Q&A with Roger Zare, composition

In 2014, in honor of our 50th anniversary, the Bowdoin International Music Festival created the Kaplan Fellowship Program to offer tuition free opportunities for advanced musicians at the beginning of significant careers in music. Now in its third year, the program is a unique offering geared to mature, accomplished players. Kaplan Fellows perform with artist instructors throughout the summer concert series and become familiar faces to concert goers throughout Maine. Kaplan Fellows also receive a full scholarship to cover all participation fees and housing and are sponsored by members of the community.

In advance of their arrival we sat down with these 17 highly skilled Fellows to better understand where they’re coming from, and where they’re headed in the future. The talks ranged from musical memories, to incredible sagas of how Fellows obtained their instruments. What follows is a selection from one of those conversations, with composer Roger Zare.

BIMF: What are some of your earliest musical memories?

Roger: I remember my parents playing pieces that they learned when they were young on the piano, and I remember asking my dad to sight read sheet music that was in our house. I would try to find the piece that looked the most difficult and imposing to play and give them to him, eagerly awaiting when he would read through the densest passage on the page. I also remember one of my brothers playing the recorder and teaching me how to play it when I was 4 years old.

BIMF: At what age did you start playing your instrument?

Roger: I began playing piano when I was 5, and then picked up violin when I was 11. I tried composing for the first time when I was 7 or 8, but had so much difficulty making things legible that I didn’t continue. Then, when I was 14, I tried out some notation software, and discovered that I really enjoyed composing. After hearing my first composition performed, a co-written piece for string orchestra, I knew I wanted to be a composer.

BIMF: What is the longest you’ve ever spent preparing a piece of music?

Roger: While studying composition as an undergrad at USC, I spent three of my four years working on a piece for piano and ping pong balls, titled “Dark and Stormy Night.” Nowadays I usually spend no more than a handful of months writing a given piece of music, but the expanse of time I spent writing Dark and Stormy Night saw it transform from a serious piece that used a handful of ping pong balls to a theatrical and comical piece that used hundreds.

BIMF: If you could play with any musician who would it be and why?

Roger: I would love to meet J.S. Bach. I am endlessly captivated by his incredible combination of intellect and musicality, and his ability to improvise with this mastery as well.

BIMF: How would you explain your passion for chamber music to a non-musician?

Roger: I love writing chamber music because of how personal it is, working with just a few musicians in a setting that allows for an incredible amount of creativity, diversity, and complexity.

BIMF: What do you look forward to most about your time as a Kaplan Fellow?

Roger: I’m looking forward to being a part of a community of musicians this summer, getting to know as many as I can as new friends and colleagues. I am also looking forward to assisting with Derek Bermel and the composition program at Bowdoin.

BIMF: What’s next for you after the Festival? What are your career goals?

Roger: After the Festival, my plan is to continue freelancing as a composer. I have a few commissions from some various ensembles and individuals that will be premiered in the upcoming fall and winter and I’ll need to get busy writing them. Beyond that, I’m hoping to continue collaborating with musicians and ensembles and serving in residencies through the rest of my career. I would love to teach composition at the university level one day.

BIMF: What advice would you offer to an aspiring musician?

Roger: For the aspiring young composer, my main advice is always to keep on exploring and discovering new things, and not just musical things – have new experiences of all sorts as often as you can. The more you are able to take in, the better you are able to convert your experiences into your art. My second piece of advice is to learn and utilize whatever you can of the business side of music. With the proliferation of the internet and self-publishing, times have changed for composers over the last few decades, and it is vital that you can be successful not only as a composer but also as a publisher and promoter of your own music.

Check back soon for more interviews…