We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeff Payne and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeff, how does your business help the community?
The Young Composers Project gives voice to students who are learning the skill of composing. It’s an educational program of Fear No Music for students from sixth through twelfth grade which provides workshops and public performances of their music. Learning to write music is frequently a solitary pursuit. But students in the workshops get to have professionals play their works-in-progress and get feedback on how to realize their musical visions and improve their skills. A computer version of a work for “classical” instruments–for example, flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion–is a helpful starting point for a student but it sounds lame. For a student to hear the sonic animation of real instruments in real time opens up creative avenues that they didn’t know existed. Plus, in the workshops, students not only get to hear their works come alive, they get to experiment with the musicians at their disposal. They get to experiment with different timbres and instrumental colors, try different combinations of the instruments to achieve a particular mood or sound, discuss the best notation methods to achieve their visions, or discuss possible ways to develop the form and character of their piece. Finally, the workshops culminate in a public performance and recording of the student works. The recordings can be used by the students for youtube videos, college applications, or promotion of their music. The Young Composers Project is unique in that it provides the opportunity not only for performances of the students’ music, but the opportunity for them to workshop their pieces in such a creative atmosphere.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Like any creative type, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities. The Young Composers Project arose from one of those opportunities — I encountered a need that existed and worked to address that need. A number of years ago I was asked to judge a composition festival in Portland. The students performed their works and all of them were for solo piano. I suggested to one girl that the beautiful melody of her piece would sound really great on a flute, and asked if she had considered that possibility. She answered (with complete honesty), “I don’t have a flute or play one.” That was when the light bulb went off and I came up with the idea of providing workshops with professional musicians to young composers as a way of allowing them to explore ideas that they couldn’t explore on their own, for example, hearing a beautiful melody played by a totally different instrument.
The thing that excites me the most in working with young composers is seeing their “light bulb moments,” that moment when they hear their piece for the first time with real instruments–and their world changes. When a student says, “I can’t believe I wrote that, it sounds incredible,” I know that they’ve crossed that threshold.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Portland is surrounded by spectacular scenery, and my favorite “show-me” spots are the natural wonders here. There’s the Columbia Gorge, which is a trip through the forests through which the Columbia flows and the rivers which feed into it. You can drive through it, but the best experience are hikes you can take through old growth forests. There’s a trip to the coast to see the Pacific at some of the resort towns. There’s bike rides that seem timeless as you ride through the rich farm country that surrounds the area. The Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden transport you to another world. Portland’s food carts are justifiably famous and cover just about any cuisine your taste buds can desire. And you can try out a couple every day.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The Young Composers Project would not exist without the support of the Portland chapter of the Oregon Music Teachers Association. When the project was first proposed, the Portland chapter stepped up with funding for the first two years of the project to get it off the ground. And after it was on its feet, the music teachers have continued to send their students to the project every year, and have recommended it to other teachers around the state and around the country. A bit shoutout to them!
Photographer – Carolyn Fernandez