As part of the new MusicSpoke project (follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram), I had a chance to talk to so many fabulous people today that I will have to stretch it out over a series of posts.

One of the highlights of my day (aside from an exciting meeting about a new piano trio commission), was catching up with my SMU composition teacher, Kevin Hanlon. I have not done a very good job keeping up with Kevin over the years, and having the chance to talk with Kevin brought back a wonderful flood of memories.

Kevin is one of the most thoughtful and human composers that I know. He has a fierce commitment to artistic integrity and compositional freedom. This isn’t an exact quote because I couldn’t take notes as fast as his mind works, but it will give you a sense of the dedication he has to our craft.

‘The idea of composers chasing after commissions is terrible. There are composers with tremendous reputations. I listen, and their music is completely forgettable. The composer that chases after every commission – I think that people who are like that develop certain skills, but the skills they are not honing – the generation of an idea, the raison d’etre of the piece – it’s not authentic from chasing commissions. Have they realized the full potential of an idea? You want to go down wrong roads as you explore the idea. Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 2 sketches are amazing because he spent so much time working out the idea. He did it in different meters and phrase lengths. He did it for weeks and week. Once he got it, the piece exploded.’

Kevin is also a multifaceted musician with many interests. Here is a link to his piece “The Lark of Avignon.” I’m particularly fond of that piece because I got to play the piano solo in the premiere. You can hear the natural giftedness for color and mood, but, for me, there is also this kind of childlike wonder. I mean it in the sense that, he can create a musical space and then just enjoy being there. He is a masterful orchestral composer, but he can also do popular forms of music.

Here is a video of one of his other facets. I’m no expert in popular forms, but I hear some King Crimson, some Zappa, and a bunch of amazing players. You should definitely seek out his music and give it a listen. (Kevin is playing guitar in this.)