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A Chat with Mark Hayes

Jun 13, 2017

Composer/Arranger/Producer/Performer Mark Hayes is internationally known and his music is performed all across the globe. He has traveled throughout Europe, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, and South Africa to concertize, conduct and lead workshops. He is a frequent guest conductor at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. When he is not on the road, he is home composing or arranging the next project on his growing “to do” list. 

After graduating Baylor University in 1975, Mark moved to Kansas City in 1977 to work as the music editor for Tempo Music Publications. The next three years were filled with invaluable experiences learning the music publishing industry. When Tempo closed their doors Mark was presented with a tough decision. He chose to be a free-lance arranger for a year until he could get another job in the music industry. Thus Mark Hayes Productions was born in 1980 and Mark never sought another job working for a publisher.

Since then, Mark has had countless published compositions and arrangements, along with major works. Jubilate Music Group President/CEO Mark Cabaniss sat down with this prolific, creative force that has had an international impact for decades with his amazing gifts. 

MC:  It’s an honor to sit with you today and discuss your career and a few other things, Mark.  What prompted me to do this interview is when I ran across a musical of yours recently in my personal choral library published in 1985 that seemed as fresh as ever…as if it could have been released in 2017.  That’s one of the many hallmarks of your writing through the years, and that’s its timelessness.  Your work never sounds dated, even though you have pieces reaching back to the early 1980s.  To what do you attribute that?  What’s your secret?

MH:  Mark, it is a temptation to crank out music at times. Ultimately I know that I’m creating a brand or reputation with each piece of music I write. I ask myself, “Is this something I would buy if I were a choral director?” Is this piece building up my brand or weakening it? I try to guard against formulaic writing. I try to put something unique or special in each piece and not duplicate what I’ve written in the past. As you can imagine, that gets harder as the years go by! Finally, I have faith in my “muse” that what I’m being directed to write is the best I can create at that moment in my time.

MC:  What was the first piece of music you had published, and what year was it published?

MH:  My first published piece was actually an entire choral collection called “Spirit of Love”, published in 1976. I was a relatively new graduate of Baylor University and still living in Waco, TX. I played the piano for and arranged music for a gospel ensemble called “Spirit of Love”, made up of seven of my Baylor friends. We were offered a recording contract and I had the privilege and challenge of arranging and orchestrating the entire 10 song album.

MC:  There are so many classics you’ve created through the years for choral literature.  I know it’s unfair to ask if you have a favorite…or two…but here goes…do you have a favorite?

MH: It certainly is hard to choose, but one of my all-time favorites is “Rejoice and Sing Out His Praises” published in 1985. It was commissioned by a local high school in Shawnee Mission, KS. It’s based on Psalm texts and has an innovative and toccata-like piano accompaniment. There are several a cappella sections, some of which are polyphonic and highly syncopated, and some of which are homophonic and lyrical. I’m also very proud of my first major classical work for chorus and orchestra, “Te Deum.”  Another favorite is my “Requiem”, published in 2013.

MC:  In addition to your composing, arranging, and orchestrating, you also perform regularly all over the world as a clinician, conductor, and pianist.  What’s one of the funniest or oddest things that happened to you (thus far) in your travels?

MH:  Many years ago I used to perform with a piano quartet…four grand pianos on stage at one time. I was privileged to play with Stephen Nielson, the late Ovid Young, and Jeff Bennett. At one particular concert Jeff and I were playing a duet, an arrangement I had written, and one that Jeff had little time to rehearse. He was counting on me to guide him through the piece by setting tempos and ritards. I had failed to tape my music together. Right before the climatic ending, the last 2-3 pages of my score flew off the piano rack. There was no way I could retrieve them and keep playing. I always play with music, even if I’m playing my own arrangements. I did not have the ending memorized. Somehow I managed to play something that meshed with what I had written for Jeff and we ended together without the experience being too much of a train wreck! I’m not sure what the audience experienced that night, but it was definitely a nail biter for Jeff and me!  

MC:  While choral music remains strong nationally, church music has certainly changed over the past 20 years, with the choir unfortunately being eliminated in some churches.  If you could say something to a music director who is considering eliminating (or has eliminated) their choir, what would that be?

MH:  Choirs are like mini bodies of Christ. They provide a sense of community and support unlike anything else in the church. They cause all singers to work together toward the common goal of praising God through music. Choirs provide a place where an “average” voice is valued and needed to achieve musical excellence. When people in the congregation see the choir perform, they are more likely to identify with a choir member than a sensational soloist or polished praise team singer. If our goal is to encourage the congregation to join in worship, what the choir models on the platform shows that every voice is valued. I would also encourage choir directors to be flexible in the repertoire they program. Sometimes the contemporary vs. traditional argument is more about one’s personal tastes than it is about what is best for the worship experience.

MC:  You’ve written so much and explored so many styles (sacred and secular) in your writing over the years (in my opinion, you’re one of the most versatile writers out there who can live comfortably and authentically in both the traditional and contemporary worlds).  That said…is there something on your “bucket list” you’ve yet to accomplish (musically or otherwise)?

MH:  A new project I’m very excited about is my “Gospel Mass”. I am in the process of researching that right now and expect to have it written by the end of the year for a world premiere performance in a papal basilica in Rome next July, sponsored by the Continuo Arts Foundation. Your readers may be familiar with Robert Ray’s “Gospel Mass”. Mine will be in a similar “black gospel” style but written with my unique experience of blues, R&B and jazz, mixed with my classical roots. The libretto will be in English and Latin. I will use a rhythm section and possible a Hammond B-3 for the core instrumentation. I may add some winds as well. My challenge will be to write something with an improvisational, soulful feel that can be sung by any type of choir and is appropriate for the mass setting.

MC:  Wow!  That sounds incredible and eclectic.  And the blend of musical styles is a perfect match with the wide palate of musical styles you’ve often drawn upon with equal ease.  We look forward to your “Gospel Mass.” 

Thank you for your time, Mark!  As it says on your website (www.markhayes.com), your mission is to create “beautiful music for the world” and you have done – and continue to do – just that.  You are bringing light, life, and hope to countless lives…through the transforming power of God’s gift of music. 

Read Mark Hayes' bio here.

Browse Mark Hayes' publications here.