An Interview with Till Meyn / Composers' Corner Volume XXIX

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October, 2020

with Brett Abigaña
An Interview with Till Meyn
Professor of Theory and Composition
Texas Christian University

Till Meyn Brett Abigaña
I had the opportunity to sit down via Zoom with my friend Till Meyn, a composer in Fort Worth Texas. He and I first met when we were both working with the Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestra a few years ago in Pittsburgh, PA. We hit it off, and I’ve been trying to find reasons to reconnect with him again since. Luckily, Composers’ Corner provided me with just such an opportunity!

BA: What do you wish educators knew about composers?

TM: I don’t think that many people understand what composers do, not only from a “nuts and bolts” perspective, but also from a creative perspective. One thing that I get a lot is that after a performance people will come up to me and say, “Wow, that was amazing! How do you do it?” Well, I mean, how detailed do you want me to get? Certainly, there are nuts and bolts approaches to how we do it, but there are also creative approaches to what we do that I wish they knew about it. There was an interview I heard a while ago where an author said that the music already exists, or that the thought already exists. And she just had to pull them down and put them together. And I’ve always really liked that analogy, because to me as a composer I feel like it’s kind of magical. There’s a magic that happens when you’re creating music, and you’re doing that kind of nuts and bolts thing, but when it’s finished you sit back and wonder how it all happened. There’s magic there somewhere, and that’s something that’s difficult to explain to an educator, or anyone. It would be great if they could get into your brain and really feel the emotional aspect of creativity. But you also asked me the other side of the question as well, which is what I would want composers to know about educators. I guess the way I would interpret that is what I would want composers to know about teaching. I think all composers need to be able to self-promote (which means be a good business person, of course; otherwise, we’re just writing for the drawer, so to speak), but they should learn how to be good communicators and how to make music come alive for everybody, in all different walks of life. This is the most important aspect of what we do: to bring all of these people together in one place at one time to listen to these creations. Of course, we can’t do that right now. But if we can help educate that audience so that they’re excited and they want to be there, then we’ve got it made!

BA: What do you think the world needs from composers?

TM: That’s a complex question, because I think there are a lot of really good answers. On the technical side, I think the world needs more good counterpoint.

BA: Amen!!

TM: You’ve probably experienced it many times when you have a young student who is very excited and loves certain chords and likes to play them at the piano. And you ask them what they want to do, and they say they want to write for film, and of course you want to encourage them. But the fact is, whether a composer wants to write for film, TV, video games, or teach at the college level, write musicals, write for the stage, or any of these things, if they can’t write convincing modern counterpoint, it’s going to fall flat. Everything we do involves counterpoint. I think good counterpoint is really under-rated and as teachers, it’s our duty to get to the bottom of it right away with a student and help them write better counterpoint. That’s the technical side. But when it comes to why the world needs your music, this may be a little corny, but I really do think that each of us has a message. The question might be what message do we as a composer want to give to the world. And if we don’t know what our own message is, we need to reflect more and re-evaluate what we’re doing. Because music is about communication, right? You’re going on an emotional journey — maybe one you weren’t expecting or one you don’t like — but as composers we should be prepared to present a message to our audience. And if we’re lucky, that message includes a “wow factor” somewhere. That’s why the world needs music from every composer, so we can put our personal message out there, and if we’re lucky enough, that message becomes something bigger that more people can connect with.

BA: Do you think there has been a movement away from that idea that everyone has a message and everyone’s compositional voice should be heard? Or do you think there’s a movement back towards it?

TM: I think everything’s in flux. I’m not sure I could give an answer in either direction, really. I think there are different schools of thought that are happening simultaneously. In my opinion, if you go back to the 50s and 60s, a lot of composers and their teachers were imposing on audiences the idea that music was supposed to be art for art’s sake. So, at that time I think you would have found a lot of composers who were writing things that had inherent value but that maybe didn’t need to be appreciated by audiences. But even then, you’d still find composers who were writing operettas and music for film, which is where you often found the tonality. Now today, thanks to composers from the 70s and 80s and 90s, there’s a much better connection through the use of tonality and what some people call “accessible music.” But to your question, I think there’s always been a move toward it and away from it happening simultaneously. Because I think if we went and lived in Brooklyn or somewhere like that, we’d find a scene that was really intense, where maybe if the audience really likes it, it’s not because it’s pleasant but rather because it’s jarring. Whereas if you are in the middle of America like I am in Fort Worth, Texas, and you have a message in your music and you want it performed, it’s going to need to be able to communicate with a larger audience or it’s not going to get out there at all. That’s a super long answer to your question, but I don’t think there’s one move: I think it’s happening in different places in different directions.

BA: Obviously, for good or ill, in about every way, the entire world and indeed the arts world along with it is seeing a global heave, as it were. Everything is changing. I’m curious then, where do you see music going next?

TM: Well, there’s no crystal ball here, so I don’t have the answer. But I have two different answers which may speak to what your question is about. I think where music is probably heading is a greater reliance of technology as part of music performance or creation. That is to say when I take a look at things now, I’m seeing a lot more electronics as part of music. Of course, almost anything is possible with electronic music and computers and everything. And even though we need to stick with live performers and live performances, when we can come back to that, of course, I think electronics and electronic music and even rap and EDM and things like that should be incorporated, just like jazz was in the 1930s and 40s. I think there’s a way to do that. And I think it might leave some people behind who are ignoring that. Secondly, I also think there will be more cross-cultural fusion that will make its way into our language more. And I think we’ll see a lot more female composers, and more composers of color, and composers of various backgrounds and experiences, and I think that’s a wonderful thing! The more diversity we have in composers, the more we will see that richness and diversity in the music that’s being created.
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