What's it like to be Mary McAuliffe?

A short, informal question and answer interview with Mary McAuliffe.

1. How and when did you get interested in composing?

I think that I was always interested in creating my own music. I was always jotting down sketches of tunes, chords and texts from the time I was a child. When I started teaching I began to write down material more carefully so that my students could perform it.

2. Is composing your 'day job' or do you do something else as well?

For several years composing was my 'day job'. Now I engage in other musical activities as well; but still I would say that a great deal of my time is spent on composition.

3. Where do you mostly get your ideas?

Sometimes it is hard to know where ideas come from; they just seem to arrive! I suppose that often the particular project for which music is required sets up its own inspiration, and this governs the text and musical ideas.

4. What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on the final movement of a seven-movement Canadian/Irish choral suite for the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir. The final piece for me -- which, incidentally, is the opening movement of the suite -- is a setting of the majesticNewfoundland by E. J. Pratt.

5. Describe your typical working day.

To be honest, I don't have a typical working day! With every particular project, I tend to work long hours (day or late into the night) to get my basic ideas down coherently before I forget them! I tend to use all the time I have available until a fair measure of work is complete. Often I leave my opening ideas 'set' for a time, and then come back and work intensely in similar fashion to complete the work.

6. What is it like hearing a new piece played for the first time?

It is such an honour for me to have musicians take these notes off the page and bring them to life! I am constantly in awe of all the work that conductors, choirs and instrumentalists go to in order to turn what is an inanimate object into a living piece of music. It is always a great thrill to hear it first time, and every other time as well.

7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Whilst I believe that each and every performance of any of my compositions has been its own 'highlight', I would have to say that the world premiere on St. Patrick's Day 2000, of the commissioned Return to Old Ireland by the Michael O'Neal Singers of Roswell, Georgia, USA was simply spectacular. When over 2,000 people jumped to their feet at the end of this chorus' amazing performance, I was just thrilled beyond belief. All other nine performances of this work since 2000 have also been spectacular in their own special way.

8. What has been the lowlight of your career so far?

There is nothing that I can consider to be a lowlight. I have always enjoyed each and every aspect of my compositional career. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working as a writer.

9. What is your greatest ambition?

My greatest ambition is to be able to devote enough time to complete several large-scale works that have been in the melting pot for some time.

10. Which musician in history do you most admire and why?

Schubert, because of his glorious melodies!

11. Which present-day musician do you most admire and why?

So many come to mind, but I could listen all day to the absolutely beautiful and most sensitive piano playing of Todd Skrabanek of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

12. Which period of history would you most like to have lived in and why?

I would like to have lived in the period of Romanticism, as I believe I would have been totally inspired and delighted by the new freedoms of musical composition and the break from stricter convention.

13. What is the best thing about being a composer?

The best thing is the wonderful and enduring friendships that have ensued, both with conductors and performers, long after the performances are over.

14. What is the worst thing about being a composer?

Being poor -- but it is worth it!

15. If you weren't a composer, what other career might you have chosen?

I do not honestly know, as I never considered working with anything else but music.

16. What is your concept of heaven?

Being at peace in all respects.

17. What is your concept of hell?

Lack of peace.

18. What is your favourite food?


19. If someone gave you three months off with unlimited travel and living expenses, what would you do?

I would travel more extensively in the US and in Canada, taking time to visit with lots of friends that I have made in both countries as a result of shared music making.

20. If you could have one thing in the world that would really help you as a composer, what would it be?

A complete updated set of computer equipment.