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Kerwin Young With Namhiya Ati, Part 2
11 Dec 2018
Kerwin Young

Interview conducted by Namhiya Ati, 10 December 2018

Ati: Hi Kerwin, again it’s a pleasure to interview you. During our previous interview, you were composing your seventh symphony. How is that coming along, and what difficulties have you encountered, if any?

KY: I’ve since completed the first two movements. They’re rock solid, and I’m into the third movement right now; with some material for the fourth movement fleshed out and fully orchestrated. For me, writing the second movement always poses the greatest challenge. Deciding on what material from the opening statement that I ought to develop first, and how I will map out the musical journey for the second movement is ALWAYS my biggest hurdle. I’m always thinking about the audience and how I want to keep them engaged and enthused by what they’re hearing. I also want to write something that I’ve never composed before, and make it as dope as I possibly can.

Ati: Are there any talks for a premiere of Symphony No. 7?

KY: At this moment, no. I’m quite certain this will change over the next four months. Keep in mind that there are six other symphonies that remain unperformed as well; not to mention my ballet suite, and orchestral fantasies. The only performed orchestral works are Season of Autocracy and Rabat Waterfront Fantasy. I’ll probably wrap up composing sometime in January or early February; with another month of editing the final score.

Ati: Do you compose many chamber works?

KY: Nah. I like writing large works too much. On occasion I will write a much smaller work, but getting those works performed is just as difficult. If I’m going to write anything, I like to make it a worthwhile investment. So, I go large all the time. My end game is film scoring; so I like to keep a large landscape in sight, developing thematic material over a vast timeline.

Ati: Do you receive any guidance or wisdom from your peers; older composers?

KY: I wish. Chen Yi and Zhou Long continue to be helpful; they’re the only ones really. In my opinion, many of my so-called peers / elders have failed us. They really don’t care, and many of them practice that old-school plantation division without realizing it. They haven’t formed any sort of support system or composer community for those coming up behind them. To many of them, if one doesn’t have a doctoral degree; then that composer cannot be apart of their little club. Many of them are gatekeepers against real progress, and they’re so caught up in their foolish ways, they don’t even realize how ignorant they are.

For instance, while studying at UMKC, I contacted several of my elders; and many of them were unresponsive. If they did respond, it was quite short and uninspiring; at best offering a simple “good luck” as the only advice. And these are well known concert composers I’m speaking of! And I saved the emails.

Ati: That’s terrible.

KY: Truly!

Ati: Have you considered pursuing a doctorate?

KY: While at UMKC I did, but I have no interest in promoting western thought. If I should ever go back to school for whatever reason, it would be in pursuit of film scoring. As you know, I’ve been pursuing scoring a feature film for 26 years now. I’ve never had representation, and though my music has been in several blockbuster films, I’ve yet to score one. The only reason I would consider schooling for this is NOT to learn anything, but to build relationships with filmmakers and agents.

Ati: What filmmakers are you into this week?

KY: Hmnnn…..this week I’ve been checking out Ryan Coogler interviews on YouTube, his film work prior to Black Panther, and some of the films that he’s referenced as his personal inspiration. This week, I’m also into Steven Caple, Jr., and some Coen Brothers films that I’ve never seen.

Ati: I’m sure you’d love to score a Ryan Coogler film. Have you made any progress at securing film scoring work since our last interview?

KY: Ludwig Goransson is Ryan’s composer, and he’s a bad-ass cat who’s got that on lock. The ideal situation for any media composer is to have a working relation with a great filmmaker. I have yet to secure any work; though I pursue it daily. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s been 26 years now, and I’m still pushing. It’s unnecessarily difficult. I’ve got several scripts to films that are still awaiting production approval. But, even if or when they get approved, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be the composer. Will the producers fight to have me onboard? Or, will the producers hire a top gun with a track record? You never know; yet I remain optimistic. I don’t have any composer friends in the film industry; though I would love to.

I’m also collaborating with fresh-on-the-scene filmmakers who at the moment are only making 5-6 minute shorts. While that’s kool to an extent, and I can build a working relationship with the filmmaker and practice my craft; that particular work won’t go anywhere. I have to get some REAL work, you know what I mean?

Ati: You’re living in Atlanta, Ga, and the film scene is really happening there. Have you been engaging the Atlanta film community?

KY: I have been since 1999. I began scoring student films at Clark Atlanta University, thanks to the late Wynton Mayo. From that, I began meeting filmmakers at the Atlanta Film Festival, and collaborating on films with local filmmakers. None of those films, except for two, ever hit the market. There’s nothing from those films that I can put on my score reel or add to my IMDb page. Atlanta is a hub filled with tight cliques of who you know. There are a number of film organizations in the A-town, but they’re not welcoming to media composers; at least not to a black one. Scoring a film in Atlanta is just as difficult as getting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to program one of my orchestral works. It’s the same superficial bs on both sides that makes it appear as if they practice harmony in business relations. We know they do not! Both arenas already have their token negroes to make it appear as if they include all. The last thing they want is some bad-ass black composer who has also produced Public Enemy. This seems like a hard pill to swallow for most of those people. They don’t want to show that type of diversity. Promoting a white dude with these same attributes isn’t a problem, and they’ve made that the new normal; we see it all the time. My experience over the last 31 years has shown that these folk do not wish to support or promote this type of diversity from the black community.

Ati: That’s a handful Kerwin!

KY: Damn right it is.

Ati: I’m sure you see a change coming, or otherwise you wouldn’t continue your pursuit. Is this a correct assumption?

KY: Yeah, that’s accurate. Just look at all the years gone by though! All because of this type of stereotypical practice. It’s wicked. I’ve definitely experienced an excess amount of intentional rejection. And, then I’m also refused an agent too. Explain that to me? Like how can a cat like myself, a composer of 7 symphonies, platinum & gold recording producer, grammy nominated, and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not have an agent? Explain that to me. Who lobbies for me? It’s madness. I want my orchestral works performed, and I want to compose for film and television; just to earn a decent living doing what I love. Other people have made it damn near impossible for me to obtain this. I need help…I can’t keep doing it alone. I have scoring credits, and I’ve held a college professorship teaching media scoring as well.

Ati: Your determination is an inspiration to many I’m certain. I commend you for your constant encouragement to young composers and recording producers; sharing your life experience. Keep on Kerwin!

KY: Thank you Namhiya!

NA

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