Max Hein is a young composer who was featured in the Golden Hornet's first Student Composer concert that was held in March 2016. In that concert, seven student composers from Austin area middle and high schools shared their original compositions written for the Austin-based chamber ensemble, Hear No Evil. KMFA Story Seeker Natalie Zeldin spoke to Max about the experience of having his music performed as a young composer and his original composition "Monday," which you can listen to by pressing the play button at the top of the page.
KMFA: Do you play an instrument?
I’ve been in band since 6th grade; I played the french horn there. I also play a little bit of piano, drums, accordion, and melodica.
KMFA: How did you start composing?
Back in 8th grade, my friend and I decided we wanted start a band. Even though nothing ever came from the band, I started writing covers of songs. As I started trying to figure out songs on the keyboard, I began expanding into my own composing.
KMFA: What do you like about composing music?
I enjoy being creative. I’ve enjoyed music all my life, too. It’s both of those things. I don’t do it for any other reason than because I enjoy it. I’m not trying to send a message or anything. I just like doing it, and maybe other people will like to hear it, too.
KMFA: You’ve had your music performed by both the Austin Symphony as part of their Young Composer’s Concert and by Hear No Evil as part of the Golden Hornet Project’s concert. What’s it like to have your compositions performed?
It’s really fun. It’s one thing to hear it in your head or hear it in the midi playback on the computer, but it’s totally different when people are interpreting the music. In my experience, I only had one-to-two rehearsals together with the composer, so it’s mainly up to the musicians to interpret. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work with people to realize a vision that you have.
KMFA: Since it’s up to the musicians to interpret the music, do you feel worried about relinquishing control over your own music?
Sometimes the music isn’t the way I had imagined it, but sometimes it’s even better when it’s interpreted a new way. You get used to a way you think the music is supposed to sound and it gets to be hard to entertain new ideas. When you have other people perform the music, new ideas can come through. In one of my pieces, the musicians took a section a bit slower than I imagined, but it really worked because that driving tempo gave more intensity to the music.
KMFA: What was it like working with Golden Hornet on this composition project?
We had bimonthly meetings where the composers would meet with Graham Reynolds. We first met to to talk about getting the venue and share musical ideas. Then a couple of months later, we met again and played what we had to get input. Then, they also paired each student with a local composer. I was paired with Peter Stopschinski.
KMFA: What did you learn from working with Peter?
Peter helped me with bowing because I don’t have much experience with strings. He helped because as I watched him work through the music, he was very interactive with it. He would do the motions with his hands as he listened to the string part; he imagined how it would be for the instrumentalist to play. He also taught me about instrumental ranges. In one section I was only using a few octaves of the piano, but we reworked the part to use the full capability of the instrument. That was eye-opening.
KMFA: You wrote two pieces for the concert. Tell us about them.
The first one is "L’apothicaire Rêveur" (The Apothecary Dreamer). The idea came into my head and then I wrote from there. There isn’t really a concrete inspiration for it, but I like to relate music to an image in order to help ground it in what the music is trying to convey. So after I wrote the music, I came up with the title and the story. The story is about an apothecary who is lonely and tries to make a love potion with his apothecary skills. Then the potion wears off and the girl freaks out and runs away.
KMFA: How did you come up with that story?
I don’t know! I learned about apothecaries in 9th grade from Shakespeare, and I was like, “Hey! Potions!” Maybe it was from reading The Alchemist? Something in there.
KMFA: The second piece you wrote for the concert was "Monday." What inspired it?
At one of our composer meetings, Graham asked if anyone wanted to write a second piece. I kinda just threw myself out there. I got home and thought, “I need to write a second piece!” I looked through a folder of snippets that I had, and I came across something that I’d written for piano and steel drum, so I decided to adapt it and change the instrumentation.
KMFA: Why is it called "Monday"?
It’s upbeat, and I thought it’d be the kind of song I’d want to listen to on a Monday.
KMFA: What’s your favorite part of the piece?
Writing the end of it was really fun. In our marching band show that year part of the show was Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. I was on an Egmont high, so I wanted a really grand finale like that.
KMFA: You’re in college now. Are you still composing?
I’m at Texas State University majoring in sound recording technology so I’m definitely still in the music world. Part of the reason I’m in this degree program is because I want to expand my music-making capabilities. But also, I want to be able to record the music that I write. Right now, I’m writing a string quartet after seeing the String Quartet Smackdown.