Over the course of this year’s celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Musicom will be featuring composers from our great country.
In this issue we present an interview with Vince Gassi, conducted by students of Holy Trinity High School in Fort McMurray. As many of you may begin or are in the midst of programming Canadian music in upcoming concerts and festivals, I encourage you to seek out and speak to the composers and arrangers of the music. Their insight and perspectives shed a whole new understanding for the performer, audience and directors of the music.
If you are interested in contributing to Composer's Corner and Musicom, please feel free to send documents to James de Sousa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vince Gassi Interview with students of
Holy Trinity High School, Fort McMurray, AB
Several questions were asked of Mr Vince Gassi. The excerpts below feature some highlights from the interview.
What made you want to write music?
Vince Gassi: I began writing music 10 years ago. I was, and still am, fascinated by the process which music can elicit emotional and physical responses in listeners. Whenever I heard music that I really enjoyed, I would try to imagine how the notes were configured on the score. Today, scores are readily available but when I was younger they weren’t. I think this mental exercise helped me greatly. Listening to music in this way seems as though we use a different, mental muscle group. It is amazing to think that that sound waves, vibrations in the air, enter your ear and make your brain process them a certain way.
What composition are you most proud of, and why?
Vince Gassi: That is always a tough question. Tsunami stands out as one of my favourite pieces as it is one of the first that I wrote. I also like a recent one I wrote for jazz band called The Big Band Theory. Chase the Shouting Wind is another favourite. But one that I recently conducted with the North Dakota All-State Honour Band, Canadian Folk Trilogy, stands out as well. Folk songs are always fun.
Are there any criticisms you have in anything that you have written?
Vince Gassi: The creative process is such that one is always trying to improve and to be innovative. It is always a challenge to step back and be objective about your own work and to balance that with being innovative. You can’t be afraid to try out new ideas; yet, being objective means being critical as well. Deadlines can certainly add stress to this equation when publishers and editors need the composition sooner than later. Occasionally, when some time has passed since I’ve heard one of my pieces, I will realize that I could have done certain things differently. There is always more than one way to do something. It is also a sign, I think, that a composer is growing.
What piece of music took you the longest to compose?
Vince Gassi: Genesis was probably the longest in duration. It was originally 11 minutes in length, but for publication I revised it down to 7 minutes. In retrospect though, it only took me roughly a month and a half to two months. Sea Fever, a non-published work for orchestra and choir which is over 300 bars in length, took me roughly two to three months.
I believe that artists become engrossed in the creative process. When I am in this state, time doesn’t have any meaning. Have you ever noticed that when you are trying to solve a problem or are creating a work of art, you forget how much time has really gone by? The mental space that you are in during that period of time, regardless of whether or not you are actually in front of the work, is intriguing. You are consistently reviewing and thinking about what you can do to improve your piece. Sometimes I hear a piece I wrote years ago and realize I forgot I wrote it. But even more interesting is that I seem to forget that I had the ability to write it. I think when you are in that creative zone, you are outside of your normal brain. Your creative mind is a special place.
What is your favourite style to arrange or compose?
Vince Gassi: I love writing for all ensembles; band, orchestra, choir. But one of my favourite projects I worked on was a radio play. I adapted The Tell-Tale Heart, a play by Edgar Allan Poe. We set up the stage, not like a normal band concert, but rather like a 1950s radio studio. When the audience entered, it was like they were watching musicians, singers, and actors coming to work. It was a 20-minute composition. I also love to write for film. I think writing for dramatic situations is one of my favourite styles of writing. But really, any form of composition entails a dramatic component.
How do you come up with an idea for a piece of music?
Vince Gassi: You have to select the message or the story that you are trying to write about in your music; which colours or emotions are you attempting to evoke. An example would be Tsunami. I wrote that piece before it hit Thailand in 2004. I have been inspired by poems, historical events, or adventure stories. The events and imagery are a great starting place. The question then becomes, how do I translate these ideas into musical notation?
Who are some of your favourite composers and those who inspired you?
Vince Gassi: Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams have inspired me quite a bit. Some classical composers that have inspired me as include Beethoven, Mahler, Bartók, Stravinsky, Holst, and Shostakovich.
How did you come up with your arrangement for O Canada?
Vince Gassi: I have three arrangements of O Canada. I’ll refer to the grade 3.5 level arrangement. I was actually at the Tower of London when I had an inspiration for the opening fanfare. We have the best national anthem in the world. The melody is tuneful but not overstated. I don't believe in changing the original composer’s harmonies but there are ways to orchestrate so as to emphasize certain colours that evoke honour and pride. It is helpful to look to the lyrics as well.
Do you enjoy conducting your own music?
Vince Gassi: I enjoy conducting all music. It allows you to shape colours within the composition and to be expressive by becoming part of the creative process. The creative process doesn’t end when the ink is dry. It is carried forth by the conductor and the musicians who also have to conceive and perform it. It is truly unique and collaborative.