Baha’i Blog: With the Hands of Power is wonderfully diverse — from bossa nova, to gospel, to jazz, to orchestral pieces. Could you tell us a little about the musical richness of this album?
Writing music to the Baha’i writings—or any writings that aren’t lyrics to begin with—is quite difficult if one wants the words to come across naturally. I basically comb the holy writings searching for excerpts that are somewhat lyrical and have a rhythm that might lend them to be musicalized. As I start a piece, I sit with the words for anywhere from seconds to days to determine the tone, and therefore what musical style best suits the words. So I never know what style a piece will end up until the lyric itself tells me. In a few of cases, I decided that the text should be spoken with musical accompaniment to best set the words in relief. I believe when it comes to setting holy text to music that the latter should be subordinate to the words so the music enhances rather than distracts from the music.
Baha’i Blog: What is the process like when you compose music?
It’s just like a kid playing with building blocks; you have a billion possibilities so you just play with them until you get an idea. I always start with a melody (if it’s a sung piece) and try different things until I come up with something that feels like it’s working. Then I come up with the chords. When I’m partially done I’ll often work on the ending before the rest is finished so I know what the musical goal is. My composition professor once said quite emphatically, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there!”
Baha’i Blog: How have your beliefs shaped your music, both in this album and in your other albums?
Whether I’m doing a spiritually oriented piece or a cabaret song about a vegetarian vampire, I try to perfect it. If I’m stuck, I usually won’t take the easy way out and write in something that is just okay. I’ve worked on about a half dozen songs that I got stuck on that I haven’t been able to get right for over 20 years. My song A House Divided went through several incarnations the latest version of which was finished about 20 years after the first draft. So my main belief is that mediocrity serves no one; get it right no matter how long it takes (and still it probably won’t be perfect).
Baha’i Blog: What are you working on now?
Putting the finishing touches on a musical my writing partner and I wrote called Oklahoma in Wisconsin which we hope will debut at Northern Sky Theater next summer. We’ll know in a few months.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Matthew, for sharing this with us! We hope your musical is well received!
With the Hands of Power
and Matthew’s other albums can all be found on 9starmedia.com
where you can purchase downloads of his music or order physical CDs.