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Portrait Gallery: Cindy McTee, Regents Professor Emerita

Regents Professor Emerita of music composition Cindy McTee will retire at semester’s end. The UNT Wind Symphony will perform her composition Double Play in a tribute concert at 8 p.m. April 7 at Winspear Performance Hall in the Murchison Performing Arts Center. The work was described by Detroit News reviewer Lawrence Johnson as “an ambitious, imaginative and altogether irresistible essay for large orchestra in two movements of head-turning brilliance.” 

Cindy McTeeWhat is your position and how long have you worked for UNT?

I am now Regents Professor Emerita of Music Composition having worked at UNT for 26 years.

 What is your academic and professional background?

My formal training in composition started in the spring of 1974 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, where I first met the esteemed Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki. I was a junior majoring in composition and he was the featured guest composer at our festival of contemporary music. 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. At first, I didn’t believe he was serious, and I was also a bit apprehensive about the idea of living behind the Iron Curtain. But several months later at the age of 21, I left for Cracow.

In addition to my work with Penderecki, I studied with David Robbins and Thomas Clark at Pacific Lutheran University, with Jacob Druckman and Bruce MacCombie at the Yale School of Music, and with Richard Hervig at the University of Iowa. While in Poland I also studied with Marek Stachowski and Krystyna Moszumanska-Nazar

How did you become interested in composing music?

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. 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 5 with a teacher who encouraged improvisation. I now realize the importance of this. Mrs. Melvin was not classically trained as far as I know, but a masterful performer of popular music from the 1930’s and 40's. Her teaching method included requiring that I play a small number of pieces differently each time I returned for a lesson. 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.

 What is your favorite composition?

The one I am currently composing! Just kidding. Well, maybe not. It’s really an impossible question to answer. But if I must, I’ll at least narrow it down to a composer – Bach.

In an article you wrote in 1999 on gender and music, you asked why fewer women compose music than men.  Is that still true, and why?

I think what I said in 1999 remains true, that about one, or maybe two, in 10 composers is a woman. There are many theories as to why. But the one I talk about most has to do with the fact that composing requires assertive behavior, still likely encouraged more in boys than girls. It’s of course important not to deny this of females, or on the other hand to discourage introspective behavior in males. Making art requires both.

What inspires you to begin a new piece?

The answer is quite complex and different for each piece. Sometimes the inspiration comes from a request, other times from an emotional experience, once in a while from something I see - an interesting pattern, for example - but most often from something I hear. Music inspires music.

How would you describe your style?

Eclectic and American. Although I have never made a conscious attempt to create “American” music, I would have to agree with those who have said that my musical style generally does reflect my American roots more than my European-based training. Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle helped me to understand this in a review of my piece Circuits:

"Circuits . . . was a charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America. From repetitive ideas reminiscent of Steve Reich to walking bass lines straight from jazz, Circuits refracted important American musical styles of this century. Similarly, the kaleidoscope of melodies, musical licks and fragmented form aptly illustrated the electric, almost convulsive nature of American society near the start of the 21st century."

What are your retirement plans?

To enjoy spending time with my partner, Leonard. I will continue to compose too, of course.


Posted on: Sat 05 March 2011

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