“Some very famous composers have been associated with the Rome Prize, including Berlioz, Bizet, and Debussy (when it was associated with France), and a number of prestigious American composers such as Paul Moravec, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize,” says Mason. “It is one of the four main awards you can win as a composer.
“For a composer, one of the best awards is time and the opportunity to be taken away from your normal routine so that you can compose. That's what the Rome Prize will give me.”
Mason will spend 11 months in Rome composing. Among the pieces he plans to work on are a commission from Karen Bentley Pollick for a violin and piano duet, and a guitar quartet and chamber orchestra piece for the Corona Guitar Kvartet of Denmark.
Mason is looking forward to working in Rome. “Being in Rome surrounded by art that had taken centuries to make and that has lasted for centuries will give me a different perspective on my work and its substance,” he explains.
Mason said he also is “excited about having the opportunity to be in residence with other scholars who are tops in their fields.”
“I've found that with some creative problems, talking to others—a writer or someone in another field—I come up with new solutions that I might not have thought about,” he notes.
Mason, who says he is very much a composer who is true to his own time, describes his style of writing as “Hyper-Connectivism.”
“Connectivism has to do with disparate elements working together towards a common goal,” he explains. “The Hyper portion has to do with the feeling that at any moment everything could fall into disarray, being at the border of chaos that is the edge where great things happen.”
Mason and other Rome Prize finalists were flown to New York City to be interviewed in a very confidential process.
“They're very careful that you don't know who else they're interviewing,” says Mason. “You come in one door and go out a side door so that you don't run into the next person being interviewed. By the time you are a finalist, you have already proven yourself with your compositions, so at this point, the three judges mainly want to find out who you are and what you believe you'll get out of being in Rome.”
Mason gives credit to his grandfather, who was head of endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic.
“I once said to him that I was impressed that he had been part of the team that won the Nobel Prize for discovering cortisone,” says Mason. “He was quick to tell me that winning the prize was not his goal. He said he just loved chemistry and was at the right place at the right time. He also told me that in whatever he did, he was determined to do his very best … that if he were a ditch digger, he would dig the very best ditch.
“In my work, like his, what keeps me creative is the joy of doing it. It's the process that keeps me doing it. I have seen other composers who hit a brick wall once they won a major prize because the prize was the goal rather than the process. If I compose for the love of composing rather than winning awards, winning an award as prestigious as the Rome Prize will not have a detrimental affect on me and will serve to be a gift that will provide me with time to improve my work. Despite winning this prize, I'm fully aware that there's room for improvement in my music. Ultimately it is me I have to prove myself to … I'm always trying to improve.”
Mason joined the BSC faculty in 1982 after receiving his doctorate at the University of Illinois.