“I have all the tools I need to accomplish this here in San Diego, but to have the opportunity to compose in seclusion without distraction for six weeks without having to worry about anything is truly priceless,” says composer/bassist and UC San Diego professor Mark Dresser, who has been awarded his third fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire in the last 18 years.
A MacDowell Fellowship is a pretty heady deal. The artist colony has been operating since 1907, and their mission statement reads: “To nurture the arts by offering creative individuals an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination.”
“You have to have a strong application and letters of recommendation, but basically the fellowship is awarded on the strength of your work,” Dresser continued. “I think my position was strengthened by winning other grants like the Doris Duke Impact Award and two from the Shifting Foundation.”
Dresser’s fellowship was for composition. Other notable MacDowell Colony Fellows include Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. They have also enabled scores of writers including Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin.
“I got my first fellowship in 2001 and I didn’t get another one until 2015, and that was as a sub. I think they are always looking to feature younger artists, so for a guy in his 60s to receive more than one is a good day for me.”
Mark Dresser, excerpt from Guts DVD/CD
Dresser explains his approach to music, with footage from a performance of "Bacachaonne," a solo bass piece dedicated to Cuban bass player Cachao.
Dresser plans to use his six weeks in New Hampshire (he leaves San Diego on July 18) to compose new music for his bi-coastal ensemble, the Mark Dresser Seven, and a new recording on the Portuguese label Clean Feed.
“What’s great about MacDowell is that they give you a work space, which is a cabin in the woods with no internet – no diversions – my studio will have a grand piano and a desk. I’ll bring everything else I need like my bass and a laptop [for composing] and a recording device. They deliver lunch to you, and in the evening dinner is a communal meal where you can meet with the other artists.”
He plans on making the most of the opportunity. “Sometimes, it’s hard to be as focused when I’m at home. It’s easy to be distracted by email and the other trappings of digital life. I’m just going to try and stay organized and be as productive as I possibly can.”