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Maja Palser - composer interview

Maja 2

What were your first musical experiences?

There are a few - my very first memory when I was probably two years old was being one of my Dad’s gigs - he is a jazz musician - in some dark and dingy room. A bit later on when I was maybe four or five, I distinctly remember an occasion when I was dragged to church by my Nan and being bored as hell. Then suddenly I was being hit by this crazy, almighty sound which was the first time I heard an organ and that really just blew my mind! Another one was when my Dad played The Beatles’ White Album to me - we had a poster of the band on our wall and I had asked him who those guys were. That album really got me interested in music and is still one of my favourites.

As you grew older, what were your influences?

It continued to be things that my parents listened to in the house - my Mum was really in to early Rolling Stones, my Dad liked Black Sabbath, The Who and Led Zeppelin and my Grandad introduced me to The Kinks which is still an obsession of mine. A bit later, when I was rebelling a bit more, I got interested in punk - The Damned, X-Ray Spex, and The Stranglers. Early era anything, early era metal or punk has a kind of freshness that I’m interested in.

Where do you feel you and your music sit within the Welsh music ecology? Is there a particular scene/scenes that you feel part of?

That’s a tough question! I don’t really see myself as fitting in to any particular scene but Welsh music does play a role in my life, specifically choral singing which is what I got introduced to as a child. My Dad had a tape called ’10,000 voices at Cardiff Arms Park’ which, because we didn’t live in Wales at the time, made him very homesick then I’d get very homesick. I still listen to that stuff - I like its darkness and think it has definitely influenced me.

Maja 1b

Does this extend beyond Wales?

I am very interested in sacred music including Tibetan chanting, Persian music, Islamic sacred music and early Christian music. I think in many ways sacred music and popular music have similarities in that they are communal experiences and to me, that is really what music is.

How do you see your role in the community as a composer? Are you actively engaged in music education at any level? If so, how does that impact on your own work?

I have taught music theory in the past but I don’t really see myself as a teacher. However I do see the significance of being a composer as part of a community, especially because to me music is a communal thing.

What music are you enjoying at the moment?

A mish-mash, it can change from minute to minute. I’ve recently got in to Ethiopian chant which is something I would highly recommend and I really still love Persian classical music. Fausto Romitelli and Georg Friedrich Haas are two of my favourite contemporary composers and then there’s all the rock music which I still listen to.

Which of your pieces (if any) would you say sums you up as a composer? And why? [is there a recording we can point people to, or a forthcoming event/concert?]

The piece that is closest to what I want to get to is ‘a cry’ [Palser’s work which will be performed at this year’s ISCM]. It steps away from the faff of being overly technical and complex. It’s a simple piece and fairly accessible and I guess that’s what I’m aiming at as a composer.