Alex Luttrell is a composer and saxophonist who has written music for everything from solo instruments and voice to orchestras and choir. Originally from Lewisville, Texas, Luttrell is currently a Master's student in Music Composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His list of accomplishments is already impressive and fans of new classical music will find much to enjoy in his work. We were fortunate to have Luttrell answer some questions about his (surprisingly short) history as a composer, his work habits, and what he appreciates about the Kansas City music scene, among other topics. He has also shared some recent compositions. Enjoy the music!
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m originally from Lewisville, TX (a city near Dallas), but now I live a few minutes north of Westport in Kansas City, where I’m working towards my Master’s at UMKC. I’m currently between steady jobs, but I do some freelancing as a composer and teacher.
A normal day for me starts early, with a wet face – my Australian Shepherd puppy doesn’t like to sleep in, and he’s a licker. During the school year, I try to compose every morning, but during summer breaks I don’t keep much of a routine. In my “old age” of 23, I’ve found that mornings no longer exist unless I have a strong source of caffeine nearby. I usually can’t get any composing done during the afternoon, either. My productive times are early mornings or late nights.
Delve a little into your own process of composing. What may surprise a listener of your music about how you create it? What tools do you use?
To be completely honest, my process is a bit of a mess! But that’s by design. I’m very much ruled by my ADD, so sticking to any one consistent process is typically more stifling than useful. When I’m in the thick of a piece, I’m usually pacing around my room surrounded by an explosion of paper, most of it crumpled up into balls or only half-filled. Composing for me is a very scattered and stressful (but fun!) experience, and I probably look more than a little insane while working.
I’m extremely fond of building “mind-maps” (you know, the visual outline format with all the bubbles or boxes that connect to or build off of each other) on large format paper. This format allows as much scatterbrained thinking as possible, while still having a core organizational path that I can follow when I look back on it later.
Speaking of planning, I usually spend a few months thinking about a piece and working out the large-scale ideas before I ever put a single note on the page or the screen. I’m using pencil and paper far more often now than I used to, which comes from a desire to spend more time closely considering the ideas that I come up with. Before the past year, literally all of my work happened in the Sibelius notation program, where you can have an idea, input it in seconds, and get aural feedback right away, versus having to use your ear and imagination with paper. It’s a completely different mindset, which I find fascinating.
As a fun game, I hide a tiny, tiny snippet of the Jurassic Park theme by John Williams in each of my pieces.
Can you point to one time in your life where you knew you wanted to be a composer? Who inspired you early on to create new music and what were your earliest compositions like?
I’m still relatively quite new to all of this – it took a long time for me to “become” a composer. I didn’t start composing at all until the summer before I started college in 2010, and it was almost two more years after that before I committed to taking it seriously. I enrolled in college as a Music Education major, largely because Younger-Me believed that it was the only music degree that would land me a steady job. Composing was just too risky!
Luckily, thanks to a few key friends and some choice words from my undergrad professor, Dr. BJ Brooks (“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” among other things), I found the courage to take the leap and really commit, and I haven’t looked back since.
My earliest compositions were… bad. The few times I’m brave enough to go back and listen, I can see the beginnings of my style starting to peek out, but nothing good enough to see the light of day. They’re a picture of the composer I was at the time, so I still look back at them with some fondness… but they were bad. Around my junior year, some sort of switch flipped, and I figured things out well enough to write what I consider my first real piece, Saxophone Quartet No. 1.
What excites you the most about projects you’re currently working on?
I have a couple of projects that I’m super excited about:
New Words, New Music is a collaborative program I’m developing with Annie DelSignore, a poet that I met back in high school. The program will pair young composers and writers at similar points in their careers to collaboratively create a new work from the ground up. More and more in this increasingly digital age, collaboration between various arts and artists is one of the most important things we do, and Annie and I hope to provide a safe, risk-free opportunity for many young artists.
We’re currently working on a song cycle of our own as a pilot season, and hope to launch the real thing toward the end of this year!
Collective – Myself and two friends of mine – Clay Allen (http://www.clayallenmusic.com) and Austin Brake (http://novatonalis.com/) – are forming a composer collective. Soon, we hope to organize concerts and events in various areas of Texas and Kansas City.
There are other projects in the pipeline, but I can’t talk about them yet!
Who or what inspires you now?
Most of my inspiration actually comes from other fields. I don’t completely understand why, but I seem to have many more compositional epiphanies when I read or learn about other fields – photography, cinematography, painting, dance, writing; the list goes on. Something about the way authors specifically organize their thoughts really resonates with me, and affects the formal structures in my music.
Kansas City also inspires me. This city is an amazing place for music, and my horizons have broadened hugely even after just a single year of living here. There’s a level of support for music in KC that is very rare, which certainly gives me hope for my future career!
Alex Luttrell Recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Symphonies – Witold Lutoslawski (Esa-Pekka Salonen with the LA Philharmonic)