Quinn Mason spent much of his childhood tinkering with a keyboard, learning the cello, playing percussion and dreaming up sonatas, concertos and symphonies. In middle school, he sketched out an opera while he should have been taking notes during social studies. He was a sophomore at North Dallas High School when the concert band played one of his pieces, the first public performance of his work.
Mason heard all this music in his head, but he couldn’t see where it was taking him.
Then, during his senior year in 2015, he was named one of six national winners of an American Composers Forum fellowship. It was the first of many awards and the beginning of a career as a composer that has seen him field requests from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Seattle and the Washington and Lee University Orchestra in Virginia, as well as from soloists in the U.S. and abroad.
The pandemic hasn’t slowed down Mason, 24, who has been composing nonstop from his family’s Dallas apartment. He wrote a spirited track inspired by Black Lives Matter for Utah Symphony brass and percussion players and composed a viola solo titled “In Memory” that has been performed by about 50 soloists, many for Zoom or YouTube recitals.
Mason’s unrelenting creativity and his ability to spin hopeful melodies out of the clamor and the clangor of 2020 make him a finalist for Texan of the Year.
Aspiring musicians can draw inspiration from his story. A career as a composer was a somewhat unexpected turn for Mason, the only musician in his family and one who learned his first instrument in public school when he was 10.
Before Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Brahms, the soundtrack of his life was made up of his mom’s favorites: Run-DMC, Phil Collins, Prince. (There was a lot of Prince.) Mason was in third or fourth grade when he discovered “Classical 101” WRR-FM (101.1) while scanning the radio.
It was around this time that he went on a field trip to the Meyerson Symphony Center for a Dallas Symphony performance of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Mason said that’s when he became fascinated with the sound of orchestras.
Mason also credits a string of mentors, including Rogene Russell and Doug Howard, a couple of professional musicians in Dallas who arranged for him to take cello lessons and who secured other opportunities for him.
But Mason has not rested on his talent. He cultivated relationships with other musicians at award events and performances, and he takes pride in studying the people who will perform his music so that he can tailor the pieces to their personalities and abilities.
Texas Monthly recently named Mason “one of the most sought-after composers in the country,” and for good reason. He told us his commissions and an upcoming college tour have him booked for the next two years.
“One day I would like to be that mentor for people, especially young, underrepresented musicians who feel classical music is historically not inclusive of them,” said Mason, a rising star in a field that has long overlooked Black composers like him. “My advice is: No one can be you but you. Write what feels true to you because it will find an audience and connect with people.”
For making classical music more accessible and for hitting all the right notes in a year of dissonance, Quinn Mason is a Texan of the Year finalist.