The Prow - An interview with KC Vitas
What inspired you in creating this work?
In the Spring of 2018, my dear friend and mentor Jonathan Talberg had written a set of “ocean poems” in the wake of his father’s passing. He gave them to me as a gift, and asked me to set them as a commission for the Bob Cole Chamber Choir in the coming fall. Before I could settle down with them, however, my own father had passed. In the weeks following, I turned to these poems, and found that they helped me emotionally resolve what I was feeling at the time.
One of the poems, “The Prow”, was written for Jon’s own mentor, conductor William Hall. The poem is pure elation, inspired by a life-changing encounter Jon had several years back. Sailing on the maiden voyage of Will’s yacht, Jon was sitting on its prow when dolphins began playing in the boat’s wake, shimmering in the Californian sunlight. Reading his words, I was moved by his vivid description of such a joyous scene, and felt that he truly captured what it meant to be alive.
When I first approached this poem, I was shrouded in the darkness of grief. However, as I set the text, I slowly reconnected with the emotion of joy, and gained a new appreciation for life. By the time I finished, I felt I had completed a significant chapter of the mourning process.
What do you hope the audience takes away from this composition?
Every time I listen to this piece, I always find something new that I didn’t notice before. At one point, Jon pointed out that the “sighing” glissandos of the sopranos — found later in the piece — sounded like the cries of whales. The next time I heard them, it literally sounded like whales leaping and crashing into the sea, brought out by the pounding octaves of the piano. It’s funny; the things we subconsciously write into our music!
I hope the audience discovers that image of a boat out at sea: the shimmering of the water in sunlight, the speed of the boat as the sea’s rippling surface flies by, and the dolphins playing in its sparkling wake. To me, that’s what true joy sounds like. It’s a happiness that’s grounded in mortality, nourished by the idea of savoring every last second we have. It’s also a happiness that’s boundless, free to the infinite beauty life has in store, should we seek out and find it.
Who are your musical inspirations?
This changes a lot! I feel with every piece I write, I’m carrying a different set of influences. If I had to give a name for “The Prow”, though, then Jake Runestad comes to mind first and foremost. His music is so dynamic and story-like — not to mention devastatingly vivid. Listening to his pieces, I can’t help but think about all the beautiful ways he paints images and creates beautiful moments through contrast. Pieces like his “Come to the Woods” bring you right into that moment: that scene of being lost in nature, surrounded by treetops churning in the wind.
Jake has also been somewhat of a mentor to me as a composer. Right in the middle of writing this piece, he actually gave me a lesson on a previous work of mine. There was a lot of food for thought that I carried directly into this piece.
What is your guilty pleasure music?
Video game music! I am a total nerd and have been a lifelong gamer. Some of my most important musical encounters as a child were playing games on the Super Nintendo. Video game composers like David Wise and Nobuo Uematsu were massive influences on my perception of music before I ever started writing.
Fun fact: most people don’t notice this, but the soloists in “The Prow” are actually quoting a musical figure from “Donkey Kong Country”. Appropriately, it comes from a song called “Aquatic Ambience”, written by David Wise. I had been listening to this music all my life, so it’s no surprise that a musical figure like that pops up when I imagine what the sea sounds like.
What online presence do you have that you would like KC VITAs to help promote?
I’m a mostly self-published composer, and have all of my music available on my website, lyonhazzard.com. I’ve also been experiencing a lot of success with commissions this past year. If anyone is interested, the best way to reach me is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you KC VITAs for featuring my music, and championing living composers! What you do is so invaluable, and I can’t thank you enough for performing my music.