Horned Up: Dirk talks music with Queer the Air

The following interview with my hubby Dirk Caber appeared in Queer the Air magazine on January 28, 2015. Dirk, as you may know, is a professional classical musician and composer, and he really enjoyed the chance to sit down with guest columnist Cyn Duby to talk about his true passion. It’s a fun and informative read… check it out below, and be sure to visit QueerTheAir.com for more LGBT-related entertainment news!


Queer the Interview: Dirk Caber
By Cyn Duby, Guest Columnist

QTA1I do love doing an interview with someone who is a study in contrasts and breaks stereotypes to smithereens. Such a person is Dirk Caber. We all know he’s hot and a big name in the gay porn industry. We also know he and his fiance, Jesse Jackman, are not only adorable together, but also very intelligent and giving men, They are always doing their part for our community whenever they can. But, to pigeonhole Dirk as just a porn star with a heart is underestimating him so grossly, you could miss some of the most essential facets of this remarkable man.

I had the opportunity to pose some questions to Dirk about his first love and one of his greatest talents: music. Yes, you heard that correctly. He can sing, play several instruments, and compose wonderful original classical pieces. It is just that subject on that this interview focuses.

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QTA: You seem to have a fairly large body of work as a composer. How many years have you been writing classical music?

I seem to have been writing since childhood; I honestly can’t remember a time I wasn’t devising tunes for poems or banging out some harmony or something at the piano. I first was consciously writing in fifth or sixth grade; I suppose that would mean I was eleven or twelve when I started.

QTA: Were you raised in a musical household?

I was. My grandparents were singers, pianists, organists. My mom sang and played piano. My dad’s interest in music was mechanical and I grew up in a house full of musical instruments that played themselves, music boxes of all sorts and sizes, mechanical organs, and the centerpieces: six reproducing player pianos. Sometime when I was about ten and dad could no longer tell the difference between the piano roll playing and me imitating it afterwards, he decided it was time to find me a piano teacher.

QTA: What was the first instrument you learned? What instruments do you play now?

I was always singing, although my first formal singing lessons weren’t until college. My first lessons were on violin, then piano. In junior high and high school I had a reputation for picking up instruments and learning them well enough to play on stage in a matter of weeks, so I was given a succession of all the odd ones: contra bassoon, French horn, English horn, contra bass clarinet, harp, etc. Finally I was given the one I fell in love with: tuba.

QTA2QTA: Do you have formal education in music? If so, what?

I have degrees in music composition from two institutions, the second from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. I also studied organ and harpsichord on top of piano, sang a lot of Renaissance and baroque music, dabbled in a number of Renaissance instruments, and, of course, play tuba.

QTA: What is the easiest instrument to write for?

They all pose challenges and have aspects for which they’re perfectly suited. I think because I’ve always been singing and because so much of my music is inherently singable, I’d have to say voice is easiest for me.

QTA: What’s your inspiration? Where do you find it easiest to write? Any quirky habits that help the muses speak to you?

Some of my inspiration is literary; many of my works are responses to poetry or a passage of text somewhere. A few things have been similarly a mood inspired by a painting. Most of my music however simply starts off with the discovery of a sonority I find unique or compelling, or when I discover a melody with some really rich and fascinating contrapuntal potential. Much of my musical inspiration is, in fact, musical. I can write nearly anywhere. It’s better to be in a slightly noisy place; somehow working in silence just doesn’t feed my muse. Some of my best music has been written at tables in cafés, or in the middle of work meetings.

QTA3QTA: How does your mood affect what you write and if you can write?

My productivity is best when I’m either really unhappy or really happy, i.e., when I’ve the most emotional energy to channel. The music that results doesn’t necessarily reflect that mood, though; I can write quiet music in an ebullient moment as easily as ecstatic music in a somber mindset.

QTA: Which orchestra/s do you work with?

I don’t work with one in particular. In fact, as a tubist I tend to avoid orchestra work simply because there’s often a lot of sitting around twiddling my thumbs while the strings do all the work. I’d rather play with bands, brass quintets, Dixieland ensembles, groups where I’m the principal bass instrument and play most if not all the time.

QTA: How do you “hear” what you write? Do you hear the melody when you write or all the parts? Do you hear each instrument separately?

It’s like writing words. Despite these little black characters representing sounds which our brains translate into meaning, we don’t need to sound out every word as we write it to know what it means. This however is something we learned how to do; as children we had to mouth the words when we were first reading. It’s the same with music; with years of practice I’ve arrived at the point where I can write a score for a hundred instrumentalists, and know what every note for any one instrument sounds like, and how it sounds in context. This isn’t to say I start and the top and write out the score fully-formed. I start with sketches. I’ll make a “short score”, sort of an outline, and make successive versions until the piece is fully fleshed.

QTA: When did you first begin to compose music? Do you also conduct?

I think the earliest tunes I remember I probably dreamed up when I was five or six. I first wrote music down when I was eleven or twelve. And I’m no virtuoso conductor, but I can keep time for an ensemble and provide cues. I’d much prefer to actually be part of the group though.

QTA: What music do you listen to for pleasure?

Pretty much anything and everything. Because I delight in picking out the weird moments in music, the odd incongruous moments, and all music has these somewhere, I’m always listening. The problem becomes that music can overwhelm me. If I’m at home and need to be thinking about other things, I love silence, or just the sounds of the neighborhood and the house around me.

QTA: Who are your inspirations?

Poets. Authors. Painters. Sculptors. Other composers. Actors.

QTA: Many of your songs, especially the Eclogues, would go very well as scoring in a film. Is that something you’d like to do someday?

I’ve been really interested in film scoring at times, and might still dabble someday. Film music should compliment the action but must never distract from it, so it needs to be simple and direct. What I’d find challenging is being that understated… So much of my music is so “concerted”, it would tend to overwhelm an audience’s attention, I’m told.

QTA4QTA: The woodwinds in Danzas Cubanas No. 1 are very nicely highlighted. Tell me about this number.

This was written for a Cuban man in NYC, an excellent clarinetist, with whom I was obviously rather smitten. The four movements are impressions of four Cuban dance forms.

QTA: Eclogue No. 4 and Eclogue No. 6 fit their names perfectly as pastoral musical poetry. The conversation between the instruments is very well done. All the parts have their creative versions of the melody, but it feels as though they’re talking and the melody is but the theme of the conversation.

The Eclogues were really my exercises for myself to learn how to orchestrate, how to break music up over larger ensembles with balance and flow. This is actually a rather difficult skill. Different instruments “talk” to each other and “get along” with each other in very different ways, and these are relationships you really can only learn how to utilize by trying and making mistakes. The reason we have Eclogues 4, 5, and 8 is that they’re most successful. The others have nice passages, but for whatever reason they just didn’t work as well.

QTA: When listening to Edification and Amusement I feel I’ve been transported back into time. Was that your intent?

Particularly in high school I had a fascination with Joplin and Scott and Confrey and other writers of ragtime. Having good friends who also played piano meant a chance to write four-handed repertoire; this is just such a little piece of musical “candy”.

QTA: The Miniatures for Piano are very short but complicated pieces and more varied than I expected.

There are 24 miniatures now, of which 12 are recorded. They are miniature in name and duration only; none is longer than two minutes. Most of them are exceedingly challenging to play though! They’re certainly well beyond my skill as a pianist. Someday soon I’ll have the whole cycle recorded.

QTA: Your Mount Desert Island Suite feels like day at a North Atlantic beach. Is there significance beyond the obvious beauty in this composition?

The four movements reflect aspects of Mount Desert Island and its environs in Maine. It’s a little love letter to my home state and to its rocky Atlantic coastline.

QTA: When I hear Nocturne, I picture a mother with her child at bedtime.

You know that this was written for my mom? It was a birthday present for her several years ago. It’s also the one recording where you actually hear me playing.

QTA: One of my favorites by you is The Good Morrow. It reminds me of the Gregorian chants. It’s simply gorgeous!

This was a Christmas gift last year for my now-fiancé Jesse. The poem is an early love poem by John Donne, with spiritual overtones interleaved with subtle sensual hints. I need to make a proper recording, playing the piano, and as I wrote it for my own voice, with me singing. The tune, usually presented in some canon with itself, is long and meandering, often slipping away from the “beat” of the accompaniment, which might explain why you hear the breathlessness of Gregorian chant.

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