When did first you know that you would be a composer and what is the earliest work that you still acknowledge? Steve Mackey


Steve Mackey
Steve Mackey
Photo by Susan Wilson, courtesy Boosey & Hawkes

I decided to become a composer when I was 20 years old in 1976. I was playing in a rock band in Northern California while going to UC Davis as a physics major. Foisting our original tunes on audiences who were looking for an unobtrusive background to seduction and self-medication rather than a listening experience was leading to some disillusionment on my part. At the same time I enrolled in a music appreciation class and for the first time heard Beethoven Quartets, Mozart Piano Concertos, and Stravinsky Ballets. The music blew my mind and the idea of music just for listening fascinated me. The clincher was when, upon hearing a low marimba roll in a George Crumb piece, I asked the teacher how the composer knew that it was going to sound so cool. His reply was, “He is a composer, it’s his job to know.” I wanted that job! I learned to read music, changed my major and continue to foist my originals on unsuspecting audiences.

The earliest piece that I still acknowledge is called A Final Glance for Violin and Guitar (1978). The title referred to the fact that I thought I was turning completely away from the guitar and any traces of vernacular music as I went off to grad school… Ha! There are many pieces after A Final Glance that I don’t acknowledge up until my second string quartet, Fumeux Fume (1987). After that I start accepting all my children.