Staples environment cultivates creative community: Zach Bishop ’22, full Q & A

What instruments do you play and what inspired you to start playing?

I’ve played viola for almost 10 years now. I play violin and piano as well. I chose the viola originally because I wanted to have the tone of the cello, but I really didn’t want to carry it around. So, I thought the viola was a good compromise, and I really just grew to like it, really, just thanks to the great music programs that the Westport school system has.

 Then I decided to learn how to play piano as my interest for a composing group. I haven’t really had any lessons or done anything official with piano, besides taking the beginning piano class at Staples. And I think that sort of sparked my interest to pursue piano more. In general, it’s just useful to play piano when composing because it allows you to hear different lines interacting with each other more.

I guess, technically, the first composition I ever made was also because of the school system. I remember, in general music class in maybe fourth or fifth grade, they made everyone write things on Noteflight. So, that’s kind of how I got introduced to the concept of even creating music myself.

But later, in middle school, I just decided to download an app and start writing my own scores. I think a lot of my interests in composing comes from studying music theory, because once you know, like, the science behind harmony, and how to analyze songs, it really opens up the possibility for you to start making your own music. 

Now, I study with a great violist and composer, Nick Revel. He is awesome, and he definitely helps me learn how you can use technology to advance your compositions beyond the realm of just like the rhythm score, so I’ve been exploring that a bit. Recently, I started working on a project that was for electro-acoustic viola. You basically record multiple lines of yourself playing and then piece them together.

How do you use music as a tool to express yourself?

When I compose, I feel like my pieces end up being an expression of not only myself as a person, but also some deep spiritual creed that I am interested in at that time. For example, I studied the music of Sibelius a lot, and I was really interested in how he used a culture that had been suppressed for many years. How he used folk songs from that culture, as well as the call for an independent nation, to really add this extra level of emotional charge to his music. 

So, I tried to imagine what I would do if I were in a similar situation. Then, I just start writing, and somehow the ideas either get transferred over, or I get left with something completely different. But, that’s sort of my process. 

When I play other people’s music, I think that’s where I really see my self expression come into it. Although you would think that composition is like starting from a blank slate, and like you’re given the opportunity to just do whatever really reflects you, I think if you focus on that too much, it doesn’t become something you actually want to listen to. Whereas, when you’re playing music, you’re given something that someone else wrote that isn’t part of you. And then what makes it interesting is how you add yourself into the music you’re already given. So, that’s what I like to think about when I play.

What’s been your favorite moment in your music career?

I have a few. I’d say the two biggest moments for me are, first, performing the Holberg Suite in Grenada, at an outdoor concert, which was awesome. I love doing that. And then, after the concert, I remember talking to people in Spanish about how much they liked the music. It was just like a neat experience, because usually when you perform, you’re performing for people that know you, and for people that are obviously going to say good job because it would be mean for them to not say that. But, to see these people that I had never met before, and would never see again, like how much the music impacted them, that was really cool for me

And then, I guess for my own personal growth as a musician, doing the New England Conservatory summer program was really transformative. I got to work with people from all across the nation, and I got to have a bunch of small group classes and master classes. And yeah, that was fun.


What’s been one of the most challenging aspects of music?

For composing, the most challenging aspect is figuring out how to convey what you hear in your head onto the paper. At least for me, I know that I’m not the strongest musician in terms of oral skills. I don’t have perfect pitch, so, often, I can hear these really complex ideas in my head, but then when I go to write them out, they just kind of get lost in translation. Then, I have to either decide to keep reediting the same material over and over again, or to move on.

In a piece I just started working on, there’s about like 13 instruments in total. So, for each individual measure of music, I have to be accountable for what 13 instruments are doing. And, if you don’t know the right doubling techniques and have a general idea where you want the music to go, you can just get lost very easily.

For playing, I would say the thing I struggle with the most is memorization. But, the hardest thing in general is just consistent practice. Because, if you want to be able to do really advanced techniques and play harder repertoire, you just have to practice every day for an hour, two hours. And that’s a lot to ask for a high school student that has other stuff to do. But, I think in general, I would say I have a harder time with composition just because it’s like nothing you can really learn.

How has Staples provided a place for you to foster your love of music?

Staples really has done this just by having courses that I wanted to take related to music. I took audio production, beginning piano, I’ve taken orchestra every year, I’ve been in chamber every year and I took music theory. So, that’s pretty much like almost everything you would need for a college level music education. So, I’m extremely fortunate to have had all these classes available to me.

 I think Staples is doing pretty much the best it possibly can in terms of cultivating people’s interest in music. The one thing I would say is that some people are a little bit less likely to take orchestra because it’s such a large schedule commitment. I think if they could do something like have people be in it for only a semester, or I don’t know, change how it counts on your GPA or something, maybe that would influence people in terms of continuing in orchestra. But, I think they’re pretty much doing everything that they can.

What do you hope to do with music after high school?

Well, directly after high school I hope to participate in some ensembles. Probably I’m going to audition for the Berkshire Symphony next year, which is a partnership between Williams students and teachers and then local professional musicians in the Berkshire area. I’m really looking forward to that.

 I’m definitely going to study composition. I don’t know if I’ll major in it or not. It’s kind of hard to decide, but I know I’m gonna take composition classes. And then, I don’t know. I could consider self publishing my works. I would always consider teaching music lessons, but I’m not sure how much of a career I want to make out of it yet.