Archive for the ‘Composing Insights’ Category

Kerwin Young begins 2019 composing the film score to Miss Jackson, a dramatic film short directed by Seneca Robinson. Maestro Kerwin Young is quite pleased by the creative chemistry this composer-filmmaker collaboration offers, and looks forward to a lengthy alliance.

Symphony No. 7 now has the first three movements complete, and Young affirms to have a final draft by mid-March 2019. The running time is already at the 50-minute mark, and Young surmises it will exceed the duration of his Symphony No. 2 (Khemet West), which is sixty-six minutes.

On January third, The American Composers Orchestra awarded Kerwin with a composer residency through its EarShot program with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Congratulations Mr. Young!

2019 is also the 25th anniversary of Public Enemy’s Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age album, which was produced by Chuck D and Kerwin Young.

More to come…..


N. Ati


Super-Mega props to my buddy Brian Tyler for a kick-ass score to Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone. A few months back, I read in Film Score Monthly that Brian had the gig, but totally forgot; until I saw his name appear in the opening credits. What I love a lot is that it’s a far breath away from the more action driven music we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from Brian Tyler. I’m also loving the show as a whole, and I plan to continue watching. HOT!


Music I’ve been diggin’ on lately is Rachmaninoff’s The Isle of the Dead, Sun Ra, Fletcher Henderson, and Giacchino’s score to Incredibles 2.


As for my personal endeavors, I’ve edited my Symphony No. 1, Bolivar, and U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves. And, after some amendment to Reclamation, and Symphony No. 5, I can begin to focus on the new works in progress as Guanyin of the Southern Sea.

Of course there are ALWAYS recording production projects I’m working on, but I NEVER mention those until after they’ve been released; and that also goes for project ideas I’m working on. But, I’m still pushing to score my first major motion picture, and to be busy composing for media and concert orchestra (earning); not jumping through hoops for anyone. It would be great if I were busy doing that.





Hot off the press is the newly composed and completed ballet suite, Dumas – Pushkin Suite. Mentioned in my latest blog, it remains highly anticipated in Europe (France, Russia, Prague, and Berlin). It’s a homage to two of the greatest literary artists since the early nineteenth century, Alexandre Dumas and Alexander Pushkin. It’s a twenty-two minute epic suite for orchestra.

Up next, I am completing my long awaited concerto for zheng, orchestra, and women’s chorus, Guanyin of the Southern Sea. This work has been almost nine years in the making! Revision after revision. It should be completed no later than December 2018. I’ve contacted some incredible zheng performers as well. I have to admit that I’ve actually known some for quite awhile. This work has taken so long because I’ve been wanting to figure out how to approach writing for zheng, not repeating myself when compared to previous works I’ve written for zheng. The guzheng is one of my favorite instruments, and I don’t like repeating myself. Oh yeah, here’s a little side note…Guanyin of the Southern Sea will receive premieres in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, and Singapore.

Revisions to Reclamation and Bolivar are also underway; with no set deadline for either. I’ve got enough concert works in the shed (incomplete sketches, proposed ideas, and finished works needing amendments) to keep myself busy in-between media scoring assignments.

Film scoring mock-ups, utilizing the many sound libraries for my mock-up cues, have provided me with a new inspiration. I’ve been re-introduced to certain combinations of colors that I’ve long since abandoned or have forgotten about. Since the fall of 2017, these colors have found their way into my concert works. Some pretty awesome combinations of instruments that I’ve been using. I’m sure you’ll like to know which! But, now is NOT the time.

Once upon a time, my scoring process was quite different! I started out as a media composer before sound libraries existed. I’ve come a long way from pencil and sketch paper, external modules and synths racks to the current one-stop DAW.  So, I’ve grown with the new advancements in tech and so forth since the early 1990’s. It’s wonderful! However, I continue to blend the new with the old.

While on the subject of media scoring, I use a few different DAWS depending on the size of the project and the required speed of turnaround. Pro Tools is always a mainstay for mixing and mastering. On the creative side (the writing end of it), I prefer Digital Performer and/or Logic Pro for the larger projects, and for projects that have a lengthy timeline for turnaround. On the smaller projects; those often requiring a quick turnaround, I’ll work in Studio One Pro. Although the video engine in Studio One isn’t the greatest, it serves my needs for that particular workflow. I use what works best for me; what I’m comfortable with. I could care less about what other composers are using. A composer and/or producer must use those tools that best serve him/her, and that can perform at a high level. It’s about creating the optimum workflow for oneself, and finding the tools that best serve YOU and the people who have hired you.

When prepping my scores, I use Sibelius. I also fidget around a bit with Notion whenever working in Studio One. On larger projects, when I have the time to write and am not rushed, I’ll sketch my cues down on paper with orchestration notes and harmonic outline. I’ll input that into my DAW and will go from there. However, on the smaller projects, I’m at the piano going through sounds and trying things out that way.

Regarding templates, I’ve got a few custom templates for scoring; but generally, I’ll start from scratch with each new project. If I’m really pressed for time, I’ll load up one of my pre-assigned, custom templates and get right into it. Though generally, I like to create a new palette for each assignment. In this regard, it’s the same as when I’m composing a concert work. There’s a story, and that story needs to have a certain ambience to support it.

Until next time!



On April 22, 2018, the University City Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Leon Burke III, premiered my Season of Autocracy. University City Mayor, Shelley Welsch, on the final day of her term, issued a proclamation in honor of the concert; including the premiere of Season of Autoctracy and its composer, Kerwin Young. I had a fantastic host, Ms. Janet Riehl! I was indeed treated like a king for entirety of my stay. Great food, great art, great people, and I also had the pleasure of seeing the St. Louis Symphony with guest cellist, Narek Hakhnazaryan.

Missouri has now been like a second home to me since I was thirteen. You may not know this, but once upon a time, I wanted to play professional baseball since the age of seven. Below is an article featured from the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Sunday newspaper during the summer of 1984, while I was attending the Mickey Owen Baseball School in Miller, Missouri. Though at the time I was living in Roosevelt, NY, I’ve always claimed Queens, NY as my home; and still do.

While a junior in high school, I separated my right shoulder in 1987, during a pickup basketball after school one day. The very next day was baseball tryoKerwin at Mickey Owen Baseball School 1984.jpguts. I batted well, but in the outfield, a line drive was hit deep to me. I fielded it, and then threw the ball to the infield. The ball never made it. The ball went straight up into the air and landed three feet in front of me. I picked the ball up, and then ran it in to my coach, told him my arm was shot, and I’ve got to move on and leave baseball behind. I was personally hurt, but right in that moment, I knew I could make it with music; so the choice was instantaneous and with confidence.

I find it ironic how Missouri has been a place of return since my baseball days. In 2009, I enrolled at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.
While at UMKC, a chance encounter happened when Catherine Lehr Ramos, former St. Louis Symphony cellist, and I met during a Western Music History class. Our friendship led to the commission of Cellét (a masque for ten cellos), which premiered in 2016, in St. Louis at Catherine’s annual cello festival. It was at that festival when maestro Burke and I were introduced, and then began our dialogue and collaboration leading to the April 22, 2018 concert premiere.

This recent premiere was my first by any orchestra. What you may not also know is Season of Autocracy was composed over a three-day period immediately following the completion of my Symphony No. 5 (Perseverance). After its completion, I then wrote Symphony No. 6 (The Plagiarist); which happens to be my favorite!

Orchestral Notes, Two

Posted: August 29, 2017 in Composing Insights, Press

Every orchestra in America that isn’t serving it’s community with music composed by living composers, and programming that does not engage or reflect the ethnic diversity of its city or community at large, should be terminated. Any orchestra not serving it’s community and/or humanity is misusing the power and gift of music! It’s no good.

Conductors and programmers alike should be fired; as many are no doubt working against the culture rather than with it.

Why be a part of something that doesn’t act toward the interests or benefit of the people? We need new orchestras! We need new orchestras led by forward thinking programmers, conductors, and musicians who appreciate all music, and who are willing to develop orchestras for presenting fresh ideas on top of a respected, proven foundation.



Orchestral Notes, One

Posted: August 29, 2017 in Composing Insights

When an orchestra decides to program a particular orchestral work by a composer, generally that means they are committed to honoring the instrumentation.

After seeing the L.A. Phil perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad”, I refuse to let ANYONE convince me of diminishing my designated instrumentation for any piece I’ve composed!

To all you composers out there, be bold, and write the damn music that you envision being performed. Do not, under any circumstances, rescind and make it less than your true intentions. The instrumentation for Shostakovich 7 is 3343/8661/timp+7, 2hp, pf, stgs, and it’s duration is 80 minutes. Be BOLD!

What do you say to that?!
Write the damn music that you want to hear!!!!


Guanyin of the Southern Sea - Nelson Atkins Museum 2Kerwin Young composes Guanyin of the Southern Sea, a fantasy for guzheng, women’s chorus, and orchestra. Young is no stranger to Chinese instruments, having composed solo works for zheng, as well as suites for pipa, erhu, and guqin. His work has been performed by Music From China, and he’s also been honored by the Chinese Music Society of North America. A student of Chen Yi and Zhou Long while at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, Kerwin made plans for the current work in 2012; though it has taken quite awhile to begin working on it.

Historically, Guanyin is revered as a goddess of mercy, compassion, and kindness, and a guide for those who travel the sea. She also represents purity, harmony, and peace.

When asked what inspired the work, Kerwin responded with the following:

My mom and I, while visiting Savannah, Georgia, sometime during 2005-06, heard this beautiful instrument resonating along the waterfront. I stepped away from my mom and walked toward the sound I was hearing. From a distance, I noticed a canopy, and underneath saw an old man in a white tee-shirt playing a long, table top zither. At the end of the song, I approached the elder musician and asked what the instrument was, and how it was tuned. I learned that it was the guzheng, and that he was from China. I’d never heard anything quite like it before, and since then have been drawn to its warm sound. I collected the notes I received that day, and eventually added to them while studying at UMKC.

While in college, I befriended quite a few zheng players; many who were invited guests of Chen Yi and Zhou Long. I studied with Chen Yi from 2009-2015, and really absorbed quite a lot. I composed three solo works for zheng, and in 2012, had a successful premiere of I Walk Alone at the Nelson-Adkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo. At the time of the premiere, the Nelson-Adkins Museum had on display, a giant, life-sized statue of a Guan-yin (see the photo above). I was awed, and began fantasizing about a prospected work for zheng and orchestra.

Kerwin originally intended for this work to include two full-sized orchestras; one Chinese, and the other western. That idea, although a great one, was significantly chopped down as Kerwin began to flesh out some of the orchestration for his thematic ideas.

He did retain some Chinese instruments within the work, and those are the yangqin, yunluo, diyin daluo (better known as the tam-tam), xiaogu, and huapengu.

Both the brass and percussion sections are heavily stacked. The sopranos and altos, being the core of the women’s chorus, add a wealth of sonic flavor. Kerwin explained how his choice of instrumentation is necessary for telling a variety of stories within the overall work. He says, “On one hand, you’ve got the main subject of the Guan-yin representing her basic descriptives/attributes, and on the other hand, the mythology amongst cultures from Southern India to Japan; which open up new doors for my artistic expression.

2017 has been quite busy for Kerwin, who since January, has composed three major orchestral works: Symphony No. 5, Season of Autocracy, and Bolivar, totaling approximately one hour and ten minutes worth of music. Kerwin expects to complete Guanyin of the Southern Sea by late October 2017.


Ka’ness M’dolothongo – Author, Biographer