Timothy C. Takach Q&A

April 13, 2020
Timothy C. Takach reflects on Cantus and helping people find the perfect note.

“Learning how to change how you shape your vowels, where the sound is resonating in your mouth, how much diction to do depending on the style of the piece, all of these things work towards creating honesty in music.”

You co-founded Cantus with friends from St. Olaf to keep singing after graduation. Did you ever imagine it would grow into the institution it is today?

I don’t know if any of us knew what to imagine. We were all just hoping to make jobs for ourselves. Now, to look back across the years and see how many jobs we made for so many singers and administration. It’s something! I’m still very proud of the organization and so happy that it still has the momentum that it does.

It must have been hard to leave Cantus after 17 years. How did you know the time was right to make the change?

I always told myself I’d stay with the group until it flew or fell. It  would have been easier to tell if it fell, since succeeding often happens in such small steps. At the time my wife and I had a two- and five-year-old, and being with family became more important. But the change allowed me to transition into composing full-time, which was a leap of faith.

When did you start Graphite Publishing? How did you identify there was a market need for an online vocal music publisher of digital scores?

Jocelyn Hagen and I came up with the idea because at the time you either sold your copyright to a traditional publisher for a small royalty, or you kept the copyright and sold it yourself which is basically starting your own business,  whether you realize it or not. We thought there was room for something in the middle, where composers could let a company sell their work but get a much higher royalty than was currently offered in the field. And back in 2006 people thought we were nuts to jump into digital delivery for sheet music, but look where we are now!

How does the creative satisfaction differ for you between performing and composition?

They both talk to each other. I get a good look at repertoire while I’m performing, and when I’m composing my mind is always in the rehearsal room, thinking how I can make my ideas easier to execute for singers and conductors. The creative satisfaction is very different between the two. Composing is more about exploring, being curious, trying new things. It’s fulfilling but exhausting. When I’m performing I get to turn over a lot of the decision making to the conductor, do what I’m told, and spend some energy on being a smart musician in the moment. And there’s nothing like making music with a room full of great people.

Do you ever need to just get away from music?

I find a lot of inspiration from other art forms: film, books, dance, etc. This all still channels into my creative work as a composer, but it’s a nice diversion. I’m also an avid board gamer, and one of my rewards for sitting down to write every day is that I get to play video games over my lunch break. No writing, no video games. Plus, my kids are a constant draw of attention and energy,  so I spend time with them too.

You’ve spoken about treating music as a service. What do you mean by that?

I think there are different reasons to create art. One is to get famous. I know people like this and I don’t think they’re very happy. You can also create because you have a lot to say and want to get it out into the world. This certainly is part of what drives me. But the flip side to this last one is that I know what music has done for me in my life, and I want to participate in giving something back to people, or more likely pay it forward to the next generation. I want to create experiences, either as a performer or a composer, that change people’s lives.

Do you enjoy the marketing aspect of your work?

It’s OK. There’s a real obstacle when you’re a freelancer and you are required to boast about your work. And so some it can feel very sales-y, but I embrace the fact that if you don’t tell people what you want, no one will know how they can help. I think the trick is to find language that suits you, that allows you to somewhere enjoy telling the world about your vision. I have a background in graphic design as well, and so for my work I try to  always have a sense of brand surrounding everything, from the scores to my website to pictures on social media. This runs as deep as to how the music looks on the page. It has to be clean and precise, otherwise it looks amateur. Branding runs deep in all aspects of work.

You are married to a composer and work together in the a cappella band Nation among other endeavors. Is there a piece of music that you bonded over early in your relationship that you can share with us?

Some of our early loves were Ben Folds, Tori Amos. Newton Faulkner’s “Dream Catch Me” was a favorite.

Teaching is a big part of your work these days. How do you model healthy, accessibly and honest guidance for developing singers?

If you know your instrument well,  you can do a lot with it. So learning how to change how you shape your vowels, where the sound is resonating in your mouth, how much diction to do depending on the style of the piece, all of these things work towards creating honesty in music. If listeners believe you when you’re on stage singing someone else’s words and music, then they’ll come with you.

What is next for you?

As an excuse to throw this out into the universe and see what comes back, I’d love to do more performing with Nation. Getting more gigs always gives us an excuse to learn and write more music. I’m also really interested in writing for the operatic stage. I have ideas for stories to adapt, but I’d also love to help in writing an original story. I’m still trying to blend genres and artistic mediums. I’d love to write more music that is inspired by science fiction, horror, and magical realism, and I’d love to write a choral piece based on board game mechanics. I’m in my first of three years as Composer-in-Residence for The Singers–Minnesota Choral Artists, and we’re cooking up some cool ideas there, too!