Scatter and tattered… and loving it.

written by Colin Payne
2018 GLFCAM William Bolcom and Joan Morris Fellow, Cycle 7

It is October 4th, 2018. I am sitting, rather, standing in Logan International Airport in Boston, Mass. Being from Detroit, I am inspired by the hard-nosed attitude of these East Coast Red Sox lovers. I wish I could say the same for the people around me, but these other passengers would rather be on their Instagrams, Facebook accounts, or Snapchat profiles than absorbing the culture that I would call a second home. I am coming from Bose’s corporate headquarters, which may further complicate and excite my life in the following years, but I will give more on that at a later time.

I have been going non-stop again since about mid-May. If it wasn’t a commission overseas in Europe, it was catching a flight to San Francisco for a piano piece. If it wasn’t that I was at Interlochen with my girlfriend while she and I juggled our separate duties of a crazy, non-stop musician’s life. She and I have had quite the ride together just recently returning from Macedonia to meet her family, being at Interlochen for her teaching responsibilities at the Interlochen Arts Camp, and with me running back and forth from Traverse City just to get a decent breakfast, or for my film score commitments at the Traverse City Film Festival, our life would cause the greatest mathematicians and coders to get entangled up in a mess of changing variables and linked lists with multiple pointers and changing arrays. If that wasn’t enough, I have been working on a piece for Alma College that fuses my music with the choreography of Brazilian-born dancer, instructor, and choreographer Rosely Conz.

This piece speaks to me on so many levels because it deals with the problems of our current administration, specifically our handle on the growing mistreatment of immigrants. Being American- born, it might seem hard for others to think I can relate to this plight, but there in lies the amazing juxtaposition of the material that Rosely and I are working on. I am essentially a third-generation Mutt with ties to an Italian/German heritage that influences my fast-talking and aggressive nature. It would not seem that I understand these difficulties, but with an amazing Macedonian-born pianist at my side, I have come to learn and empathize the constant struggles of renewing F-1 forms, student visas, and applying for jobs that will sponsor a visa in the U.S. I also watch as brilliant minds of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and artists are demoted to meager tasks of working restaurant jobs because their training is no longer valid in the United States. Since leaving a promising career as an engineer at General Motors, my pilgrimage as an artist has opened my eyes to this growing problem because I have witnessed the increasing gap from rich to poor and how the United States is becoming a country that supports the achievements of the American-born upper class rather than embracing the hardworking Melting pot that built the strong foundations that we lean on every day. I have more than one dog in this fight to say the least. I wish I could be there for the premier, but I will be seeing another premier of a work I wrote in Boonville, California.

Anyway, my inner Charles Dickens is coming too close to the foreground of my thoughts as I litter this blog with descriptive run-on sentences. My life is one that is constantly scattered and tattered. It is a journey on the beaten and battered fast paced Millennium Falcon, but instead of space it is the big cities of New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Some people don’t like that “fly by the seat of your pants” lifestyle, but I love it. It is where I live. As I grow older and my capacity for sleepless nights, coffee infested breath, and liquor ridden midnight composition sessions become more limited, my philosophy is not necessarily   on changing these habits but controlling them. I only hope to balance it, and that is what makes it interesting.  I embrace my creative and wild nature, but I also realize the fragility of not maintaining a healthy diet of exercise and sleep.  I am a pirate, Rockstar, unorthodox businessman, benevolent boyfriend, frazzled musician, and most-of-all a COMPOSER.  There is one composer that has fostered and appreciated all my sides and has nurtured my creative process. This is Gabriela Lena Frank.

Gabriela has been a guiding force in my life since she came to my school during my graduate studies. It is nearly a serendipitous coincidence that I met her because I was honestly tired of attending composition master classes. I had more than enough work writing outside of my regular work as a graduate student, and to see another composer critique students was not my idea of a great time. However, I went because I had known that she was working with the Detroit Symphony and that day I managed to finish early.  From the moment she started talking it was like meeting a composer version of my mother. She was ballsy, courageous, and had an ATTITUDE, which was unlike the stuffy composers that you see all too often in academia. I was completely entranced by this lady with such a HUGE personality.  From that moment to the present she has kept me honest, called me out on my BS, and has always awarded every punch she gives with a hug and a “Keep going… you’re doing great.”

Writing the piece for the ZOFO as part of Cycle Seven within the GLFCAM residency has stretched me. It has been rewarding, frustrating, and has strengthened my skills as a composer. Composing for piano four hands is one of the most difficult mediums I have written. You must constantly imagine and orchestrate for another set of hands playing while you are working out your ideas. Having a concert pianist for a girlfriend was such an inspiration because I could have her look at my sketches daily. She would always remark “Make it interesting for both pianists… Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries… Piano four hands is an orchestra for piano… Trust the players…They are amazing pianists”. The piece I wrote entitled “Juggling” is a step in another direction for me, and I cannot thank Gabriela enough for her guidance and the opportunities she has given me.


Surrounded by the sounds of Detroit from an early age, Colin was immersed in styles, such as the Motown sound of Hitsville, USA, the jazz of Russel Street and Baker's Keyboard Lounge, and the classical music of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Learn more on Colin's bio page.

Gabriela Lena Frank