding memories together,” he says.

Plazak left his academic position in 2017 when he fell in love with a French-Canadian who worked in Canada. When he couldn’t find a job in music theory, he went back to school to study computer science from Concordia University in Montreal.
Plazak then found his job with Avid, which combines music with computer science.

“I used to teach students to read and write music notation, something I couldn’t even do when I showed up at Harper. Now I teach computers how to read and write music notation,” he says. “I never, ever would have come this far without Harper. Harper really gave me all the tools and knowledge I needed to find the next step."

Last Updated: 12/14/23