David Crumb was born in 1962 into a musical family, and studied cello and piano from an early age. Later, he pursued advanced training in cello at the Eastman School (from 1980-85) before ultimately deciding to switch his focus to composition. His first important teacher, Samuel Adler, provided the initial spark that inspired him to pursue this new direction. Following Eastman, he enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he studied composition with Chinary Ung, Richard Wernick, Stephen Jaffe, and Jay Reise, and music theory with Leonard Meyer and Eugene Narmour. In the summer of 1987, Crumb received a fellowship to attend the Tanglewood Music Festival where he attended master classes held by Lukas Foss and Oliver Knussen. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to Jerusalem, Israel to study composition and counterpoint with Russian-born composer Mark Kopytman. While at the Rubin Academy, Crumb composed what he now considers to be his first mature work: Joyce Songs for mezzo-soprano, flute, clarinet, and cello (1989). Upon returning, Crumb received his first major commission from the Chicago Civic Orchestra (with support from the ASCAP Foundation). The resulting work, Clarino, was premiered in Chicago's Symphony Hall June 1991. Clarino served as Crumb's dissertation, for which he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1992.
Over the years, Crumb's music has been widely performed throughout the United States and abroad. His orchestral works have been performed by the Baltimore Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, and the Chicago Civic Orchestra; his chamber works by the Parnassus Ensemble, Voices of Change, The Chicago Ensemble, Network for New Music, and Quattro Mani. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, he has received commissions from the Fromm and Barlow Foundations, the Los Angeles Symphony New Music Group, the National Association of Wind and Percussion Instructors, and the Bowdoin International New Music Festival. He has held residencies at the Yaddo and MacDowell artist colonies and participated in numerous festivals including La Biennale di Venezia, Cincinnati Conservatory's “Music 2005,” Colorado College's Annual New Music Festival, and Bowling Green State University's 21st Annual New Music & Art Festival. Crumb has served as composer-in-residence at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, and as featured guest composer at Washington State University's "Festival of Contemporary Art Music."
Crumb's music has recently become available on compact disc recordings. In 2000, Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble, performed by cellist Ulrich Boeckheler and the Orchestra 2001, was released on the C.R.I. label. Two recent compositions for two pianos, Harmonia Mundi and The Whisperer, performed by Quattro Mani (duo-pianists Susan Grace and Alice Rybak), are available on the Innova label. His Awakening for trumpet and percussion has been released on Equilibrium.
Crumb joined the music faculty at the University of Oregon in 1997, where he continues to serve as an Associate Professor of Composition and Theory.