Composer Scott Pender is back again for his fourth-time release Navona Records. Pender has been praised by The Washington Post saying he has a “good ear for melody and a keen sense for the dramatic.” The good ear continues with his next release MUSIC FOR WOODWINDS. Today, Pender is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover who first inspired Pender to experiment with composing.
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
That’s got to be Wendy Carlos! I was 9 years old when Switched-On Bach came out. I have no idea how I got a copy of that album, but I remember being obsessed with the music & sounds it contained; I couldn’t listen to it enough. And I wanted to know everything about Carlos and the Moog Synthesizer. (At some point, I began saving up my allowance & lawn-mowing money to buy my own synthesizer.) I had been exposed to lots of different music before that: my parents had a huge record collection with all kinds of music, soul & country, gospel & pop, and my grandmother had given me a collection of 45 rpm records featuring abridged classics, but nothing had ever struck me the way Wendy’s Bach did. To this day, I prefer certain of her realizations (especially the “Sinfonia to Cantata No 29” and the “Brandenburg Concerto No 3”) to those played on acoustic instruments.
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, what are the three things you absolutely can’t live without?
Whiskey, good food, and Netflix (pretty much in that order). I’m assuming my husband Steve would still be around and would not be a zombie.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
It would be a toss-up between a “writing hut” on the water in the Tyrolean Alps and one like the place Wittgenstein lived in during 1913-14 on a fjord in Norway. I love northern climates, cold weather, wood fires, snow, and water. The solitude of both places would be perfect. I’ve always liked the idea of a writer’s hut or shed, a small, cozy place where one goes to escape the world while creating.
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
All gratitude. Without you, the performer/conductor, this piece of music is just the blueprint of an unbuilt house. Until you perform it, it’s all a bunch of marks on paper. I want you to treat my marks on paper as a starting point, make them your own, and add what every piece of music needs to be real—a performer’s input and soul. Without that, there’s no point to the writing, and without that, no audience will ever know the work.
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?
There are always weird difficulties in composing, so I’ll answer this as a performer instead. I played on only one cut on the album: Lyric Set for bassoon & piano. (I am the pianist.) The third piece in this set, “Lord Berners’ Giraffe,” starts with a six-note figure in the piano that repeats 63 times with no change. It’s marked “in strict time, mf semplice”—that is, semi-loud and simple. The idea is to play it like a machine. That’s much more difficult than it seems; we naturally want to vary things, even in small ways. I found, eventually, that I was able to zone out and play it in a state of semi-concentration while still counting each bar. But it’s a fine line to tread. By the way, the bassoon part’s not any easier!
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
No, I want every listener to bring their own ideas and feelings to each piece. Granted, some pieces have suggestive titles. For example, in Lyric Set there are pieces titled “Every Day Is Saturday” and “Hopeful about the Past,” each of which suggests a certain frame of mind or idea. But even then, your experience listening to one of these may differ dramatically from mine. Once, after a concert, someone from the audience told me that she imagined, during my piece, that she was riding along on a train, watching scenes pass by through the window. I thought that was a fine way to describe listening to a piece of music. So I suggest to every listener, look out the train window and see what might be passing by.