Audiences at the first concert of the 2018 Basically Beethoven Festival will hear the World Premiere of Quinn Mason’s String Quartet No. 5. Mr. Mason is quite an accomplished composer, regardless of his young age. He grew up in Dallas and graduated from North Dallas High School. He first became acquainted with Fine Arts Chamber Players through an in-school demonstration by one of our troupes, and eventually was part of our scholarship program for private lessons.
Enjoy this interview with Mr. Mason to learn more about his process for composing, his history (including his first time in the audience at the DSO with rock star Sting on stage), and his interests.
Why was the String Quartet No. 5 selected for this concert? This one is a representation of my current style. I’d say it marks the emergence of the compositional voice that I experiment with today. The fourth movement of this quartet has been performed before, but this is the first time the entire piece has been performed in public – it’s a World Premiere.
How old were you when you started playing an instrument? When you started composing? When I was 10 I started piano classes at my elementary school. That led to an interest in exploring music more. I took private lessons and had extra practice on the keyboard after school. That led to improvising, exploring, and creating music.
After piano, I started the cello about 2 years later; and I did the recorder at school. Cello was my first experience playing with an ensemble through orchestra, the New Conservatory of Dallas. In high school, North Dallas High School, I joined band for the first time in the percussion section.
I was 10, actually, when I started composing. I even drew my own staff paper for my earliest pieces!
Can you walk us through your process of how you compose a piece? Sometimes the idea comes first, sometimes the rhythm comes first. I’ll take all the ideas and put them in a little black notebook I keep. Eventually, I’ll put all the notes together and order them. Then one idea – a theme – will come to the forefront and I might voice that with a particular instrument, then fill out the other sections … essentially, it’s taking ideas and shaping them into a larger picture.
When did you decide to pursue a career as a composer? In high school. It was my band director Mr. Warmanen who encouraged my composition by letting me composer for the band and letting me compose my own pieces for the band. And this was after I’d taken some time off from music in middle school.
What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? My mom brought me up on ’80s and ’90s music, mostly R&B and hip-hop. So, classical music was something I had to seek out on my own through the radio. I still listen to classical music, but I’ve recently gotten into salsa music and Latin music, in general.
Growing up in Dallas, what were some arts organizations you interacted with? FACP – I was a scholarship student and received free cello lessons in elementary and middle school. Once I left the cello, FACP was able to facilitate composition lessons for me.
I grew up in the audience at the DSO. First performance was seeing Sting in Peter & the Wolf at the DSO. I still remember that! That was a school trip.
Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? Igor Stravinsky is my favorite of all time. It used to be Tchaikovsky, but once I heard “Rite of Spring, I thought – this is my man. The reason why I like Stravinsky so much is because he experimented with different styles, but he always sounds like himself at the same time. That’s unique and inspiring.
What advice would you give 14-year-old Quinn? You’re not going to be an actor, stop writing screenplays. Practice more piano, listen to a lot more contemporary music because it’ll really open your mind. And, just be yourself – don’t try to be someone else.
What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? Make lots of friends and be very social because music is a universal experience and very collaborative. Be nice to everyone and don’t burn your bridges – those connections can really help you in college and in your career.
What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Favorite sound – I’d have to say the sound of an orchestra tuning up. It’s very refreshing to hear lots of open strings and warming up. Least favorite sound – when people clap after the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.
When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? I want to hear Stravinsky conduct his own “Rite of Spring.” That’s what I really want to hear.