Posted by Jack Mullin
Mavis MacNeil exudes artistic energy. I interviewed her on an early autumn day, when the weather was still fairly humid. Clad in a long skirt and long earrings, she breezed into Case Center with a shy yet apparent confidence. We sat down with coffee and, once formalities were over, began to discuss music.
MacNeil came to Skidmore with the idea of majoring in music, specifically in composition. She spent her first semester in London, and thus was late to join the campus music scene, but she has certainly made up for lost time. She takes voice lessons, sings in the chorus and the vocal chamber ensemble, audits several other ensembles and plays saxophone in the funk band Bo Peep and the Funk Sheep.
MacNeil's extensive studies found her in Amsterdam's exclusive School of the Arts last spring. There, she advanced her piano and composition skills. This budding composer is truly driven by writing orchestral music.
A deep understanding of music and its nuances is necessary to approach composition, and MacNeil has mastered her craft. With the encouragement of her mother, who never had the opportunity to take lessons herself, MacNeil took up the piano at age four and the violin at age five. When she turned twelve, however, she dropped both and started taking flute lessons. "I already knew how to read music, and all the boring stuff that came with learning how to play; so it was just a matter of learning the mechanics, and then it became really fun really quickly."
MacNeil began composing in high school, where she entered a statewide competition that encouraged students to develop their own pieces. For the next four years of high school, she participated in a composition program in which students wrote and critiqued each other's pieces. At the end of the process, only fifteen pieces were selected and performed. MacNeil's pieces were chosen every time. She did not think of it much then, but looking back on it, she felt grateful for the opportunity to receive feedback from both peers and professionals.
MacNeil continues to compose her own music at Skidmore and has been working on writing a forty minute composition for her senior recital, which is due to be performed this spring. "I mainly will just hear something in my head, maybe get an idea for a rhythmic fragment or something and then i'll just go from there," she explains.
One of MacNeil's biggest stumbling blocks is trying to express the notes she hears, or the feel of the music in her head, onto paper. "The most difficult part of being a composer sometimes is trying to convey the music clearly in writing-sometimes you will have a reading and realize you wrote it poorly. Other times, you will realize you wrote something too difficult, that the musicians who are playing the piece can't play it, or maybe they don't understand your idea."
MacNeil has a great deal of experience composing for her peers and is basing her newest composition on the musicians she already knows so she can write the music for the best possible performance.
For the future, MacNeil is considering graduate school for choral conducting, but she is not entirely sure. "I am not really invested in the idea of getting a job right away, and to be doing something amazing within the next three years. I'm sort of more laid back than that. I know that music will be a huge part of my life forever, but whether it's professionally or just for fun, I'm not sure."