This story originally appeared on KERA News.
Quinn Mason’s been writing music for more than half his life, and he’s only 19. It’s been a life of challenges – he grew up the son of a single mom, in a tough Dallas neighborhood, and he has Asperger’s syndrome, on the autism spectrum. Quinn just got back from winning a national composition contest.
He needed something good and short that required few players. So he flipped through the pile of pieces he’d already written.
“One of them was for 4 clarinets but I thought it was beyond impossible, so I didn’t pick that,” Quinn says. “I looked at a piece for 3 double basses. It looked beyond impossible so I didn’t pick that. A fanfare for 4 trombones. It was too short.”
Quinn entered his self-titled Masonian Rondo.
“It was fun, it kept people’s attention. I got my point out,” Quinn says. “I was trying to make people laugh. But no one laughed at the concert. But you can’t say I didn’t try.”
Quinn beat the odds, becoming one of six winners out of 141 applicants from 35 states. Late last month, he flew to Minnesota for a weekend with top composers, professional performers, and a scholarship check. Suzanna Altman, Education Director with the Composer’s Forum in Minnesota, says what stands out is his musical “ear.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with an ear quite like Quinn’s,” Altman says, “and Quinn is pretty unique among his peers in that he’s someone who’s really studied the canon of classical music and studies instruments to a degree that I think goes beyond many working professional composers.”
Quinn’s teachers point to his amazing ability to hear complex music then recreate all the notes – in the right key – at the piano or on paper. He started doing it when he was 10 – like a certain 18th century Austrian phenom.
“He’s able to hear a symphony by Beethoven or Brahms and he’s able to notate some things completely by ear,” says Richland College’s Derrick Logozzo. “So I think he has a Mozartean flash there that’s he’s going to be able to develop and work with.”
But first, says Quinn’s teacher Logozzo, comes practice…
Quinn’s taking summer classes and will start at Richland this fall. He’ll be the first in his family to attend college.
“His ability to hear in his inner ear is way beyond his current development of playing percussion,” Logozzo says. “So we’re just going to work on getting him to a really great college level to match that.”
Rogene Russell believes Quinn will make it. When the professional oboist brought music appreciation to Quinn’s 5th grade class, the kid already knew every recording she played. A founder of Dallas’ Fine Arts Chamber Players, Russell helped get him instrument and composition lessons. She says both would have been out of reach for his mom.
“He has a passion and drive that I have really never seen in a person his age,” Russell says. “We never had to inspire him, he inspired us.”
Quinn’s on a mission. He fell in love with classical music when he was 8 and hasn’t looked back, despite others urging him to play rap or pop music.
“And I didn’t understand that,” Quinn says. “Because at this point, I’ve been in classical music for about half my life. So I’m kind of like, what are you talking about? But, yes, people are like why don’t you like rap music? It doesn’t speak to me.”
Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Stravinsky – they speak to him. He wants to do what they did. But in his own voice.