The Blue Giant Passes By

This Monday I co-led admissions tests for music composition applicants to the Kapellsberg Music School in Härnösand. The applicants were tested on basic music theory and ear training, general stylistic knowledge, creative compositional thinking and basic instrumentation skills, as well as being interviewed individually by the head composition teacher and myself.

It’s interesting to hear each applicant describe their respective background, what drove them to begin composing in the first place, where they see themselves in two to five years, and such questions that are a staple of interviews like that. But perhaps especially interesting is learning what types of music they like – and dislike – and why. I find it amusing and frustrating in equal measure that most applicants have a fairly narrow and shallow musical awareness and understanding and that most, if not all, describe their goals in the same way: To write music for film and/or games.

There is of course nothing wrong with writing music for film and games; if you know me at all, dear reader, you should know that if anyone, I would disagree emphatically with such a statement. However, there is so much more music out there than only film and game music and only knowing about that small subset of music means sooner or later you will end up engaging in what I describe as artistic inbreeding.

One of the applicants described that film and games are the only contexts where ”a more classical style of music is being consumed today”. That statement is questionable in several ways. First of all, game and film music is not a monolith. There are an enormous number of of games with music that would not easily fit within even a label as bluntly generic as ”classical”. Additionally, and more importantly, within the context of concert music there is actually a rather wide variety of styles in art music and concert music in general today.

Still, many of the most prominent composers (at least here in Europe) do tend towards some flavour of 20th century modernism. Change is, however, coming and the diversity is much greater than a statement like the one this applicant made suggests. While probably earnest and heartfelt, it is a sign of ignorance; not necessarily willful ignorance, but still pointing to that person having their blinders up tight.

In other news of the week – this blog post arrives quite late, I am sorry to say – the Tranströmer songs for voice and accordion are coming along quite nicely. As I fill in my sketchy drafts more and more, I am growing concerned that the resulting work will not sound like a cohesive whole. Since the poems are quite short and only loosely narratively connected, it is easy to end up with a dozen or so one-minute tableaux that risk leaving the listener more confused than satisfied.

My original vision was to treat each poem as a separate song, with the resulting work as indeed a kind of song cycle where it would not matter so much that the songs perhaps had rather little in common. However, since I ended up selecting not individual haikus but rather two whole suites of haikus, I changed my mind about the form of the musical work itself as well. Instead of a song cycle, the form I am currently working toward is that of two suites where the songs are interconnected instead.

This will most likely turn out just as good, if not better, than my original idea. I just need to plan the work out carefully as I keep on working. I have scheduled an initial test-run for next week with my brilliant accordionist friend for whom I am writing this work. As for which vocalist will join him for the premiere performance, that is yet to be decided. I wouldn’t mind doing it myself, of course, but it would also be fantastic to simply get to sit in the audience with butterflies in my stomach.