• Jules
  • November 10, 2016

Meet Tyler Mabry, Winning Composer of FSOAS 2016

OOO is happy to introduce Tyler Mabry, whose winning song “The Last Words of Che Guevara” will be performed by tenor Danny Castillo at Inaugural Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song on Fri, Nov. 18th. Here’s what Danny wanted to know:

daniel castillo

Danny Castillo

Danny: Where did the idea and inspiration to write The Last Words of Che Guevara spark?

Tyler: Guevara transformed himself into a mythic figure – he became, very self-consciously, a symbol for global revolution. He is a strikingly postmodern martyr. I often think about the haunting accounts of Guevara’s later years, particularly his final doomed campaign in Bolivia. In “The Last Words of Che Guevara,” the words all come directly from the statements Guevara reportedly made in his final 24 hours, from the time of his capture by the Bolivian army to his death in CIA custody. These “last words,” as fragmentary as they are, are quite moving and representative of Guevara’s life and spirit. I’ve attempted to set them musically so as to suggest an arc that begins in dejection and regret, continues into stoic acceptance, and finally culminates in a renewed faith in the revolutionary cause, so that the moment of death transforms into a moment of triumph.

D: What was the compositional process like?

T: The first thing I did was to select the text – there are several different variants of Guevara’s final statements, and of course all of them are in translation. After establishing the text, I worked out a few different scalar and intervallic patterns to give the song a unifying harmonic texture. At that point I sat down and wrote the ending quite quickly. (I knew almost immediately that I wanted to end with a march-like accompaniment which would abruptly terminate, leaving the singer holding the final note a capella.) The rest of the piece was written backward, section by section, so that the beginning was written last.

D: Did you draw inspiration from other pieces of work, both internal or external, when creating The Last Words of Che Guevara?


Tyler Mabry photo by Steve Rogers Photography

T: Although I wasn’t conscious of any specific musical inspirations while I was working on the piece, I’m sure that Peter Lieberson’s gorgeous settings of Neruda’s poetry, and also Samuel Barber’s art songs, were in the back of my mind somewhere. If you listen closely, there’s also a dissonant rendition of the Cuban anthem in the first section of the piece.

D: Do you find that working on music for staged productions (Persephone, Agent Andromeda, W.) influences the way that you approach composing art song?

T: Definitely! Although my formative background is classical, most of my current work is done in theater. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that my approach tends to emphasize narrative. I’m attracted to attracted to art song as a genre well-suited to conveying an isolated moment of drama – a suggestive fragment of narrative. Song has the wonderful ability to suggest a larger context or story, while still retaining the ability to exist independently as a miniature.


For over a decade, Tyler Mabry has composed and performed original music in the Austin area, in collaboration with various organizations, collectives, and performers. Mabry is a Vortex company member, music director for kidsActing, and pianist at Berkeley United Methodist Church. Persephone, his first full-length musical for adult performers, premiered at Vortex earlier this year. He has been nominated twice for a B. Iden Payne award for Best Original Score, for Persephone and for Running Wild (ACT). Other recent theater credits include the Barbarella-inspired aerial rock spectacle Agent Andromeda (Sky Candy), W. (AJRT) Cuchulain (Vortex), Stuffed! (FronteraFest), Two Gentlemen of Verona (Something for Nothing), and Jive, Kitty! (ACT). He has also composed numerous sacred choral works, including a Christmas cantata (The True Light, with Victoria Schwarz), and “I Heard the Voice of Jesus” (soon to be published by Shawnee Press). When not in rehearsals and techs, he plays with the neo-soul group Jade and the Foxtones. Tyler Mabry holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.A. in piano performance from the University of the Ozarks.