My goals and vision of my future continue to be daunting thoughts that linger in the back of my mind each day. However, I am fueled by these thoughts and seldom discouraged by them. My goal for my career in the next 20 years is to be an accomplished jazz saxophonist and composer of orchestral, jazz, and film music. While each of these careers are capable of serving as their own individual paths, I strongly feel that the versatility of being a master of all of them would increase my musicianship in addition to my capability for various opportunities.
While I was involved in music before the pandemic of COVID-19, it was the one and a half years following the quarantine that really sparked and distinguished my growth as a musician. Ironically, the event that completely changed how we live and ended many lives was also the event that helped me to determine what would influence my life for the foreseeable future. During this one and a half year of quarantine, I spent many hours of my Sophomore school year at home alone. When I was not in the virtual classroom, most of my down time was spent watching films of various genres and listening to their soundtracks: Superhero films, heists, animated films, fantasy, and shorts. With every new film I watched, there came another soundtrack to study in how it served the purpose of communicating the emotions of the stories. While studying these soundtracks and determining the purpose they served the story, I was inspired to also start writing my own stories and making short soundtracks for events and characters in them.
After a full school year in my own “extracurricular activity”, I experienced an epiphany in August of 2021 which led me to start taking music extremely seriously. I knew that I could excel at a career in music if I applied myself and continued to study and create. My parents noticed my devotion to these projects as well and decided to reward me by giving me the technology necessary to properly document and save them. It was definitely a milestone, and marked the moment I realized that my projects were much more than a simple hobby adopted during quarantine. I was moving as fast as I could to learn composition and orchestration. By December of 2021, I had asked for an orchestration book (The Studies of Orchestration) for Christmas and made it my priority to study and teach myself music theory and the art of composition; in a couple of months, I was drafting the first movement of my first symphonic suite and was devoting my full attention to studying composition and film music. I got the idea for writing symphonic suites from studying the music of Joe Hisaishi, most notably known for his scores for Hayao Miyazaki’s films. His symphonic suites were based on his scores for these films, and this inspired me to draft my suites to tell the stories I had created over quarantine.
The end of the pandemic also brought back my marching band experience. I was excited to learn that I was selected to be the first to lead the band as Head Drum Major after our pause due to the pandemic. The musicianship of marching band also brought the concept of perseverance, which I was no stranger to. In my school’s marching band, the first of the five pillars we operate by is Perseverance- making up the first letter of our mantra, PRIDE. We worked to memorize music and field shows and endured physical training with this principle in mind. Through learning to lead my peers and by displaying these principles, I have learned to associate it with my own aspirations and goals, almost to a fault. I became a very serious person after gaining this position, working hard to arrange memorized music that we lost over the quarantine and make sure that we could still operate after losing many student leaders from two graduating classes. These musical experiences brought about a change in my own and others’ vision of myself.
Music, characteristically unpredictable and flexible as it should be, fostered a cynicism in me after I had begun to study it seriously. It was beneficial towards my growth and I definitely would not be where I am today without those actions, but my attitude almost cost me many close friendships, particularly because all I was valuing in life was my pursuit of music. This close call was the turning point that brought me back into reality. In spite of this, learning why I was wrong and remembering to appreciate more than just my craft was incredibly beneficial to my emotional state and therefore, my music. The quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic gave me the time I needed to properly explore my interests and blossom from an aimless young saxophonist into a young composer with a passion for storytelling through music. Though it almost made me completely isolate myself, I appreciate what I learned to break from that mindset so that I can continue to grow more in the future.
The capability of music, better yet the capability of a composer to tell a story through their music through experimenting with different elements of music such as instrumentation, orchestration, and style is a large part of what excites me about music. Gustav Mahler and Charles Mingus, my favorite composers of classical and jazz music respectively, have taught me that music should be pushed to its absolute limits to represent raw emotions and stories. In ten years, I hope to be fully embracing those values as a film scorer, composer, arranger and jazz saxophonist. I will be known for my ability to compose and interpret music in both the jazz and romantic languages. I do not have a broad, lofty goal such as "becoming the greatest film composer of the next half century," but one of my newly formed goals is bringing back romanticism in music. This encompasses large orchestras and long and elaborate works which convey a vast array of motions throughout their entire duration- sometimes throughout just a single movement. This type of music, music that embraces the world, is something I am very passionate about; I believe that the eyes and ears of the music world will benefit from hearing more music of this scale.
With the art of composition also comes education and refining my own skills on my instruments, and my hard work and dedication to my musicianship in the past year has earned my admission to the Berklee College of Music. I was awarded a partial scholarship and grant which covers my tuition, but still leaves me and my family with over $20,000 to pay for room, board and other fees each year. I also have a sister who is in college and the expense of travel to Boston from Suffolk is significant. While I am proud of the opportunity that I have received to study at one of the best music schools in the world, I am mindful of the financial obligation I have. Thus, I hope to aid my family in covering the amount that still remains in pursuit of my education for my future personal and career goals.
Mason X. Windley