Composer David MacDonald writes music that is serious and clever, expressing a fondness for groovy rhythms and delightful surprises. He simultaneously embraces and pokes fun at expectations, like smashing the formality of concert traditions through the irreverent firehose of social media.
Growing up as a trumpet player in St. Louis MO, David attended the University of Missouri, first focusing on performance and only then discovering an interest in composition. He later earned a M.M. and D.M.A. in composition from Michigan State University. David believes passionately that new music—even pretty weird music—is for everyone, not just the formally trained few, and he loves sharing new music experiences with a wider audience. In 2010, he co-founded SoundNotionTV, a podcast network featuring audio and video shows about music and the arts. He previously served as founder co- Artistic Director of SCENE&heard, a new music concert series at the (SCENE) Metrospace gallery in East Lansing MI.
Today, David is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover what eclectic collection of musicians formed the base of David’s artistic interests and career…
Who were your first favorite artists growing up?
I grew up playing trumpet in school bands before I was ever interested in composition. My first favorite artists were jazz trumpet jocks like Maynard Ferguson and Arturo Sandoval. Digging through my local record store’s jazz section, I found all kinds of other artists from the bebop canon and forward. In retrospect, it was a wild collection of completely unrelated musicians, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chick Corea, Béla Fleck, Bill Evans, Wynton Marsalis, and more. I had no idea what I was doing. I just bought whatever looked interesting used. I didn’t know what I was listening to in a lot of ways. I just knew I liked it. I didn’t really get interested in contemporary classical music until I got to college.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I have always liked trying new things, and making things is one of my favorite ways to do that. While I was in high school and college, I would do little situation-specific arrangements for church and wedding gigs. Then, when I was a sophomore at the University of Missouri, I took a couple of classes in composition from Stefan Freund, and that was really the first time I encountered creative contemporary music in any meaningful way. That same year, Karel Husa was doing a week-long residency at Missouri, and I completely fell in love with his music. Over the next few years, my writing time gradually crowded out my trumpet practice time, and during my senior year, I made the difficult decision to switch my primary focus to composing when I applied to graduate programs.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. The things I like are the things I like. I don’t listen to music to impress other people. Having said that, and speaking of Husa above, I think every slow piece of music I’ve ever written is basically an attempt to rewrite the opening of his Les Couleurs Fauves. I feel no guilt about that whatsoever. ;-)
If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?
This might seem silly, but I really like the job I’ve got now. My perfect job would be pretty darn close to it. Writing music, teaching composition, and working with other clever and creative musicians is both stimulating and rewarding. I don’t say this enough to my students, but I really love watching them go through their own creative processes: making decisions, solving problems, and discoving new works, technologies, and techniques. It makes me a better and more creative composer. On top of that, I get to indulge in trying new things all the time. I can shoehorn pretty much anything into creative exploration: software development, 3d printing, web design, photography, machine learning, augmented reality. Anything can lead me to think differently about the world and the way my music fits into it, and anything can wind its way into the final work. My perfect job would allow me the space to explore any and all of those areas in both my teaching and my own creative practice.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’m not really inspired by places as much as I am inspired by other people and the way they think and play. So if I could spend creative time anywhere, it would be at some kind of artist retreat with some of my most creative and collaborative friends. Bonus points if it’s nice outside and there’s good coffee and whiskey available. If we’re going to be more specific, the MIT Media Lab strikes me as a really fun and creative place to be. I don’t know anyone there, but the variety of inventive and clever work that come from there is pretty astounding.
If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?
First, the easy answer: piano. There is no skill that would apply to as much of my professional life as the ability to rip through any kind of rep on a piano keyboard. It’s also much more practical than my primary instrument (trumpet) for playing in mixed chamber groups.
Second, a more whimsical answer: banjo. I have no idea why. I don’t really even listen to much banjo music other than the Flecktones. It just seems like fun.
Stumpery on WINDSWEPT is now available for streaming or purchase through Navona Records. Click here to explore this new album.