Local Sacramento composer’s work to be performed in ‘Land That I Love’ concert
William MacSems, who lives in Sacramento, is one of the composers whose music is being represented at the concert. “Westward Ho,” MacSems said, is a composition of four short movements celebrating the western migration in the 19th century.
The first movement is a square dance, the second one references a cowboy, the third one is a folk song and the last movement is the conclusion of the westward migration. MacSems said a narrator introduces each piece, with music in the background.
“I originally wrote it for band,” MacSems said. “It sounds a little more classy with the orchestra.”
MacSems said he had previously composed the folk song used in “Westward Ho” when he wrote a piece for the opera “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” which played in Nevada City. He said the square dance is from a show he wrote in 1962 about the railroad.
Timm Rolek has known MacSems around four years. Rolek was the conductor of the Sacramento opera.
“A lot of people are frightened of new music,” Rolek said. “MacSems writes in a style that is interesting and very familiar. I compare him to Aaron Copland, an American classical composer.”
Rolek said MacSems music is easy to grasp and within the first few seconds, people are listening to it. He said MacSems’ music is very organic and American.
MacSems was born in New York in 1930 and received his master of arts degree in music composition from California State University at San Francisco in 1967.
MacSems has led a diverse life. He said he was a prop maker off and on from 1948 to the early 1960s.
“In one particular job, I had to blow air on Eva Gabor and Glenn Ford to make it look like they were driving a car,” MacSems said. “I remember her telling me, ‘That will be enough darling.’”
MacSems said he remembers working at the Hollywood Bowl as the sound advisor for a concert given by Leonard Bernstein and André Previn.
MacSems became a teacher in 1959 in Nevada City, teaching music to elementary students, switching in 1962 to teaching band and chorus at the high school level. In 1970 and 1971, he took a sabbatical from teaching and studied with Gottfried von Einem at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria. MacSems said Einem was the number one composer in Vienna at the time.
Joe Cannon, also a composer, has known MacSems for around 20 years. They both used Midi instruments and developed a musical based friendship.
Cannon said MacSems writes music in the neoromantic category, which is a style and approach between romanticism and early 20th-century modernism.
“We discuss the best way of bringing out what the composition is trying to say with the instrument,” Cannon said. “We look for the correct balance and volume, we work on bringing out the essence of the piece.”
MacSems has composed music for orchestras, chamber music, opera, band, as well as choral and voice.
He has been a guest conductor for many different venues, including the San Mateo County Chorus in Half Moon Bay, California and the Glen Rock Pops Community Orchestra in Glen Rock, New Jersey.
MacSems said he has a great affection for dogs and has owned three dogs over his lifetime. His last two were rescued greyhounds. He named his dogs after opera characters.
“Siegfried was my Great Dane, Sophie, after the female lead in ‘Der Rosen Cavalier’ and Minnie after the only female in ‘Girl of the Golden West,’” MacSems said.
Consequently, he has written a short book about dogs and opera.
MacSems said he will never stop composing music.
“If I stopped composing, I would probably be in my wife’s face,” MacSems said. “Everybody should have a hobby to fall back on when they retire.”
MacSems said the most enjoyable part of all of this is being able to perform and please an audience. He said he is looking forward to this event.