Coffee with Composers – Matthew Patton

On Friday, I had a really thought-provoking conversation with Winnipeg composer Matthew Patton.

Matthew was the Artistic Associate with the New Music Festival that just happened a few weeks back.  In other words, he’s the guy who got the headlining Icelandic composers to come to Winnipeg.  That’s a great feat, but he’s no slouch as a composer himself.

He studied Composition at Manhattan University and took some time with John Corigliano.  He’s worked with world-class choreographers (like Paul Taylor for their production called Speaking in Tongues) and been played in Lincoln Centre in New York City.  He’s worked with filmmaker Guy Maddin on multiple occasions and in multiple projects.

I feel very privileged to have coffee with this man and I’ll let you in on a few of our discussions.

One was about understanding.  We didn’t entirely agree, but that’s okay – in fact, that’s better because then my thoughts are challenged.  He says that there’s a sense of compulsion in the audience member’s ear when they don’t quite get it.  There’s a sense of mystery and that mystery is intriguing.  As a huge fan of Lost during its run, I agree, even though I want my audience to understand what I’m telling them they don’t dismiss what I’m trying to say because they “don’t get it.”

The more that I think about it, the more I agree with him.  The need to find out is what drives us forward and maybe we can build that suspense into our music.

This isn’t to say that his music is unspecific or amorphous, because it’s actually the opposite of both of those things.  This was another great talk that we had.  He asked: What are you trying to do? And I told him that I’ve been into science and that I want to write about how beautiful the natural world is when we get it.  But he kept wanting me to be more specific and dig deeper until I realized that maybe I didn’t know exactly what I wanted or how to get there.

“Be specific,” he says.  So now I’m really thinking about getting the specificity of my ideas through the music.  For example, if I’m trying to write about nature for an instrumental group (meaning “no text”), how am I going to convey that to the audience so that they understand my meaning? Specifically.

We talked for about 90 minutes and it was very insightful.  I am very thankful for his time.

In an email the next day, he wrote this to me:

To me, the most important thing in all of music is to have something to say.  And to have something to say you must LIVE so I suggest to anyone go out and experience every single thing in the whole world!!  The people that I admire most as artists are always the people that I admire most as people.

I love that last line.

Happy weekend, see you Monday!

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