Colin Holter interviews Richard Yates.
On getting started:
I started writing music when I started playing piano; I think that was the first time, and it must be because of my piano teacher. She must have said, “You can just write what comes to mind, too; you don’t necessarily have to sing what’s on the paper.” And in elementary choirs and things like that, we probably had improvisational kinds of exercises. I can’t remember a specific point where it was like, “Now I will write music;” I think it was always a part of the music-making that we were doing. I don’t know that that’s necessarily typical. I guess in high school, at some point, I started writing music for the choir, so I wrote a few pieces that were performed while I was a junior and senior in high school. I think I also started writing some instrumental music around that time too. I guess when I was little I would do a lot of improvising at the piano and singing and things, and driving my parents crazy. And my brother.
On study period:
I remember bringing in my music. We could bring in work to do during our study period, so I said, “It’s math. I’m doing my time signatures and my rhythms, and this is my math.”
On music school:
It’s almost a fantasy now, thinking about that kind of environment—it’s so rare that you have the opportunity to do so many different things. One of the things that’s so driving for me as an artist is to try to build that kind of musical world for myself, where I can be engaged in different pursuits and be doing different musical activities and where everything complements one another. It tells you something about different disciplines that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
On why we do it:
I always hate that question. It feel so uncomfortable when people ask that. Thinking about going into the marketplace, we want to be certain about what we’re doing, and we all share a love and a passion for music. That’s the driving force for most musicians in getting into the field; it’s almost a little cliché just to say that, but it’s pretty important. But at the same time, I have many doubts; maybe I’m flighty or something, but I’m always thinking about other things. My high school teachers were always saying, “Richard, you can do whatever it is you want to do,” but I think the thing with music is that it’s more difficult than that: With music, just finding your way and finding how you’re going to make a life and subside, it’s something that—I have to be frank—I worry about frequently. I always have other ideas, and I’m thinking, “Well, if this doesn’t work I can do X, Y, and Z.” So then I’m thinking, “Why do I like music,” and I try to do other things, I do law, I say that I want to do medicine, and all of these different things, but I keep coming back because there’s something that’s unexplainable, a personal connection with the thing. I can’t even really explain to myself what it is. That’s probably what makes it so powerful and, at the same time, so frustrating.
Starting to write this piece, I devised melodies; I had a number of things that I was using in combination to get access to the piece, and one of the things was this translation of melodic materials into rhythmic materials. People ask, “Are you expected to hear any kind of melodic reference?” I don’t think so—it’s an organizational, structural way for me to pick materials and deal with them in a way in which I have experience. I was trying to push myself using these melodic frameworks.