The Artist Formerly Known As: Kenric Taylor

Note from the editor:

Over the last two years, I’ve written about music of the twentieth century in my “Notes from the Underground” column. It’s been great fun, but there comes a point when a good thing runs its course, and that time is now for my column. However, although I’m mostly through talking, being Arts Editor gives me a great opportunity to let the seldom-heard voices of the Williams artistic community shine through, albeit on dull gray newsprint. It’s like the Charlie Rose show, only better, because this isn’t public television – it’s the Record.

Kenric Taylor is the co-founder of the Independent Music Project, an organization for composers on campus. He is also a baritone in the Williams College Chamber Choir, with whom he has soloed on two occasions, a member of the Springstreeters and a trombonist in the Student Symphony and in a brass quintet. Kenric also has a part in the upcoming production of Lulu. His web page on Gustav Holst has received a number of awards, including a designation as a Five Star Site from the Malaspina Great Books Program. It has received recognition from the BBC and NPR, and a review of the page by British music scholar Ian Lace was written in the January, 1998 issue of Classic CD magazine.

Of your various artistic pursuits – and there are many – which do you consider the most important? That is, if I said, “Kenric, what are you?” how would you answer?

I think it’s a difficult question because when we’re here, I mean idealistically it would be nice if the different communities – music, art, theater, dance – could create a collaborative output. But we’re undergraduates, still learning our trades, and this time is important for learning our trades. When we leave here, we can go about establishing artistic communities, but right now, I feel that the communities are pretty splintered. Within the musical community specifically, I don’t think that, for instance, violinists know singers, or that the a cappella groups, which are part of the musical community here, coexist with any of the music department groups here, which I think is too bad. Which makes a group like the Independent Music Project, which is about composers getting music performed, it makes them scramble to find out who’s available to do what, because we don’t have an established musical community where everybody knows everyone else. In a school this size, I don’t think that should be a problem.

You took a year off and spent it in California. How did that experience affect you as an artist, and how did it change your view of arts at Williams?

Gee. (laughs) I spent time at UC Berkeley, and I joined their choir and their composer group, and I took a course in performing contemporary chamber music. I found that within the composer group at Berkeley – it’s a student composer group, similar to IMP – there was very little initiative to do anything at Berkeley. We have safeguards here that encourage initiative, to create – at Berkeley, the campus is too large to address individuals’ concerns. So what does that mean about the music scene there? It means that more people are going outside of the college community to get their music performed, and because they interact in this way, the actual vitality of the campus composers’ group is diminished. Our individual drive is to enrich campus life here at Williams – which is fine, I’m not knocking it, the small campus enriches the community here. I didn’t really compose much in California – I did a lot of voice, I studies with a singer in the San Francisco Opera chorus, and it was interesting to see the life of a performer. Our lessons were in the opera house, and every week when I went for my lesson, the halls were filled with the sounds of sopranos and tenors, and the stage crew. I could definitely be a singer. And the contemporary chamber class I took, my teacher paired me with a pianist, and we spent the semester going to concerts, listening to various music, and we gave a recital at the end of the semester. It was a very enriching experience.

Talk to me about IMP.

This is a big plug, because we have a concert coming up at the end of this month. The Independent Music Project is a community of composers here at Williams College that want to get their music performed. Back in ’97, Mike Veloso (’98) and I were chatting, and realized that there wasn’t really a place or an organization that supported composers like us, who wanted to hear our music. There was a lot of discussion in the past year, because an organization like IMP by default lends itself to establishing a musical community. Like I said before, composers need performers, and the process of getting performers to play your music creates a group of performers, now, who do support a community united in music. But IMP is about composers, and that’s it.

Tell me about your Holst page, and your obsession with Gustav Holst.

Obsession, eh? I don’t think that it’s an obsession

Perhaps I should say “appreciation for”.

Yeah, that sounds better. My “appreciation” for Holst began when, as a trombonist in high school, we performed “Jupiter” from the suite, The Planets. I’d never heard music like that in my life. We normally played arrangements of movie soundtracks, and Bach, in band, and this was the first time that there was something serious, something – (laughs) it was the first time I had a good trombone part. So I went to the library and I took out a CD of The Planets. And at the checkout desk, there was this guy there who said, “oh, you like Holst!” And I said, “yeah, but I don’t really know much by him.” And then he said, “well, give me your address, and I’ll send you a tape of other Holst music that’s not just for band and orchestra.” And naïve Kenric didn’t think of the possibility that this guy might be a serial killer or something, so I gave him my address. And later that week, I received a tape in the mail, full of choral part songs and larger pieces for choir and orchestra – and then I was hooked. When I got to college, I discovered the Internet, and spent days searching for a website on Gustav Holst. There was a site on Ralph Vaughan Williams, Holst’s best friend, and so I sent an e-mail to the webmaster of the site, and asked him why he didn’t have any information on Holst, seeing as they were best friends. He wrote back, “Mr. Taylor, this is not a Holst site. If you want Holst, I suggest you make your own site. Regard, J.C. Collis.” So I did. I taught myself HTML, and the Holst site has been online since February of 1996.

Is it the only Holst site?

I discovered that there were a few smaller ones, but I made a habit of outdoing them all, so people would come to mine. I wanted to create the definitive Holst site, a place where people knew they could find information – any information – about his life, his music, or lead them to where they could find it. I think that his music stands out from any other composer of his era because he didn’t conform to a style or expectations of an audience. He wrote what he felt. He was determined to find his ideal art. In listening to his music, you get a biographical study of the progression of an artist. He wasn’t the greatest composer, I’ll admit that, but seeing how he progressed in his lifetime, and how his style matured – it’s like you’re seeing how his music changed, and how his style refined, you’re getting a sense of his ideal – and then his tragic death, he died before he was able to achieve that ideal. And I guess that I’m just fascinated with what could have been.

Describe your style as a composer.

Huh? That’s all I want to put – I’m serious. (pauses, laughs) No…how do you feel about that question, Judd, as a composer?

(long pause) I guess I wouldn’t want to have to answer that, either. But what do you try to do with the music that you write? Or, perhaps, why do you write at all?

Obviously, I’m not going to get out of this. I think that all composers, all performers, all artists, for that matter, do what they do to communicate an idea to a larger audience. I write music because, as I said before, I’m trying to create something definitive and get an idea of how other people feel about what I’m trying to say. Don’t you think that, in some respects, all art is semi-biographical, not necessarily a portrait of the artist, him or herself, but that artist’s signature, that artist’s thought process, is in the art, and it’s all about discovering who you are as an individual. I mean, most people write diaries, or people have tried to write poetry, and what I do is an extension of that desire. This is a process that I use to understand who I am. This is just the way I do it – through music.