As a pianist myself, I don't shy away from challenging accompaniments, but I don't set out to write "something hard" intentionally. I often have counter-melodies in the accompaniment, but not always. I like to think that my melodies and accompaniments complement each other, but I don’t set out to strictly make them equal. As I study a text, sometimes a melody will come to me first, sometimes a rhythm, sometimes a style. It’s different for every piece.
Choosing the key is especially important for me; having perfect (or nearly perfect) pitch, each key has a completely different color in my head (which is ironic, since I am color blind!). Sometimes things will come together for me quickly, in only a few days. Sometimes things will take months or longer than a year. Sometimes my first ideas bear fruit quickly or take longer, yet those first ideas stay with the piece. Other times, I start over again and again and again, with totally new ideas each time, just waiting for that moment when I say, “Yes!!” And by the way, I audibly say that word every time I “know” that’s what the music is meant to be.
I almost always have a particular person or persons who may be performing the piece in mind when I write, which makes things very enjoyable (and challenging!) to write to their musical strengths.
As far as themes or motives I use, as I mentioned above, each piece I write is personal for me, deeply felt, whatever the emotion may be. I don’t analyze myself; I’m just “me,” so I leave it to other people to do that sort of analysis. I will say, however, that I have a deep faith in God, which may find itself in texts or melody fragments I use. I’m not afraid to let deep emotions of love, pain, grief, or joy show in what I write, because these emotions come out of me just because of how I’m put together.
I don't think in terms of "my style." For vocal or choral music, I always start with the poem or text and let that speak to me and guide me in what the "style" should be. What this means is that I am quite particular about the texts I use, to begin with. If the words don't reach me in any personal way, it is very difficult for me to put music to them. I'm a very emotional and introverted person; I need that emotional connection to the words, whether they are sacred or secular, whether they are written by a poet I know or by a poet I don't know.
That being said, I love to write music that has good melodies and is "singable." I am a singer myself, so this would make sense. Again, my melodies always come out of the text, never the other way around. Having been involved in music my whole life, especially as a pianist, a violinist, and singer, I know that it is a lifetime of hearing and performing fine music by the great composers that has influenced me. I like to think that my music is my own, but subtly influenced by 800 years or so of music history! My music is tonal, but modern. I usually don't use experimental sounds or gimmicks, but I do like to think that my music will have some surprises for the performer and the listener.
I have special affinity for poetry by my good friend Ivan Fuller (read his bio under Artistic Partners). He was the first person I approached about setting poetry to music when I wanted to begin composing again after three decades of having written almost nothing. I find his writing to be full of emotion, whether overt or hidden, and exceptionally rewarding for me to wrap music around. I am so honored that he trusts me with his poetry, as of course his poems are part of his creative existence, just as my compositions are part of mine.
I write in the old way, with pencil and staff paper, usually on a retreat away from my day-to-day life, using silence, nature, and inspired thoughts to bring the music to life. I usually don't turn to the computer for notation until most of the piece is finished.
When I write, I reach into my flawed human soul and attempt to bring a part of myself to the surface. I hope to give a meaningful connection to the eventual performer and listener from what I have created.