Interview with William Jason Raynovich
William Jason Raynovich is a composer, cellist, and professor at Chicago State University. He is also one of the featured composers in Homeroom’s Physics for Listeners. He was kind enough to humor us in a short interview.
1. When did you start composing? What inspired you to begin writing your own music?
I started composing at 19. It was quite honestly a bet with a graduate student composer who basically wanted to make additional income that semester. He “bet” me a dinner that I could not compose a piece of music. I ended up composing a 30 minute “opera” called, “The Violist Nightmare,” for string trio and some other instrumentalists. It is lost now. The composition department took interest in me and asked me to seriously consider composition lessons.
Please read more below.
2. How has your writing changed and evolved over the years?
Absolutely! I would be shocked if anyone answered this in the negative. One’s writing should change, evolve, (sadly) devolve, and mutate over the years. If one heard my first couple of pieces, including that “opera,” to this piece or any of my works in the past ten years, they might hear little in common. In fact, dare I say, to my “professional” detriment, very few of my pieces share a common soundworld. Each piece is an experiment on something I am confronting/reacting to musically or otherwise. In other words, it is probably not wise for one commission me as one might not get the piece one wanted because the piece that may have inspired said commissioner will not be recreated.
3. How does the city of Chicago, including its inhabitants and its other composers and musicians, influence your work?
Chicago as a metropolitan area with a thriving music scene has influenced nearly every aspect of my work. This project would not be possible at its magnitude in most of America, let alone the world. Bringing together six musicians of the caliber and varied aesthetic who live within a 10 mile radius is quite remarkable. In addition, because there is so much going on, I have had to focus on writing music that can functionally be performed. There are great benefits to living in Chicago with the fabulous performers and the many opportunities. However, the overwhelming activity also makes these same performers extremely busy. At times, I envy the composer who teaches at a university in a small city/large town with respectable music school who will most likely get there compositions done by a quality faculty and some of the best students at the university. But then I remember that I went to see a great concert the week before and realize the grass is not greener.
4. What are some of your biggest challenges you face when writing and presenting new compositions?
I would like to offer the two big challenges for me. The first challenge is whether the new composition will be terrible, awful, not worth listening to, and not worth working on. Woven into the fear of failure, whether I am an incompetent composer myself. I do throw caution to the wind and experiment by trying new ideas with each work. This can enhance the fear considerably. The second challenge is writing a piece that will be able to be done by the ensemble I am writing for. My music can be quite daunting to put together requiring. Sometimes, my music requires more rehearsal time than is permitted by the ensemble playing my music. Sometimes, I create more difficulties than I have to with poor notation and things could have been notated to create the effect I want without overly convoluted notation. This problem is one that I believe would be less problematic if I lived in that idyllic small university town.
5. What music do you want played at your funeral?
What an odd question. I have never thought of that. You know what. I would rather not think about that right now. If I had to answer right now, probably no music. I would want there to be a party. If people at the party wanted to listen to music, they would be permitted. . . .