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Michael McGlynn CCMC ChoralNet Composer of the Month, February 2012

The CCMC ChoralNet Composer of the Month for February 2012 is Michael McGlynn.
"Choral music is changing. There is no precedent for this change. Technology is pushing into all of our lives in a way that it never has done before, and this will, and is, affecting the way choirs work and the infrastructure that surrounds them. I believe that these radical changes need to be addressed through interaction and dialogue. "  ... Michael McGlynn May 21, 2011
            The power of the internet is incredible.  It has given composers the opportunity to become their own publishers and distributers.  It allows us to find new texts to set, to hear new compositions and to meet composers from all around the world.  The creation of ChoralNet's communities has allowed us to begin living Michael's prophetic words quoted above.  Michael has been a supporter and advisor in the creation of our Little Marketplace of New Music, an example of the change that is coming.  Please reply to this post with your own experiences with Michael or his music.
             It has been my pleasure to get to know Michael McGlynn over the past several months.  Michael’s fame as a composer and as the creator and director of Anúna go hand in hand.  In preparation for this article I watched YouTube videos, listened to several albums, read Michael's Blog and investigated Anúna’s website. Although I would recommend this for everyone to try, the real value I discovered was in opening a dialogue with the man who has created and overseen the growth of his own international phenomenon.  The bulk of this month’s Composer of the Month installment will be our own little Gradus Ad Parnassum.  The student is asking the master the questions and reporting to you the master's words of wisdom.  In posts in our forum, Michael has offered his sage advice to the benefit of all, so my questions are somewhat focused on our community.  Sometimes my questions were off the mark but I will give them to you unaltered. Those that read this article may notice Michael’s influence on the direction we are heading and on new elements that will be appearing.  I am placing this video here so that you may listen to two of Michael's beautiful works while you read this article.  The pieces are "Lux Aeterna" and "The Road of Passage".  There is little break between the two compositions. 
Q&A with Michael McGlynn
1.  You have chosen to self-publish your music.  How has that decision helped or hindered the accessibility of your music?
--- Well, I live in Ireland, which is the wildwoods of classical music, so the chances of being published at all, particularly as a Southern Irish composer were nil. In 1994 I entered into an administration deal with Warner Chappell UK. I am still with them. They collect royalties from airplay and mechanical publishing of my work, but have left me to look after my Sheet Music myself. My voice as a composer is Anúna. The only way to have my work heard was through them, as my music was not performed by any other Irish choral groups until around 2005. I recorded large quantities of material and those recordings have resulted in the STORE on the Anúna website. In 2000 I went completely online with sales and it was like a window opening - the fresh-air of multiple choral voices, opinions and ideas have enhanced my life in ways I cannot say. I have full control but also the rare privilege of connecting with passionate people all over the world. I never want it to be any different.
2.  Are there Irish publishers that have sought to publish your music?
--- No.
3.  Do you feel self-publishing is a wise choice for all composers, or only certain types of composers? Explain.
--- Well, I do everything myself - manage Anúna, negotiate contracts, train singers, administer and run the choir, organize recordings, write and edit the music for these, etc., etc., etc. Some people seem to believe that they need other people to do things that they can actually do quite competently themselves. I love self-publishing for the reasons I state. It's fun. It just might not suit people who have a 9 to 5 job and little time to do anything. I am simply lucky.
4. What impact will having a standard process for accessing works on ChoralNet have on getting the works by composers in our community performed?
--- I think that anything that allows individuals to be heard is a good thing, for better or for worse I must add. I think that most composers attached to this list are not that interested in more than having their voices unleashed. If it only does that, then it will be a huge success. However, it really is up to people like me who are established to a certain extent to help and advise if asked, so I hope that there is lots of that, too.
5.  Anúna is billed as Ireland’s National Choir.  You have worked to create a distinctly Irish brand of choral music by including modal melodies, traditional Irish instruments such as harp and Bodhrán and by using characteristics of these instruments in the voices of your choir.  Has this vision served as a creative mechanism to help guide you to create music?
--- I'm not actually that interested in Irish music, to be honest. I know that lots of people love that element of my work. I am first and foremost a composer, exactly the same as those people I meet here (CCMC).  I am obsessed with the land I live on. It is a very special place, and the only guide I need. I wish I could write more, but time is limited and I would rather jump into the sea than write about it at this point in my life.
6.  How important is having a preconceived stylistic framework to the creative process?
--- I think that honesty is the only framework people should have. There are some cultures that believe that surrounding us is a Great Song - an Amhrán Mór. Fanciful as it may seem, I believe that my work, and that of so many others, is dependent on accessing and interpreting this. I don't work within a framework or style, and every day is an education.
7.  Would you recommend having a stylistic framework in mind for our beginning and emerging composers?
--- I think that the term "composer" has too many connotations of elitism to it in many cases. I think we need to be real people, not apart, but part of society and the natural world to any extent we can be. Being a composer is not a profession, it is a gift that should be nourished and cherished.
8.  As an artist you have many very successful modes of expression.  You are an excellent singer, director, and composer.  Would you say that you are an artist that uses your ensemble as your principal means of artistic expression?
--- Yes.
    If so, is composition simply one of the tools you use to attain that expression through Anúna’s performance?
    If not, what is the relationship between your artistic role as a composer and your artistic role as a director?
--- I've never been asked this question before... I don't really know what the answer is. I don't see myself in any of these roles. It’s a very strange position to be in to be able to carry a musical idea through to fruition, and I personally find it very odd when someone else interprets my work without my input. Being a composer and a performer I see no division between the two roles. One is part of the other.
9.  How important is it for choral composers to also be the director of an ensemble?
--- Again - I haven't been asked this before, and I have personally never been in any other situation. I don't see the role of the composer with the same degree of awe that many people do. It is a job first, or a wonderful and fulfilling hobby. Then, sometimes, it is something else. A rare and amazing thing. My eight-year-old daughter picked up a guitar for the first time yesterday and improvised a song immediately. I was just a bit shocked, but maybe she could do this because our house is full of informal music all the time. alternatively it could be nature not nurture. Who knows...
10.  In an interview with Michael Quinn from the Contemporary Music Centre in Ireland (2009), you said that composing is first and foremost a job, not a privilege and not a divine inspiration.  Yet you say here that composing is not a profession, but a gift.  How would you justify the contradiction?
--- Well, it is both. The moment of revelation or epiphany is the gift. The ability to be able to side-step into something wonderful is something natural, and something I believe that we all have as part of our humanity. I suppose I am making a division (between) the two aspects of my job. Well, there are three, because the transmission of the music is what takes up the third part of what I do. Many other composers don't feel that part three is something they can do - too much involved, and it definitely can block the creative energies... Life is relative. Some people create on a world stage. Others create at home, and their work is never heard. I don't think that either way is correct. The act of creation is usually enough for most of us. Adulation and accolade are something else entirely.
11. You have stated that your theory for the Anúna sound and the way you compose is to show the human element, which is basically flawed. Not that one can hear any flaws in your choir’s performance, but can you elaborate on what kind of flaws exist and why you feel they are important?
--- Flaw is just that - imperfection. Most choirs strive for perfection. We don't. We look for connection first within the ensemble. We also connect personally and that is a vital thing for us. We trust each other, and laugh together and feel the music as one, or at least as close as we can to being one. Ego is not part of Anúna. The method of transmission is worked on constantly - posture, the breath, confidence - we build these up together. Maybe I don't mean flaw - maybe I mean that we strive for a different form of perfection to that sought after by other groups.
12. How can established composers help less established composers on ChoralNet?
--- That’s simple - but the question that needs to be asked is why should they? I did pose something similar to a number of established US choral composers and their answer was that they had built up their business - invested financially, etc. Some of them don't actually benefit from increased competition in the marketplace, and that is completely understandable I think. I am in an unusual position because I am not competing with other composers, so I can be available for advice or help, but in many ways I agree with these composers. However, many years ago when I was asked by the English composer Colin Mawby to help an emerging writer who did not have the training and experience I had gained, I was very reluctant to do so. Colin's view was simple  - others did not have the opportunities I had in my education. He said that at some stage we are all asked to give something back, as it is a circular process - in giving we receive.  That’s what community is about, and that’s what this community should, in part, be about too. 
13.  What does our community have to offer experienced composers like you? What needs are not being met?
--- Well, that is a tricky one. I like the idea of being part of a community, and watching and listening to what others say. I am very isolated professionally at home. The only composer I have any kind of contact with is the Northern Irish composer Philip Hammond, whose "Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic" will be part of Anuna's programme this season. Beyond the odd very amusing conversation we have on the subject of composition I never speak to anyone on the subject, nor do I for that matter discuss choral music with any other choral director here. For me this is a window that I can open to let in fresh air. Sometimes the air isn't as fresh as I would like, but that helps me to gain perspective on many issues. 
14.  How can we help each other to get our compositions performed?
--- I can't advise people on that, Jack. What I do think is that if we are all positive and work together, maybe organize events as a unit that display the best of our wares, or give people the technology to improve the transmission of what they have already, then this will help. Or simply being a shoulder to cry on the odd time... I would also say that a forum where composition is exposed to the gaze, positive or negative, of one's peers can result in realistic assessment of the genuine quality of one's work. Composing in isolation, or in a very limited musical environment (like I do) can give you unrealistic views of your efforts for the good and the bad. This, I think, is one of the most important things that this community can offer all of us. Finding the mechanisms within it are what is difficult. Efforts like yours will have far reaching effects on the entire community I believe.
15.  You have an international travel schedule, you compose, sing and direct a choir, you run a website, lead workshops and do interviews.  Does your family ever get to see you?
--- Yes - I was home for 4 weeks in the last 12. Normally it isn't that bad. I work at home so I see them all the time when I am here, and often there is a collective sigh of relief when I depart. On top of all that I find time to cycle, film and edit, swim, record and produce, etc. In many ways, living in Ireland has been a huge benefit. I had to learn to do all the things I do myself, so I didn't integrate into extant systems, rather I found ways around my lack of formal knowledge. I am a great believer of common sense. In choral music there isn't that much of it displayed. Singers and conductors have become dependent on structures that all need a good Spring-clean I believe. I am glad that I no longer appear to be shouting in wilderness, so long live ChoralNet...
Michael is his own publisher with most of his works available through the sheet music section on the Anúna website.  The choir's most recent CD release is The Best of Anúna released June, 2011 and is available on the Anúna site or on iTunes.  Michael has also taken up filmmaking and his visual works include some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world (see video of Invocation below).  A blog post he made after the ACDA National Convention in March last year is an excellent resource for understanding Michael's views about publishing, technology, the ACDA, ChoralNet, and more.  The quote at the beginning of this article is from that post.  I look forward to Michael's continued participation in our community and look to him as a valued colleague and resource. 
This interview with Michael was recently posted to YouTube.  It is a well-produced video and quite interesting.
on February 14, 2012 9:35am
I really enjoyed this interview. My artistic life has many similarities to Michael's, and I appreciate and can relate to many of his comments! Thanks, Michael and Jack!
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on February 14, 2012 1:16pm
Great, thanks for doing this interview and posting it.  Inspiring, especially about building connections among people and not obsessing about perfection.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 14, 2012 9:47pm
A wonderful interview, Jack. I appreciated your intelligent questions. And Michael's music is so pure and moving, really!
My artistic situation is also very similar; living in Ticino (Italian region of Switzerland) and composing choral music is like trying to sell freezers at the North Pole!
Without internet, I think, several composers would have been completely layed to rest and forgotten.
ChoralNet is for me a daily resource to find something interesting and stimulating and it makes me feel part of a community who think that choral music is of 
great significance in the society.
Have a nice day ;-)
Ivo Antognini
music composer
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