Interview


Paul Dupré responds to selected questions regarding his life and music. (Some questions have been edited for the sake of brevity and clarity.)

Q: Why did you decide to become a composer? There is already a huge number of composers, and for most of them it's not an easy way to make a living.

PDP: There are many reasons. I have always wanted to do something creative, in part because I grew up in a very creative household. And I have always been fascinated with music. My interest in music has been not only just in listening and performing, but also with regard to how it is created and its structure. I was especially interested in learning about the mental processes of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and others while they were composing their great masterpieces. I wondered whether actually experiencing the process of creating music myself could help answer this question. Also, I had done well enough in my other work to finally be able to devote substantial time and energy to composing.

Q: Was there an 'Aha!' moment, a clincher, which finally convinced you to become a composer?

PDP: There were several. Perhaps the most important was the comment by a neighbor of mine, whose judgment I greatly respect. After hearing the first piece that I had managed to get into listenable form (until then all of my compositions had existed only as notes written on manuscript paper or in my head) she immediately said: "Drop everything else you're doing and do this full time!"

Q: What other work did you do?

PDP: Mainly writing, editing and teaching.

Q: Do you now compose full time?

PDP: As close to full time as I can. However, as with many composers throughout history, I have to spend more time and energy than I would like doing other things to help pay the bills.

Q: Has your experience at composing actually given you some insight into how the great masters composed?

PDP: Yes and no. Although I have learned a lot, there's still something very fundamental that I don't understand. In particular, I don't understand where some of my ideas for new compositions come from. They often seem to just suddenly appear in my head without consciously thinking about them. I wonder if it was the same for the other composers.

Q: How do you go about composing? That is, what is your process?

PDP: There is nothing unique about it. It is just a lot of hard work. I will take a melodic or other idea that seems to have particularly good potential and start visualizing the optimal structure and details of instrumentation. In some cases a lot of experimentation is required to see what works best, and there are often many dead ends.

Q: What is the most frustrating aspect of creating a new work?

PDP: Not being able to complete compositions as quickly as I would like. I often feel that I am much less efficient and slower than I should be. This slowness just delays work on subsequent compositions.

Q: How long does it typically take to create a new work, from initial conception to final completion?

PDP: It varies wildly. Once I composed one of my shorter chamber music pieces in about ten minutes while waiting for a bus. Others have dragged on for years. A very rough average might be a month or two.

Q: How do you know when a work is finally completed?

PDP: When I suspect that a piece might be at or approaching completion, I will keep reading and rereading the score, often many times a day, searching for things I don't like and that could be improved. This final polishing process can continue for weeks.

Q: What are your future plans?

PDP: I have many. I want to develop more of the compositional ideas that I already have as well as continue to come up with new ones. I want to complete the opera that I have been working on for several years and then move on to a second one. I want to write concerti for additional orchestral instruments. Moreover, I also want to experiment with other, less commonly used instruments as well as with new musical structures.

Q: Have you written any film scores?

PDP: I have been involved with only one so far. It was for a very short, very low budget drama. A Japanese family I met some years ago in Tokyo had a son whose dream was to become an actor. The family wanted a demonstration film to show off his acting skills and charisma, and I was selected to plan the project. I created both the story and a preliminary score. Unfortunately, visa issues, and eventually other circumstances, prevented us from getting together again for the filming.

Q: What do you do for relaxation?

PDP: For me, composing is relaxation. Even though it can be tedious and frustrating at times, I don't really consider it work. In fact, I couldn't feel relaxed if I didn't do it! Other relaxation activities include playing the piano, hiking, reading, and cooking. It's a long list, so I won't bore you with the rest of it.

Q: What kind of music do you listen to for relaxation?

PDP: I used to listen to a lot of music, and a wide variety of types. In recent years, however, I haven't listened to much. One reason is that I am too busy writing my own. Also, I want to try to do something unrelated to music in my spare time. Another reason is that I am worried that I might subconsciously copy somebody else's ideas.

Q: What are your thoughts about the future of orchestral music?

PDP: We have to accept the fact that orchestral music always has, and always will, be appreciated by only a tiny minority of the population. That said, I am optimistic about it. It is booming in some parts of the world, particularly East Asia and parts of Europe, where substantial resources are devoted to music education and performance. Also, I think that live, unamplified orchestral music provides an experience that cannot be matched with electronically amplified music and recordings. At least to my ears, the sound is very different and much more beautiful. There will always be people who will appreciate it.