For Carl Atkins, writing music is simply a part of who he is.
“For many years, the day didn’t start right if I didn’t write music,” he says. “Writing music was a compulsion.”
Today, Atkins, professor and director of performing arts, writes mainly from inspiration, at times prompted by circumstances, deadlines and goals.
He has written more than 250 original compositions and new arrangements, some taking weeks to complete, others years. And he is always thinking about his next piece—and who will be playing it.
“In order to write playable music, it’s important to know how people play— you need to understand their strengths and represent their personalities. I often create music around them. It’s also important to understand the nature of all instruments, understand their range, how they are constructed. As a composer, I like to stretch the possibilities of the musicians and their instruments.”
Atkins, the former director of Rochester’s Hochstein School of Music and former president of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, is looking forward to the implementation of the first music major at RIT—music and technology, which will include a composition element.
“It starts like any other
part of the human condition,” he explains. “We start with language in order to create. It’s a music degree first—about the creative process and how our students can use technology to create music.”
What’s his advice to budding composers?
“Be single-minded, almost obsessive about writing music,” he says. “At the end of the day, you should write pieces that musicians enjoy playing. The complete experience should be worthwhile. At the end of the day, composing music should ultimately come from the head and the heart.”