Samuel R Hazo is an American composer of primarily music for concert band. He has composed for the professional, university and public school levels in addition to writing original scores for television, radio and the stage.
Mr. Hazo’s compositions have been performed and recorded world-wide, including performances by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra (national tour), the Birmingham Symphonic Winds (UK) and the Klavier Wind Project’s recordings with Eugene Migliaro Corporon. Additionally, his music is included in the series “Teaching Music Through Performance in Band.”
Mr. Hazo’s works have been premiered and performed at many events including the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Convention, as well as being aired aired in full-length programs on National Public Radio. Some of his popular works include, Ride, Rush, Sevens, Exultate and Arabesque.
Mr. Hazo currently serves as a guest conductor and is a clinician for Hal Leonard Corporation.
(This interview was conducted in October 2011)
Why were you initially interested in music?
The first memory I had of music really impacting my life was when I was two years old. I watched “The Little Drummer Boy” on television and wanted a drum for Christmas. Then I wanted a drum for every holiday after that. By the time I was four, I had amassed a collection of drums and demonstrated I was serious enough for my parents to consider getting me lessons. My father asked a local drum teacher if he would take me at four years old and he replied that he starts students at seven. So, my dad asked him to just listen to me, then give advice on what my dad should have me do. After hearing me play, the teacher told my dad he would start me at four. From then, music has been a part of every day of my life.
]What was your first official work published? How did you feel with that achievement?
To tell the truth, my first publication story was pretty awful. The rest were good, but the first was bad. The first piece I had published was actually the third piece I wrote. The title is “In Heaven’s Air.” The editor of the publisher told me I had to change it from a grade 5 chorale to a grade 3 chorale before they would consider publishing it. So, I changed it. The piece sold like crazy and still is played all over the world, but nobody will ever hear the original grade 5 version that I feel is better. There is only one band in the world with the original set of parts; the band that commissioned it. Even my personal set went away after a computer crash. The lesson I learned is not to change anything in my music that I feel is right. I haven’t since.
Do you have some influences that shape the way you write your pieces? Or, who are your role models in the composing world?
I apologize for the dull answer, but I don’t have any influences or role models. Maybe that’s why many people tell me that my music sounds different and fresh. There are some ideas I write today that I have dug up from early childhood. As far as composers whom I respect, there are some, but I won’t dare list them for fear that I will forget just one!
What is your style in composition if any?
I don’t know any name for my style, but I can tell you that I start with the melody as that is my creative strength. I have developed a teaching model with which I help younger composers. There are four creative elements of music: melody, harmony, rhythm and texture. Find the one that comes most naturally to you and start with that. You will then guarantee that the music will sound like “you,” and also it ensures that the other three creative elements of music won’t take away from your strength because they have to live up to what’s already on the paper.
Every composer’s greatest satisfaction is to have someone or some group perform his or her music. Is that the same for you? If not, what is your favourite aspect of your career so far? Also, what are some of your most memorable experiences?
I have had so many memorable moments, but there was one that does beat out the rest. It was the very last concert of the 2008 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, IL. There was a band from Japan named Ensemble Liberte. They opened their concert with a piece of mine titled Sevens. It is very hard and many bands that attempt it come up short. However, this group played it like they wrote it. The performance was super-human. That moment doesn’t just live with me, it lives in me.
As a music teacher across every grade level, how has the career further help you write better music?
I certainly don’t want to take away anything from those acquiring a composition degree in college. However, my music education degree, that required I learn to play and teach every instrument, was and is invaluable to my composing. Knowing, first hand, the strengths and weaknesses of each instrument guarantees that I will write what is playable.
To end off, what advices or tips would you give to an aspiring composer?
In addition to my “creative strength” advice, I would say that the best composers write music as easily as it can be played. That goes against the young composer’s will to write things so hard that they will be respected for their complex knowledge of music. I have seen most young composers fall into this trap. True respect (and better performances) will come from those who recognize that the music is written as easily as it can be played. Even if it’s still difficult, it is written as easily as it can be played.
Tell us about the story behind your most popular work, Ride, as well as Rush, which was noted to be Ride Part II. What inspired you to write such a high velocity piece for the wind ensemble?
Well, the story behind Ride is in the Notes to the Conductor, but in short, it was inspired by trying to follow composer Jack Stamp in his car. Jack drives fast and the music is an extraordinarily accurate tone poem of his driving. Rush was commissioned for Wenger’s Anniversary, but the musical ideas must have come from the same seed. For a composer, each piece demands that you get to the center of the target, but take a different path getting there each time.
Your work Sevens has also become a part of advanced band repertoire. Tell us about how that work came to be.
I wrote Sevens as a tribute to George Gershwin and Gordon Goodwin. There are a lot of jazz elements for wind band and I just wanted to stretch the style of music wind bands play, much like the two people to whom I dedicated the work did.
Arabesque is an energetic work consisting of varied tunes from the middle east; how did you manage to attain the sound with the writing of different rhythms and frenzied percussion? Did you have to hear and explore the tunes pre-hand before setting to write the music?
Both sets of my grand parents were born in the Middle East. Both of my parents are Middle Eastern (Lebanese and Assyrian) but they were born in the United States. I grew up hearing this music and I could not name a Arabic style piece for band. Taking a huge risk, I decided to write one and it has paid off. Arabesque has been played all over the world and there have even been some similar pieces since from other composers. Having a Middle-Eastern heritage though is what really made it work as a genuine contribution to the repertoire. Some other pieces since that have Middle Eastern titles slapped on them actually have Latin rhythms and, in one case, a traditional Jewish ostinato.
If not composing or teaching, what profession could you envision yourself doing?
I don’t have a clue; perhaps a pilot. Aviation was my next love.
If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that be?
One who inspires raft building. If he/she doesn’t exist, then Vaughan Williams.
Is there anyone, past or present, that, if possible you would like to have the opportunity to meet?
Musically speaking… Quincy Jones.