Dr. Mark Saya serves as Chair of the Department of Music and coordinates its music theory and composition programs. An active composer, his works have been performed in Canada, Germany, Japan, Poland, and throughout the United States. He studied composition at Indiana University South Bend and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Hear his piece Fiona’s Dance Card performed by Colleen Phelps at tonight’s Cincinnati Diaspora I concert at Urban Artifact.

CSB: What are you interested to explore in your music? 

MS: It is difficult to answer this succinctly. Given my love for words I am always interested in setting text, in both sung and spoken formats. Despite the vastness and variety of its literature I am determined to find fresh, meaningful ways to write for the piano. And, among many other things, I am very interested in making arrangements, transcriptions, and what I call hybrids, such as my recent operatic transcriptions that intertwine barcarolles by Offenbach and Chopin, and habaneras by Bizet and Debussy.

CSB: Could you share a little bit about your piece on this concert, Fiona’s Dance Card?

MS: Fiona’s Dance Card was commissioned by percussionist Colleen Phelps, a fellow CCM alum. Noting the great public interest in Fiona the baby hippo’s story, I imagined that the other animals in the Cincinnati Zoo must be just as fascinated, and because dancing hippos are a popular image, the idea of a dance card came to me quickly. The alliterative titles were the first step toward matching an animal with a particular type of dance. While I have written a few Waltzes, I had never composed a Tango or a Polka before, so it was about time, right? I had a lot of fun with these pieces.

CSB: How did you first start collaborating with Allen Otte and Percussion Group Cincinnati? Could you tell us about the projects you have worked on over the years? 

MS: My first connection with the Percussion Group Cincinnati came in 1979, when Allen Otte bravely took on The Murphy Sonata for solo vibraphone. A few years later, but while still a graduate student, I wrote From the Book of Imaginary Beings for all three players (Al, Jim Culley, and Jack Brennan at the time). Since leaving CCM I have written several more pieces for the trio, including Preludes Revisited, Bachanons, and more Imaginary Beings. I am extremely grateful to the Group for their patience and generosity in collaborating with me.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar? 

MS: For many years I have toyed with the idea of writing a collection of piano pieces about boxing. It had languished as a “back-burner” project until recently when I met Andrew Yang, who, amazingly enough, is both an excellent concert pianist and serious amateur boxer! I have occasionally employed a stressful physicality in my work for percussion (the imaginary being Bahamut for example), and with Mr. Yang in mind, would like to explore this further in an athletic suite for piano.