Composer Spotlight: Kenneth Amis

Kenneth Amis

Mr. Amis took up the tuba in high school in his home country of Bermuda. A Suite for Bass Tuba, composed when he was only fifteen, marked his first published work. A year later, at age sixteen, he enrolled in Boston University where he majored in composition. Afterwards he received his master’s degree in composition from the New England Conservatory of Music.

Mr. Amis has received commissions from several institutions and music organizations. He was a founding member and on the Board of Directors for the American Composers Forum New England Chapter. In 2007 he was Composer-in-residence at the South Shore Conservatory in Massachusetts.

Mr. Amis is presently the tuba player of the Empire Brass and the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra and a performing artist for Besson instruments.

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1. When and why did you start composing?

I started music lessons when I was very young but I didn’t become interested in classical music and composing until high school. I was inspired and motivated to compose after seeing the movie The Empire Strikes Back. I simply wanted to create music that made me feel the way that film score did.

2. How do you create new music? What does your composition process look like?

I try to get an idea of the type and character of the piece that is to be composed and then I simply start singing to myself. A lot of time is spent lying on my back on the floor or hovering over a piano humming and sketching out ideas on manuscript paper. Some pieces come easily and some require multiple restarts. But once I get some momentum in the creative process I’ll start composing straight into Finale music notation software.

3. Who or what would you say are the major influences on your music?

The music of John Williams and J.S. Bach have been major influences in my composing. My experience touring as a member of Empire Brass and seeing Ray Charles live at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the early 1990’s were big influences on my performing and conducting.

4. What are you proudest of so far in your career?

Of course, many of us would like our proudest career achievements to be the most recent ones. Thankfully, this is currently the case for me. A few years ago I was having difficulty inspiring a young tuba student to study the orchestral tuba repertoire. I finally came up with the idea of making it into a series of games by producing a deck of playing cards, with each card containing a different musical excerpt. Over the last few years I have extended the idea of Rep Decks across 26 decks for every instrument in the orchestra, keyboard players and vocalists. It has been a wonderful experience that has allowed me to offer something to help students and teachers get a little more enjoyment out of the study of classical repertoire while educating myself more deeply on the repertoire of many instruments.

5. How can we make the musical world a more inclusive and diverse place?

In addition to ensuring underprivileged communities have access to a quality music education, it’s important that performers, educators and audiences seek quality art from underrepresented communities. When they do find this quality art, it is not enough to champion only the individual composer or performer. They must draw attention to the community from which that person arose. This will open the door to discovering more artists rather than tokenizing a single one. Since much of the music in the classical music business has been vetted over decades and centuries, musicians have become accustom to looking to the deep past and Europe for repertoire to consume. Efforts of exploration and advocacy outside of these usual strongholds need to become habit and discoveries enthusiastically shared in order to diversify what we offer to our students and the general public.

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Watch him perform his Concerto for Tuba here: https://youtu.be/sGzk-QK3gh8

And check out some of his sheet music here: https://houghtonhorns.com/product-tag/amis/

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