Composing for those who can’t: Mason Bynes uses his compositions to defend others

Mason Bynes, a Boston based composer, singer, multimedia artist and advisor, spends most of her time working tirelessly to make sure someone else shines. This is how she approaches her compositions and works with the students of the Berklee College of Music as a career advisor.

At only 24 years old, Bynes is already a much sought-after independent composer. His most recent credits include Ex aequo, Double reed plate consortium, Wind synchronization, and Bassists for black composers. In addition, she was chosen as Boston Song Art Society first composer in residence.

Hailing from Sugar Land, Texas, his first interactions with composition were, unsurprisingly, with other people. His high school choir invested in the “Valentine’s Day singing” trend at the time, and Bynes took this small task and performed it, creating song mixes to appeal to students and teachers. This taste for musical creativity led her to the University of North Texas, where she refined her sound and definition of being a songwriter – a definition she actively tries to change only a few years later, with a Bachelor of Music in Composition and a Masters of Music in Composition from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

As a black composer, Bynes examines the idea of ​​composing and creating music with a calculated ear and a quick mind, always thinking about how best to represent her clients while stepping away from the historically transactional behavior of composers. Where the narrative of Western musical composition has long been accompanied by a white, masculine face and pieces written for the composer’s pleasure, Bynes aims to change that narrative.

The Scope spoke with Bynes about how she continues to overcome challenges in a classical white-dominated world and how she and other composers can act as liaison officers to implement social change within of their community.

What challenges did you face at the start of your career?

Courtesy of Mason Bynes

It’s funny. My name is Mason. My parents didn’t know if I was going to be a guy or a girl, so they went with Mason. When I was just starting my career, and just starting to get orders from people that I didn’t know, they would set up a meeting, I would introduce myself, and I think they were expecting a white man. I had dinner with a client with somebody, and we were in a waiting room, and he was looking around, and I went right over to him. He looks at me and says: “Mason? And I was like, “Yeah, it’s me.” And he said, “I didn’t expect that.” But I just said, “Well, here I am.”

As for the struggles of being a black woman in the lineup, I was the one there, and if I wasn’t the only one, I was one of the two. But I’ve always been so persistent and so captivated by the line-up and all of the possibilities I’ve really bulldozed through. In my first year [of undergrad], I had a car accident and lost two fingers on my left hand. When I was able to go through this experience and prove myself, I felt like nothing could really stop me or be an obstacle.

How do you reframe the idea that music is only informed by trauma, especially dark trauma?

It’s important to see both sides of everything, so when it comes to trauma, you know, trauma can always inform joy, sorrow can inform joy, sorrow can inform happiness because knowing sorrow, it is is to know happiness. To know happiness is to know sorrow, isn’t it? So, you know, I think in the last couple of years, I mean black people have been going through this, and it was so exhausting because there was no safe space to just be yourself- even and not to talk about everything that was happening and everything that happened. happened in our country. I want to write music that expresses joy but from a place of informed grief, or as being informed by your grief, by your trauma, in order to understand how to truly enjoy the joy.

What social impact are you trying to have with your music?

I love to create immersive listening experiences. I love that my listeners come to a concert and recognize not only their hearing, but their emotions, what they see, what they smell, like, all of these things. It’s this effort to bring genres together, to bring together people of different ages, backgrounds, preferences to react to the same thing they’re looking at. It’s so powerful because you encourage people to share the space. This is the kind of change I want to have.

I want to be a composer who is more of a bond than a composer. When I do my commissions, I usually start with a survey and send it to the performance group that asks me to do it. I asked them, “What do you like about your repertoire? What do you absolutely hate about your repertoire? What boring shots do you always see? What do you want to defend with this music? ‘ [The piece] capture how they want to be seen, how they want to play [and] how they want to be captured within their industry. That’s the point.

What do you hope to inspire within the different communities with your commissions and compositions?

My biggest mission as a songwriter is to mix all types of songs, sounds and genres so that every type of person can enjoy or be intrigued to come and listen. Sometimes the orders can be transactional, but I think it’s important to see the human devote their musicality to this piece, whether it’s for a residency or a year on tour.

I also like to find ways to collaborate not only with musicians. Can there be a visual artist who also brings what you do to life? Is there a museum we can play in that captures what you’re doing and invites different demographics of people to enjoy it? Is there one other additional element that I can give as a thinker besides being a composer who really captures who you want to present yourself with this piece?

How do you continue to transform that narrative into a linking role in the composition, especially as a black composer?

I think the way to change that narrative is to bring more of yourself in a holistic way as a black songwriter, black performer, whatever, right? Sometimes we are treated like objects, and trauma is the object that amazes people, which is sometimes so dramatic when there are so many other beautiful things, not that they are separate. They are both together and who we are as people.

I change this narrative by bringing different sides of myself to the composition process. The music is so representative of who this performer is. [Those that I write for] feel encouraged to be incredibly generous with their musicality, with their improvisation. There are scores that I wrote where I have program notes that ask people to add something to them. It’s so much fun looking back at how each person added their own element of improvisation or their own element of something because they felt encouraged to do so.

You’re trying to give voice to a specific community, which doesn’t really happen in the world of traditional songwriting.

No, this is not the case. This is what I think is part of the transformation process of composers today. You know, we have the opportunity to literally scrutinize other people’s lives through social media and stuff like that, but it’s like, how human can you make that? How human-idiomatic can you make music? I’m not saying everything I’ve written is the perfect interpretation of it, but approaching it is a success, in my opinion.

It’s interesting because they ask me to write the composition, so why not ask them what they want in it? I think if you do it that way it’s no longer transactional. Let’s all work on it. We are in the same boat up to the double helm line.

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