Derek Tywoniuk is an active percussionist and composer in the LA area. Due to his colorful performance history and ever growing compositional prowess, we are proud to present this exclusive NWfPP interview.
Who/What has had the biggest impact on the way you approach composition?
Jack van Geem has been one of my biggest inspirations, both musically and personally. He gave me comments on some of my pieces, but primarily he was my percussion teacher during my years at Colburn. Studying with him totally changed the way that I think about music (whether it's learning music, composing music, or performing music).
How would you describe your composition style?
Honestly, I'm still finding it, but I'm inspired by visual art, poetry, architecture, and most especially by the people that I write for. The subjects of sentimentality, of vulnerability, of the malleability of memory, and of heartbreak seem to be in my mind often.
What is the best part of composing for percussionists?
Percussionists are fearless. They play by their own rules, and they have some traditions but not enough to force to make any specific path "the one." Part of that comes from being asked to do new things all the time; learning one more instrument or an unfamiliar notation system is something that comes with the territory.
What is your ideal environment for composing (food, drink, surroundings, etc)?
Wherever it's most convenient, but almost always at a piano (even though I'm a pretty terrible pianist). When I was composing Savino, it was a little practice room at the College of Charleston on an upright piano that had about ten broken keys. This past year, it was in a little office in the early morning before teaching ear-training classes. Wherever it is, coffee is a must; I probably drink 5-6 cups a day.
In reference to Savino (2015):
What motivated you to write this piece?
There were several factors. The whole concept of setting setting music to go precisely with an audio recording came from a YouTube video where someone had done some jazz piano along to a Sarah Palin interview with Katie Couric. They managed to make sense of Sarah Palin's incomprehensible English, and the whole thing was remarkable. It left me wishing that it was longer, and thinking that I wanted to do something like that eventually.
When the opportunity to write a new marimba piece for Brandon Ilaw came up (and knowing that it would be premiered at ZMF), somehow this idea came back to me, and to do it with this incredible speech that Diane Savino gave in support of gay marriage back in 2009. This issue was particularly close to me at the time she gave the speech - California had just passed Prop 8 the year prior - and her humorous and empathetic remarks have stayed with me ever since as one of the best speeches on the subject that I've ever heard. It was totally unintentional that it was premiered just after marriage equality was legalized nationwide, but it was an appropriate coincidence. I have to add also that Brandon, as a straight guy, never for a second raised any personal insecurity about playing a playing a piece about gay marriage. I'm so grateful for allies like him and Diane Savino.
It's also necessary to add that this piece is only a snapshot of one moment in the LGBT rights struggle. Recently, dozens and dozens of men and women were brutally killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Our brothers and sisters were gunned down in a place they were supposed to feel safe, and our own community is federally banned from donating blood to help them. We have a long way to go.
What were some challenges you faced when setting music to Savino's floor speech?
Some of the challenges that normally come with setting text (such as rhythmic and metrical placement of specific syllables) were eliminated, given the manner of setting it, but mostly the challenge came in finding the right balance between commenting on her speech, and leaving space where necessary.
In what setting do you see this piece being performed?
I would love to see this performed in any setting at all, if for no other reason than for Diane Savino's words to reach a broader audience.
You can check out our article on Savino here.