Thank you to everyone who sent in questions for our featured composer, Mona Rejino, to answer. Such wonderful, thoughtful inquiries were submitted and I was able to group many of them together based on their subjects, making it easier for Mona to answer more of your questions. I want to thank Mona for taking the time to answer these questions so carefully. I have already thought of new composing activities to use with my students because of her answers.
This is Part 1 of the interview. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday.
1. What sparked your interest to compose? How did you develop your skill as a composer? Did you have a mentor or study a textbook?
In the beginning my interest in composing was really need based. In the early stages of writing the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library method books, we
were short a few pieces on the earliest level. One day I decided to see if I could write something that would be suitable for the task at hand. I sent in a few compositions, and to my great surprise, several were accepted. This gave me the confidence to continue writing.
For me, composing involves a lot of trial and error. I don’t use a textbook,
although the required compositions I did many years ago as a music major have
given me a foundation to build on. I don’t have just a single mentor. However
there is no doubt that playing and teaching quality compositions from the great
classical composers to the great present day pedagogical composers has a
significant impact on my work. I study the wisdom and creativity of composers I
admire, and try to emulate them with my own musical voice.
2. Where and how do you come up with new ideas for your pieces? Do you ever get melodic or rhythmic ideas for your compositions from your piano practice?
Ideas come from myriad places. Years ago I was headed to a piano teacher
conference in Dallas in rush hour traffic. I imagine you have had that terrible fear
of being late, when you knew there was nothing you could do about it! As I sat
through one stop light after another this little musical motif kept running through
my head. By the time I finally reached the conference, I had basically worked
out the A section of a piece that came to be named “Scavenger Hunt.” The idea
for “Mountain Splendor” appeared during a lovely morning hike our family took
in Oregon on summer vacation. I’ll always remember the incredible stillness
and beauty we encountered on that hike. As we climbed higher and the views
became more breathtaking, a melody over a chord progression kept running
through my head. We stopped to rest for a bit, and I asked my husband if he
happened to have a pencil and paper in his backpack. Lo and behold, he did!
So I began sketching out the basis of “Mountain Splendor” at the place in which
it was inspired. I have learned that you never know when an idea will manifest
itself, so always be prepared!
I think we all get wonderful ideas from the pieces we are practicing at any given
time. Often when my students bring in an idea for a composition we realize that
it has some relation to a piece they have just learned, whether it is melodic,
rhythmic or harmonic. This is true throughout history. One example is the way in
which Chopin and Mendelssohn’s works were influenced by Bach’s music.
3. Do you have a daily time you devote to composing? When you don’t feel like composing, do you still compose or do you wait until you are inspired?
I currently teach over 40 students and my daily schedule varies, so I am not
able to devote time to composition every single day. For me composing tends
to come in waves. I had an idea for an elementary level book this summer, so I
spent a couple of months writing and refining those pieces to turn in. The first few
pieces I wrote for this book came very easily. The last couple of pieces took a lot
more thought and time to produce. You may have had a similar experience when
working on projects. Waiting for inspiration is a great way to work, but deadlines
help add fuel to our inspirations!
4. What musical form do you use most often in your compositions?
I tend to gravitate toward ternary (ABA) form, although I have used other forms
as well. It is always fun to come up with a contrasting theme that complements
your first theme and fleshes out the composition. There is such a “roundness’ to
ternary form; it feels like starting at home plate, running the bases then winding
up at home again. It’s also a joy to add interesting introductions and codas to
your compositions, which feels like putting your signature brand on them.
5. How do you get a B section after you get the A section? How do you come up with a B section that is a good match/fit to an A section?
I think the word “contrast” is what helps me have a starting point in creating B
sections that complement the A sections. There are so many ways to create
contrast: shifting the harmonic focus from major to minor, changing the mood
from smooth and lyrical to detached and spunky, moving the melody from right
hand to left hand, creating more or less motion in the melodic line, etc. An
exercise in writing a theme and variations is always a great way to explore the
many possibilities you have at your disposal. Composing is much like writing.
Each section or paragraph is important in its own way, but you must never
lose sight of the overall effect someone will experience when playing your
composition or reading your essay as a whole.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on Wednesday.