Recently, Mark Cabaniss of Jubilate Music Group sat down to speak with the always creative Mark Hayes about his writing and other topics of interest.
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 2023. 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: 2023 marks 43 years of writing music as a full-time, self-employed composer and arranger. My…I never thought I’d still be doing this after all these years. I believe what keeps me going is my desire to find something new to write or a new way of telling a musical story, whether that’s sacred or secular. I continue to be mindful of my “brand” and make sure there is something uniquely “Mark Hayes” in each piece I write. I have been learning to say no to projects that no longer interest me. If I’ve “done that before” and I have no passion for it, even though a publisher on client might pitch it to me, then I say no so that I create space for something more interesting that will reveal itself to me. I’m also aware that I’m more spiritually evolved and see and experience God differently than I did 50 years ago. Consequently, my language for God and all things spiritual have changed. I endeavor to be authentic in creating music that reflects my spiritual journey and hopefully resonates with other believers on their path.
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, one of whom is Robert Sterling, a very successful composer and arranger. Spirit of Love was offered a recording contract and I had the privilege and challenge of arranging and orchestrating the entire 10 song album. By the time I finished orchestrating 10 songs, I was ready to start over because I learned so much in the 6–7-month process. My producer, Charlie Brown (Charles F. Brown), said no to that. We recorded my first attempts.
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: One summer at a reading session event, I shared the stage with Joe Martin and Ken Medema. Joe had this hair-brained idea to do a dueling piano skit where he would play a song in a certain distinguishable style and then I would bump him off the bench and play my version of that same song. I don’t remember the song we played, but we worked our way through several styles such as gospel, jazz, classical, show tunes and inspirational. We each played 8-16 measures of the tune and then immediately gave up the bench for the next version, so it was fast paced and hilarious. Later that night Ken Medema showed us what real improvisation was as he made up original songs on the spot after being given a few notes and ideas from audience members. What a master he is and what clowns Joe and I were.
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: Since the pandemic has abated, choirs are testing the waters and coming back to lead congregations in worship. I’ve had a chance return to travel the country and direct several church choirs again. Most have bounced back with great energy and others are still struggling. Choirs are still such an important part of the church. They provide community. They contribute a unique and important worship voice that praise and worship teams simply can’t offer. They are visual reminders to the congregation that you don’t have to be a soloist or a music major to contribute something to congregational worship. Choirs offer such a variety of styles and types of music compared to P&W teams. We need everything from masterworks to southern gospel in our churches. I encourage directors not to throw in the towel. Give choir members good music to sing, energetic and compassionate leadership and they will exceed your expectations!
MC: Wow…that is one of the most succinct and powerful “case for the choir” statements I’ve heard. On another note, in 2022 you completed a new piano book for Jubilate, “10 Christmas Songs For Solo Piano.” Please tell us about that and any other exciting projects coming up.
One of my favorite creative ventures has been the Mark Hayes Vocal Solo Collection. I was pleased when you suggested I might create a piano solo collection based on my vocal arrangements, Mark. Thanks for that great idea! I chose 10 songs from the two Christmas vocal solo collections and transformed the piano accompaniment and vocal line into a creative piano solo. This project went so well that I recorded it. The CD as well as the book are available from Jubilate Music Group. These arrangements are brand new, unlike any other Christmas piano solos I’ve written.
As for future projects, I’ve been asked to conduct at Carnegie Hall Memorial Day Weekend of 2024. My intention is to write a new work for chorus and orchestra and conduct the world premiere that night. I’m still formulating ideas about what that will be, but I’m contemplating writing a chorale and fugue in the Baroque tradition.
MC: That sounds exciting. We look forward to that and your next musical offerings! 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.