1) MICHAEL. YOU RECENTLY ATTENDED THE Ghent Film Music Festival. CAN YOU PLEASE ELABORATE ON YOUR EXPERIENCES THERE?
Attending the World Soundtrack Awards in Ghent was inspiring. Got to meet so many film composers — legends, future legends, contemporaries, and emerging talents. Also got to meet many inspiring and dedicated people in other fields, both music-related and otherwise. As solitary as composing can be, feeling a part of a community is motivating and reassuring.
2) YOUR SCORE FOR THE HORROR MOVIE ‘GET OUT’ WAS CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AS WAS THE MOVIE. HOW DID THE COLLABORATION WITH DIRECTOR Jordan Peele COME ABOUT?
Jordan Peele was looking for someone who could bring the African-American voice to the film, both literally and metaphorically. He heard one of my concert works “Urban Legends” on YouTube, and had the producers hunt me down and send me the script. Jordan and I met for lunch and had a great conversation about his vision, film music, and what actually defines “scary.” It was from that first meeting that I recorded “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” which ended up framing the film as both the main title and (the initial section of the) end title.
3) YOU ARE THE RECIPIENT OF MANY GRANTS AND COMMISSIONS FOR ORCHESTRAL WORKS. IS HAVING A UNIQUE COMPOSITIONAL VOICE AN ASSET TOWARDS SECURING SUCH FUNDS OR ARE THERE ADDITIONAL FACTORS AT PLAY?
Having a unique compositional voice is essential to getting a concert commission. I think understanding your own artistic strengths is the most important trait for a good composer in any medium. Just like in media, there are also other factors at play in landing a concert commission: relationships, communication, reputation, and sheer luck. Some composers look at a concert commission as a dream assignment, the way others look at a media project as a dream assignment. My experience has been that any music writing job can be a dream. It’s the wrong combination of deadlines, budgets, and personalities that make any job a nightmare. That is exactly why relationships, communication and reputation are so important — no producer or funder wants a nightmare experience for themselves either! So these other factors will always matter whenever a business or institution goes to place a bet on an artist.
4) YOUR MUSIC IS INFUSED WITH ELEMENTS OF BLUES, BLUEGRASS AND JAZZ. DID YOU GROW UP LISTENING TO THOSE GENRES?
I did grow up listening to blues, bluegrass, and jazz. But that’s not to say I didn’t grow up listening to rock, classical, theater and film music as well. I had a fascination with music genres period. The harmonic language and expected structures specific to each one fascinated me. As I was finding my own compositional voice, I would try on various genres, to see how the clothes fit. What I noticed was that I always admired music that crossed genres or was stylistically diverse. When I realized that interest matched my ethnic background, something clicked and I was able to identify my own musical voice. Out of that I wrote the orchestral piece Global Warming (1990), which was not about climate change, but cultural connectivity through music.
5) ‘DELIGHTS & DANCES’ A COMPOSITION OF YOURS WAS RECENTLY PERFORMED AT CARNEGIE HALL NYC. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
This year was actually my third Carnegie Hall performance. It’s an experience that does not get old! This time several of the string soloists, now in their 20s, related to me how they first remember Delights & Dances (2007) from when they were in high school, playing in the section. And that being able to perform the virtuosic solo parts now as adults was like a coming-of-age for them. One of the young musicians, Jessie Montgomery, is now a sought-after composer herself. Also, the Sphinx Virtuosi play this piece so well that I honestly feel blessed to have written it. Anytime you as a composer can be reawakened to that feeling, that is Carnegie Hall.