This is Part 2 of our interview with composer Mona Rejino.  Read Part 1 here.

6. When you arrange a popular piece, do you use sheet music and re-score it, or do you listen to it and transcribe it?

Both are essential for me. I usually start with the piano/vocal/guitar (PVG) version of the piece I’m transferring to solo piano. But I also spend a lot of time listening to the original recording (thank goodness for iTunes!), which gives me a continual sense of the genuineness of the piece. It is so important to retain the original flavor and intent of the music, even if you are arranging it for an elementary student. An interesting teacher accompaniment on the early levels can help in this endeavor.

As a young student I remember loving to play the latest pop tunes. Many times
the versions you would find at the music store were really difficult and unpianistic.
I think that remains true today. In most instances there is no reason why a
student should not be able to play their favorite pop song. If an arranger retains
the essence of the music, but with careful editing keeps just the essential notes
and rhythms, they have done their job. Arranging is a challenging pursuit, but one
I enjoy very much.

7. How do you choose titles for your pieces? Does the title or the music come first?

Most of the time the music comes first, then I try to find an appropriate
descriptive title. Finding just the right title is often my nemesis. I sometimes
play my compositions for family members and piano students and solicit their
thoughts on what images the music creates for them. The editors and co-authors
I work with have also been helpful in selecting titles. Our daughter is a wonderful
artist, so I remember playing through a piece for her as she sketched what
came to mind. She suggested the title “Carnival Rag” for a ragtime piece found
in “Portraits in Style”, and sure enough, it was the perfect title! I wrote a sonatina
a couple of years ago and sent in a rather bland title for it. Jennifer Linn, my
editor, said the music was reminiscent of an “Americana” style, so we settled
on “American Sonatina.”

8. How do you get your music out of your head and onto the paper?

I have played by ear my whole life, and this has always been helpful in the
composing process. I play on the keyboard the essence of the piece I have in
mind. Then believe it or not, I start by sketching it out on a yellow legal pad. I’m
sure this is quite an unorthodox way to go about getting the music on to paper,
but it works for me. I put in the time signature and key signature then draw
several horizontal lines across the page. Basically right hand notes are written
above the line and left hand notes are below it. I jot down the letter names and
notate whether the notes are going up or down by their placement on the page.
Chords are notated in a box, and I write in just the basic rhythms. This becomes
my working rough draft, and it can be changed over and over as needed. Once
I have at least 90% of the piece sketched out to my liking, I transfer it to staff

9. Do you write your music by hand? Do you use a computer program? Which one do you use?

I am sorry to say that computers and I don’t usually get along too well. They are
essential to our daily life, but I use them only as necessary and as they fit my
comfort level. When I send hand written manuscripts in to the publisher, they are
very neat. I use good manuscript paper, sharp pencils and a ruler. I look forward
to the day when I have the time and patience to learn a computer program. My
friends and colleagues speak highly of Sibelius as a user-friendly program, so
that will probably be the one I tackle. In judging local and regional composition
contests, I find that most students use computer programs with ease, and that is

10. Does your personality show through in your compositions? What style of music do you like to compose best?

There is not any one style that I prefer over others, but I do have a special
love for jazz and blues as well as romantic style music. Writing for piano gives
endless possibilities in the Impressionistic realm, also.

There is no doubt that your personality will come across through your
compositions. Think about it…you begin with a blank page, and eventually share
your soul with everyone who plays and hears your musical creation. Whatever
mood you create will be shared with those who come in contact with your works.
We often think of Haydn’s music as being cheerful, and some of Beethoven and
Debussy’s music illustrates humor. But all of these composers also wrote some
darker, more dramatic music as well. Each of us is a kaleidoscope of moods,
and the art of writing music gives each of these moods a voice to be shared with

11. What kind of music do you like to listen to? Does the music you listen to affect your compositions in any way?

I listen to many different types of music, and I do believe that what you listen to
has an impact on your creativity. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing
a beautiful classical recording, and we listen to a lot of classical music at our
house. I also love jazz, so there is plenty of that in the mix. Our family members
often take turns playing our ipods through a stereo system, so I hear types of
music I wouldn’t normally listen to, and that is really helpful to me as a composer.
These run the gamut from Broadway tunes and old standards to rock and rap!

Thank you, Mona for being willing to answer our questions and for being our featured composer!  Sharing your personal experiences will help us as we seek to help our students be successful wherever their musical interests lie.