WITH REIS TAYLOR DIXON
During this interview, I change seat, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to British composer Reis Taylor Dixon. The Birmingham-based musician has just released his second solo album, Awake to Dream; an opportunity for him to tell us more about his career and his views on music.
Reis, tell us a little about you. What have been the highlights of your career so far?
I am a pianist and composer from Birmingham, UK. It was at the age of sixteen that the piano came into my life and transformed my world, before then I did not have the slightest clue what I wanted to do with my life. I taught myself the basic fundamentals of the piano primarily playing through popular music. Shortly after, I delved into classical music and from this moment forward I knew that composing and performing music would be something I would aim to do. So here I am, two albums to my name and holding down a job at the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre as a resident pianist.
I am thankful to have had so many incredible highlights to my name this early on in my career. I have had the pleasure of talking with my biggest inspiration Ludovico Einaudi and personally thanking him for lighting the way for myself and so many others within this industry.
Some of my best highlights have come from being welcomed to the artist rosters of two amazing radio stations over in the US. Firstly performing with Whisperings Solo Piano Radio over in Atlanta, Georgia alongside many of my peers and fellow award-winning pianists. Then secondly performing at the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Hall in Germany for the Enlightened Piano Radio Awards. This was also followed by a series of mini concerts with the talented pianist and composer Christoph Pagel.
Tell us more about Awake to Dream, your latest project.
This album was somewhat of a challenging period for me as you can most likely see by looking at the song names. Without going into too much depth here is a short description.
Awake to Dream, is a double entendre. We dream while we sleep, yet in order to fulfil our dreams in life both our mind and heart must truly be awake. This is how the concept for this album began, however my vision became blurry as my heart walked away… The album is a journey full of emotion and perseverance translated of a sea of solidarity.
It was a huge honour to be able to collaborate with Mark Grieves – an icon of mine for the album's artwork. Mark has beautifully portrayed the journey I have been on over the past couple of years and I could not have been happier with the results of the artwork.
The album was successfully launched at the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre via live stream due to Covid-19 restrictions.
How do you think you background in popular music, and being partially an autodidact, influence you as a musician?
If anything, my background in popular music has only made me appreciate classical music even more so. Popular music is so diluted by the repetitiveness of four-bar rhythms. Classical music can be so much more, taking you on a journey of complexity through the ages.
You started learning the piano quite late — at the age of sixteen. How do you think that makes you stand out from others?
People around me could see that I was doing it for myself rather than it being forced upon me at an early age. This meant that I was free to make my own decisions when it came to choosing a genre of music that best suited my interests, rather than being moulded into something that I may or may not have wanted to do. I experimented in pop, jazz and then contemporary classical before moving into classical. If anything I think the people around me viewed me as gifted for being able learn as late as I did and progress so quickly with it. Within a couple of years of playing I had achieved my ABRSM Grade 6 piano, and the year after I was studying music at university, performing repertoire of a Grade 8 standard and beyond.
I stuck with it because I really did enjoy it, so If you come across something you truly enjoy then go and pursue it. My experience has taught me that you are never too old to begin playing. My mother herself has only just began playing and she is taking to it very well!
Give us an insight on how you compose music.
I compose music based on an idea, an emotion or an image. Whenever I find myself inspired, I will try and get to a piano as quickly as I can in order to begin my creative process. Compositions will usually begin as improvisations and then as I continue to develop them they will eventually take on a character of their own. Some compositions may take me a day or two to complete, and others may take many months.
How do you approach developing your own voice as an original artist?
I approach it by being true to myself and without the need to compare to others. I aim to capture real emotion within every note I play. People often come up to me after performances to tell me that they really felt my emotion resonating within them. I believe harnessing your own voice comes with time, I myself feel that I am still in search of my own unique voice but I know I am extremely close to achieving it. I now have all the computer software I need to capture a sound that will echo throughout the coming years; a sound I can truly call my own. I know that once I have found my sound, then my future projects will be something special.
So after Awake to Dream, what’s next?
Many more projects I hope. Firstly, I need to get to grips with all the technology and equipment I have available to me. Once I have done this, I will then be able to produce projects rather quickly as I have so many unfinished compositions just waiting to be completed.
I also plan to lean towards composing music for film. I have recently completed my first score to the short-film A Past Tense by Bet On Yourself Productions. I look forward to delivering this to my fans when it is released.
Finally, when the world regains some form of normality after Covid-19, I hope to get back collaborating and performing with as many musicians as possible.
Thanks very much Reis. Last one for the road—one book, one album, one film—tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
One book: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. It is the first book of the Mistborn series, I am sure that when you get to the end of the first book, you will immediately want to reach for the the second book.
One album: The 2004 debut album The College Dropout by Kanye West. I have listened to hip-hop for most of my adult life and the moment I step away from the piano conscious hip-hop becomes my genre of choice. I know many people are quick to judge the present Kanye (both the man and his music), but If you take a trip back in time and listen to his debut album, you may be pleasantly surprised. I would recommend starting with the song “Family Business”.
One film: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller Interstellar. I am a huge admirer of space and astro-physics, so for me this film has everything; a question as to why we are here, a brilliant story line that ventures through the vastness of time and space, a top cast, and on top it all off, it is scored by the master film composer Hans Zimmer. What more could you ask for? A prequel or a sequel that can live up to the hype? Just maybe.
Bouncing on Reis’s words, one of my all-time favourites is West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. What a fantastic piece of work. Read my review of Awake to Dream.