Interview with Composer Cindy McTee

Interview with Composer Cindy McTee

Christopher Tucker (CT): You spent more then 25 years teaching at the University of North Texas and retired this year as Regents Professor Emeritus. What did you most enjoy about UNT?

Cindy McTee (MCTEE): Feeling proud. Whenever I mentioned my association with the College of Music at UNT, the response was always the same: “UNT has such an excellent College of Music.” I couldn’t agree more and have always felt very proud to be a part of it. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive administration or colleagues more willing to collaborate as instrumentalists, singers, and conductors. I’ve also felt great pride, as you can well imagine, in the accomplishments of UNT’s students, among the best of the best and making important contributions throughout the world.

CT: You have composed many works for both orchestra and band. Do you have a preference?

MCTEE: No, not really. There are advantages to both. Music that requires long sustained sounds and the homogenous sonority characteristic of a large string section might best be written for orchestra. But the band offers a larger palette of distinctly different colors and almost unlimited percussion.

CT: What, or who, has influenced your music?

MCTEE: My parents were enormously influential. My mother was a very skilled musician who at the age of 14 studied with the Seattle Symphony’s principle clarinetist. She also played saxophone. My father played trumpet. Together they formed a small band which also included a drummer, an alto saxophone player, and a pianist. I was often taken to rehearsals in lieu of being left with a baby sitter, and I have fond memories of hearing tunes like Night and Day, Misty, and Autumn Leaves. I began my piano studies at the age of five with a teacher who encouraged improvisation, mostly pop and jazz. I credit her with having given me my first opportunity to compose, although it wasn’t until much later that I actually put notes to paper. And then, I met the Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki. I was a junior, majoring in composition, and he was the featured quest composer at our festival of contemporary music. Following a concert of works by PLU students, Mr. Penderecki invited me to spend a year with his family in Poland where he proposed I would teach his children English in return for giving me composition lessons. Penderecki taught me much more than music – he taught me a way of life. I witnessed firsthand the many challenges that confront composers who have a particular interest in writing music for large ensembles. I should also mention two conductors who have championed the work of many living composers: Leonard Slatkin and our own Eugene Migliaro Corporon. Making music requires a team of people working together on many fronts and these two have repeatedly led the charge by commissioning, performing, and recording new music. Most of my music would be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere were it not for their many efforts.

CT: On November 21, 2010, 2:30 p.m. at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Eugene Migliaro Corporon and the Lone Star Wind Orchestra will give the world premiere of the wind band version of Double Play following the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s premiere of the orchestral version this past June. What can you tell us about the piece?

MCTEE: There are two continuous movements, “The Unquestioned Answer “which takes its cue from Ive’s Unanswered Question, and “Tempus Fugit,” Latin for “time flies.” The first movement presents planes of highly contrasting materials: sustained, consonant sonorities in the strings intersect to create dissonances; melodies for the principal players soar atop; and discordant passages in the brass and winds become ever more disruptive. The second movement begins with the sounds of several pendulum clocks ticking at different speeds and takes flight about two minutes later. Jazz rhythms and harmonies, quickly-moving repetitive melodic ideas, and fragmented form echo the multifaceted and hurried aspects of 21st-century American society. There is more information on my website at for those interested.

CT: The Lone Star Wind Orchestra is billing this concert as a tribute to your legacy both as a composer and as a professor at the University of North Texas. The LSWO will not only premiere your Double Play but will also perform one of your first band works, Circuits. Any final thoughts on the upcoming premiere and collaboration with Eugene Corporon and the LSWO?

MCTEE: I am, of course, very flattered by the LSWO’s willingness to feature my music and also very grateful my friends in Texas will have the opportunity to hear it played under the best of circumstances. Eugene Corporon has performed and recorded all of my band music starting with the first piece, Circuits in 1992, and I am truly blessed to have had the privilege of working with him over many years. I’m going to enjoy this!