Andrea Mazzariello is a composer, drummer, conductor and pianist whose senior thesis, Music to Accompany Revolution, will be performed by the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra on Friday, April 21. His works have been performed extensively on campus, including a performance of his Gesture I for Orchestral Machine by the Student Symphony and a performance of Madonna Above the Cigar Butts by baritone Kenric Taylor ’00 and himself at Convocation. As a drummer, he has performed with the Jazz Ensemble, as well as with jazz bands Fat Cat Sampson, Whooping Cough, the John Mahoney Quintet and the Brian Wecht Quartet. Andrea led the Student Symphony last Spring in the premiere of Gesture I, and will conduct the orchestra in Christopher Rouse’s Iscariot and Taylor’s The Kroger Revelation this May. He is the former director of the Williams Octet and wrote a column, The Good Love, in the Record from January through March of this year. He will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall in the Master of Music degree program.
Your piece is called Music to Accompany Revolution, and we all know about your revolutionary work in The Good Love. So what is this revolution, and what does it have to do with your piece?
That’s about the last thing I want to talk about right now, just because I don’t really have it nailed down very well. When you write a piece, you kind of know what it’s about, but ultimately you’re just making this thing, and have some intuitive sense that it works. And that’s how I feel about my revolution, whatever it is. My goal is to get some exposure for what composers and musicians are doing in the four walls of Bernhard. People really don’t have any idea what’s going on, and I wonder if they did, how they’d react. It’s almost an experiment. If I can get as many people in the door as I possibly can by writing this column that has the same title as this mass e-mail that I sent in the fall, and just linking all these things together into this one gigantic event, then it’s not that my piece is being performed on Friday night and it’s a singular event. It’s that all of this has been rushing towards the inevitable realization of this piece and the hall is full and everyone knows what’s been put into this in every possible way: my personal life, my academic life, all these things intersect around this piece and, beyond that, around the act of composition. I don’t think it’s limited to what you do with your score paper, by yourself, in your room.
I think there are opportunities to compose everywhere, and that’s ultimately what this whole thing is about: the effort to be gigantic, all-encompassing, and just to let it explode in this one, final gesture. And of course it’s overly ambitious, and it won’t go that way, but what am I going to strive to do, have a pretty well-received performance to my pretty good piece? Or am I going to try to go for it? I think you should set your standards as I high as you possibly can.
When do you think you really do your composition? Does it happen when you’re sitting there at the piano, or you’re sitting there with the score in front of you, or do you feel like it’s a process that goes on all the time, when you’re going through your daily life?
I feel very much like it’s always happening, and those manifestations on the paper just let you see what you’ve got, and make decisions about it. I throw material away a lot, that’s just something I do, and I think that’s something that Larry Raab taught me in poetry class, and it’s been immensely effective, just to be able to demystify the act of putting those things down on paper, and fetishising those little…I mean, that’s nothing, that’s unsubstantial. If you’ve got the music in you, you don’t need that. I just throw it away. And I do it all the time. And all the time, in the back of my mind, things are happening and things are changing. So yeah, to answer your question, it’s not something that happens while you’re at the piano, or while you’re at your desk, or while you’re writing. That’s when the notation happens. That’s when little miniature performances for yourself only happen. But the act of writing I don’t think ever stops.
How does it go from being all these thoughts which happen all the time, and these little notations, to something that’s actually going to be performed in Chapin?
As many times as you change levels on which you are working, that’s what makes it real. You sit down and you notate, then you sit down and you play, and then you go away and close your eyes and imagine the piece. And then you go throw a frisbee around, and eat dinner, and talk to your friends, talk to your parents, think about your childhood; whatever it is that you do. This all makes it more substantial and condenses it, to rip off a Picasso quote. And I think that you can’t say the act of writing it down is insignificant compared to the act of thinking it through or the act of performing is insignificant to the act of writing it – it is all completely necessary to the process. We deal in a written art form and it has to be on that page before it happens. I’m not a troubador, as much as I’d like to be. It has to be on that paper. The final process is getting it to converge on that written page. But to say that, in isolation, misrepresents the whole process.
What are you trying to accomplish with your music? What do you feel is your goal of every composition?
I don’t want to couch this in terms of inevitability, because I don’t know how believable it is to say that I have no choice, that I must put it on the page and don’t know why. That is a posture that is ridiculed and I think ridiculed well, and for good reason. Because if you are walking around with that on your mind, then you have more problems than finding the right pitches in the right order. There are some levels on which you can have a goal when you write compositions. Are you asking what do I do, why are you a composer, why do you chose to do the part, or what would you hope happen to the listener, or the player, or…can you limit it a little bit more?
It can have all these different meanings, but I want to know what is important to you. How you choose to interpret what I mean is sort of an answer to the question.
Let’s put it this way. When I was a kid and my father would play the piano…there is no way to describe what it felt like to stand there over his shoulder and watch him play. There is no way to describe what it sounded like, or the look on his face, or what his hands were doing to realize that music. And I was fascinated by it, intrigued by it, I always begged him to play. He didn’t play a lot because he had a falling out with music during elementary school; he wanted nothing to do with it. So it was a real struggle to get him to play. And that became part of the dialogue too. Not only that he was playing this music incredibly well – that the sound was there, that the intensity was there, that his hands were doing things that hands just shouldn’t be able to do – but that it was also that he was doing it regretfully.
Where all these things intersect with my music, where the dialogue I have with my father about what it means to be a man, what it means to be successful, what the purpose of my education is, what they gave me by working their asses off for their whole lives and what my grandfather gave my father; it all intersects around music. It doesn’t intersect around language, because we are a really vocal family. Or, we’re vocal in that we tell lots of jokes and stories and that kind of stuff. But in terms of the real crux – what we’re all about – it’s not spoken. My grandfather and my father wouldn’t have conversations about being in a new country, or what it meant to be uneducated or not speak the language – we don’t talk about it. But for me where it all came together was my father’s piano playing, because that structure contained everything. It was his success and failures, how much it must have taken for my grandparents to say, “Okay, you do this, go to music school, we’ll work at the restaurant 16 hours a day, like we’ve always done since we were kids, so that you can go play the piano, so that you can eventually not get a job.” There is a locus of meaning around music in my family and therefore what I’ve inherited is immense. And every time I sit down, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not just manipulating pitches – everything is programmatic. I was a kid who did very well in high school and who probably could have done something very lucrative to make my grandparents very happy, and take us from immigrants who came here with absolutely nothing to the landed elite, and choosing not to – choosing to follow this ridiculous ambition …it feeds back into the whole story, again.
And there are other levels on which my music operates, of course; the level of sound, of course, and of color, and of the mathematical processes you have to go through, and the kind of systems that you devise to make sense of a piece for yourself – that all happens too. But if you want to get at the most fundamental, then you have to consider, if you can imagine me ten years ago, with my jaw down to the floor, just watching my father just rip through a Chopin Etude. But maybe that’s another question.
Does that means that your music is deliberately a reflection of the experience you just described?
No, it’s never on my mind. This is after the fact, you know, this is me analyzing, me musicalogizing myself, or whatever the word is. I don’t mean that I don’t think of my father usually – sometimes I do, of course, sometimes I think of everyone I encounter – but it’s not charged on those terms while I’m doing it. But deep, deep in my psyche, I think that is going on. When I sit down and do it, it’s just…I don’t know. Before I finish writing a piece, I’ve heard the sound for a new one, and it’s just a continuous process.
Is the music you’ve written your favorite music?
Yeah, yes. I think that that is a necessary illusion. It has to be the best thing you can apprehend, and as your ability to apprehend grows, and as your sophistication grows, as your experience grows, and the amount of techniques and colors and gestures in your repertoire grows, you write the best piece that you can apprehend at that point. Hopefully, your apprehension converges on what might be some kind of truth and then –boom – you have it.
When you look back at your pieces, do you see something that connects all of them, something that is the Andrea speaking from within?
I do, though because I came to composition so late, relatively, in my life, the kinds of things that I can connect have been defined already in language. It’s not as though you look back and you realize, “oh, that’s what I was up to in that first time when I didn’t know what I was up to” – I always knew what I was up to. Especially at first, the act of analysis, the process of creating a system, and the simple just putting your hands on the keyboard or however you write, they were all entwined, and there was a dialogue around every single gesture, because I came to it as a reasonably sophisticated reader and writer in words and hopefully a reasonably sophisticated thinker. Music was never just this thing that I did on Sunday afternoons in the house or what I’ve done since I can’t remember. It was always something that I was very conscious about.
So yeah, there are things that carry over, but it’s not that profound because I’ve defined them, I know where they are, I can tell you where they are, I put them there. I can tell you what I thought would be a good thing to do in a composition, and what I still think would be a good thing to do in a composition. If you look back at all the things you’ve ever said to people – is there something that holds them together? Yes, because you define a mode of action that you think is right and just and fair, and distinctively your own.
If we step back and watch ourselves interact, instead of just interacting with people, we see things; we learn things about ourselves. So, have you learned anything about yourself in composition?
I don’t think that I’ve gotten far enough away from it the way one can get away from a conversation to say. Sometimes you think you are doing one thing and really you just blow it. I certainly know when I blow it, but I don’t know yet what those sorts of crutches are, musically. I just haven’t had that distance. And I haven’t felt compelled to put that distance there, because so much of it is verbal, so much of it is definable in language and thought, that I don’t feel compelled to step back and say “what am I really up to?” Because I think I know what I’m up to.