At one point in our conversation Kip Winger refers to himself as “a rock guy who had some hits in the ’80s.” Though this is a somewhat accurate description, Kip Winger is also a rock guy who just received a Grammy nomination … for Best Contemporary Classical Composition! If you are the type of person who only knows of Winger as the aforementioned rock guy, his classical nomination may come as a surprise, but he has wanted to make classical music since he was a teenager, and he credits Berklee Online with helping him get there.

“I always wanted to further my education and I was trying to find ways to do it online because I’m always on the road,” Winger says, “so Berklee Online was the only place that gave me what I would consider to be legitimate music courses that I could take online and really get something out of.”

"A Grammy … I would've never imagined that in a million years." —@KipWinger Click To Tweet

Though Kip Winger came into his Berklee courses having already composed a successful piece for the San Francisco Ballet, he credits one of his professors at Berklee Online, Ben Newhouse, with opening new ways of thinking about music.

“I did learn a lot from Ben, especially about composing for Film and TV,” says Winger, who went on to earn a certificate in Orchestration for Film and TV.

Winger is generous with crediting others for his success. The work that is nominated for a Grammy, Conversations with Nijinsky, he says he couldn’t have done without the help of Martin West, musical director and principal conductor of the San Francisco Ballet.

“I had a full MIDI mockup of the piece and I played it for Martin,” says Winger, “and I have to give him a lot of credit because he not only championed my cause, but he understands my music really well. He can look at it and know exactly what I was thinking, which is rare.”

Listen to a sample below:

Winger says his process is to work out what he hears in his head on piano.

“I’m a bit of an underdog: I’m not the guy that can just hear it and write it down. I have to work it out at the piano, but having said that, I’ve read quotes from Stravinsky where he’d said that he never got too far away from the piano.”

Although the music he writes today is credited to Charles Frederick Kip Winger, he still performs with the guys he made hits with in the ’80s who made his last name synonymous with hair metal. He says that while the Internet has made the music industry a more challenging landscape, it has also yielded unexpected rewards for him and his band.

“The upside to it is that a lot of young people have discovered the music of Winger,” he says, “and a lot of the baggage from the ’80s—like when the ’80s bands were uncool and all that stuff—has just kind of gone by the wayside because young people are discovering it and they just listen to the music for what it is.”

As for what it is, this clip below is a great refresher:

Winger “Seventeen” (1988): When asked how he feels about singing about an attraction to a 17-year-old, Winger is quick to quip, “Paul McCartney still sings, ‘she was just 17’ in ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ I mean, of course I’m no Paul McCartney, but come on, it’s the same exact thing.”

As for the contrast between classical and rock, Winger says, “one feeds the other.”

“It’s really what comes more naturally to me,” he says of orchestration. “Frankly, it took me way too long to get here.”

He seems to realize that it sounds like he’s saying he should have been nominated for a Grammy long before this, so he corrects himself.

“Not a Grammy or anything like that—that’s completely unexpected and I would’ve never even imagined that in a million years—but basically what I mean is that coming from where I came from with Winger and from a rock background and not having gone to university and all that, it was all a very intimidating prospect to take on the challenge of writing orchestral music from an authentic point of view,” he says. “I never even imagined an orchestra would play my stuff. I just wanted to do it because it was what I was hearing in my head and it was what I was more drawn to, so even at the time Winger was at the height of its career—you know, back in the heyday—I’d be sitting in my bunk, in the bus, literally hearing what you’re hearing with the kind of music that I write today.”

So what does Winger hope for now that he is a Grammy-nominated composer?

“Well, I’m hoping you guys will just give me an honorary doctorate,” he says with a laugh. “I would really like to get a degree and I don’t have a way to do it other than Berklee Online, but if I take classes at the rate I take them I’ll get a degree when I’m 100!”

 Published December 14, 2016