We commissioned 26-year-old Black composer Quinn Mason of Dallas to write three new pieces of music with a radio audience in mind, as KMFA’s first Draylen Mason Composer-in-Residence in early 2022. Quinn’s residency took place between February 2022. Quinn was flown to Austin, where he was in our studios every day, and got to know our performance space, named for Draylen Mason – the young Black upright bassist who was killed in the 2018 Austin package bombings. We featured a live performance of Quinn’s String Quartet No. 6 and a solo work for viola with the Austin quartet, Invoke, before an audience. We also introduced Quinn and were treated to some of his improvisational skills at our piano. Later, Quinn met with students of the music conservatory at Draylen’s alma mater, East Austin Prep, and held a master class with young guitarists from nearby Martin Middle School. He was also featured as a guest DJ with our midday host, to introduce him to our radio audience. Quinn’s first composition for KMFA was a work for solo piano, which was premiered in our Draylen Mason Music Studio before a live audience by renowned concert pianist and activist, Lara Downes. Two more compositions will premiere later in 2022; a work for wind ensemble, and a work for choir. All of these are being recorded in our studios and will be distributed to classical stations around the country.
We did this by hearing Quinn’s existing music, deciding it was a great fit for radio audiences, and discussing this project with him. He was excited to do it because radio was once home to composers who wrote music specifically for radio (Copland, Chavez, etc.), and he understood the power of radio as a medium to bring music to more people. Lara Downes was chosen for the piano premiere because she was the perfect person, with a record of amplifying music by composers of color, and women composers.
KMFA undertook this project because we felt it was something we had to – and wanted to do. With our new state-of-the-art studios and performance space, we have felt that we’re lucky to have this gift, and that we need to pay it forward for composers of color and do what we can to elevate their art. We understand that radio is powerful, and though not all stations have the ability to do a project like this , the time was right for us to do our part in helping classical radio be more diverse. Moreover, we take a sense of pride in this knowing that we’ve created art in the name Draylen Mason.