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Topic: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

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  1. #1

    What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    Hello everyone,


    I posed this question to my composition students the last week of the quarter and recieved some interesting comments.

    What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer? It's a theoritical question that I've been pondering myself for quite a while.

    If you look back over the past 400 years, you see the role of the composer change dramatically. They go from being servants in the 18th century; to larger than life "media" personalities in the 19th century; to Mathematically minded expansionists in the 20th. What will our role ultimately be? There are no right or wrong answers.

    From time to time, I like to throw out question like this because I feel that too often, educators concentrate too much on the "nuts and bolts" of education and not enough actual "teaching". I don't mean facts or procedures. I think an educators main role is to "teach"students how to think. I'm not saying brainwash here, either. This may not make any sense because I don't think I'm stated it correctly. Oh well, it's just a question . Take it or leave it.

    I'd really be interested to see what everyone thinks.


    Talk to you soon,
    Jonny
    For more information, check out www.jonathoncox.com/intro.html

    "The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music they should be taught to love it instead." - Igor Stravinsky

  2. #2
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
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    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    I think when you begin an expression of creativity and art, you sometimes tend to feel it would be best left undissected.


















    OK, I'm just razzing you a bit, let me ponder it a while and i'll get back to you.

  3. #3

    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    I think we're living in a cultural depression. Technology is obviously important to the 21st century composer but where are the great works? A tony went to Jersey Boys. It features no new songs. Now that's really saying something.

  4. #4
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    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jonny Lost
    Hello everyone,


    I posed this question to my composition students the last week of the quarter and recieved some interesting comments.

    What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer? It's a theoritical question that I've been pondering myself for quite a while.

    If you look back over the past 400 years, you see the role of the composer change dramatically. They go from being servants in the 18th century; to larger than life "media" personalities in the 19th century; to Mathematically minded expansionists in the 20th. What will our role ultimately be? There are no right or wrong answers.

    From time to time, I like to throw out question like this because I feel that too often, educators concentrate too much on the "nuts and bolts" of education and not enough actual "teaching". I don't mean facts or procedures. I think an educators main role is to "teach"students how to think. I'm not saying brainwash here, either. This may not make any sense because I don't think I'm stated it correctly. Oh well, it's just a question . Take it or leave it.

    I'd really be interested to see what everyone thinks.


    Talk to you soon,
    Jonny
    I probably am not qualified to give my opinion here- I'm not a composer. But maybe an outside opinion would be welcome, anyway. Being a composer (in my opinion) has always been about two things- ability to make a living doing what they love doing and being creatively independent. I would be really interested to see how they taught in the Russian schools between about 1860 and the Revolution. Either they had some extraordinarily gifted students or they had some really good teaching techniques- or both. Probably both. And before anybody takes offense that I'm implying that our schools are not teaching as well or better than back then, I'm not. If you take somebody like Igor Stravinsky and look at his stylistic periods, his orchestrating abilities, his compositional & orchestral innovations, I'd like to see 21st century composers study this and other "well rounded" composers.

    As for what will your role utimately will be, I posit that it will be the same as it's always been: creating works that people like and people want to hear, being "rock stars" like John Williams is, and the ability to make a living doing it.

    Keith Walls

  5. #5

    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    My 2 c so far:

    Asking about how a professional composer could do is equal to the question where her or his market could be.

    Classical composers earned quite a part of their money by selling the music to publishers ... who then sold the sheet music to any household that had daughters to educate. No kidding.

    Another target group were crowned heads that could afford buying an opera or a symphony.

    Both needs are gone.

  6. #6

    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    Hi - This is a really interesting question, which forces many issues that are dear to my heart.

    The first issue that comes to mind is: who counts as a composer?

    While one can simply define a composer to be someone who makes their living composing (similar to how I would define a physicist), there are several "major" composers who do not fit this definition. Borodin and Ives come to mind and I'm sure there are more.

    The power and ability of amateur (or shall we say "non-professional") composers have been radically expanded in the last three decades as part of the computer revolution. This has brought what was previously inaccessable high-end music production capabilities into the hands of anyone who can afford a computer. This radical democritization of the ability to create (as opposed to compose) music potentially makes anyone a "21st century composer".

    Our fearless leader Gary is, of course, one of the leading drivers in this revolution, as is this very course.

    But of course the above does not imply a radical democritization of the ability to compose music . Does someone who wrote a GPO-based string quartet for just themselves and their (very polite and understanding) families count as a composer? Does it make a difference if the composition is very (how to put it politely?) simplistic vs. a beautiful and competent composition? What about people taking this course who (like me) have full-time non-musical jobs yet win the orchestral competition (I can dream...) at the end with an original composition? I hope that's likely to happen.

    I don't pretend to know the answer to the question "who counts as a composer?". I'd love to hear other's perspectives.

    The second issue: wide scope and expanding horizons

    Something we can all see happening to music right now comes from the ease with which anyone, anywhere in the world, can make music and transmit it to the rest of the world. The resulting mix of influences and imagination, as well as the ability to treat sound in completey new ways, has and will continue to lead to new approaches and paradigms of musical composition.

    I won't presume to define a "21st century composer", but I certainly expect 21st century compositions to push sound and music into all kinds of directions. The musical pallette has gotten very large and is growing, and though a composer may work within a highly restricted sub-space of that pallette, I would hope that restriction is by choice, with awareness and respect for other options.

    So that's my 2 cents (after inflation).
    steve

  7. #7

    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    A very interesting discussion topic!

    I am no profesional composer in the sense that I make any money from composing, but I'd like to share my opinion.

    We are only 6 years into the 21st century and, as none of us are profesional prophets, none of us can answer this question. We'd however be qualified to give an opinion on what a late 20th / early 21st century composer is. This is not taking a wipe at you - just an observation - as I very much find the topic interesting.

    IMHO a composer does not have to be profesional to be called a composer, but it is much more likely that the profesionals will be remembered for a much longer time than the bedroom composers. One way of looking at the question is to try and guess what somebody 100 years into the future will regard as the factors that distinguish 20st century composer from say 19th century composers.

    Stylistic there are huge differences. Since Holtz, Debussy, etc etc the classical rules were challenged and compositions show greater freedom. The great successes like John Williams and ndrew Loyd Webber would probably be regarded as great examples of our times.

    The medium for which are being composed has changed. FIlm has taken the place of opera and symphony halls. Atonality has almost become norm and melody has taken a step backwards to mood and emotion. Maybe Davis, Howard etc are not yet successful enough to be regarded as good examples, but this style of music is well established.

    Successful composers today are financially much more well-off than the classical composers who often were happy to recieve their daily bread from the king's favours. There are much more possibilities for composers. The technology has been mentioned many time in this thread. Composers today has a wide choice of media to compose for. There is popular music, recorded, life, radio, TV, film, theatre etc. 200 years ago the choices were so much more limited.

    These are only my 2c worth.

  8. #8

    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    Good thoughts guys. Keep them coming!!!

    When I was younger, and I thought about music in the 21st century, (Yes, even as a youngster I was eccentric, leave me alone!!! ) I used to think that music would only be enjoyed by machines. By the way, I also thought that I would have a flying car and an apartment on the moon.

    Oh well, here's to wishing!!


    Keep up the discussion,
    Jonny
    For more information, check out www.jonathoncox.com/intro.html

    "The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music they should be taught to love it instead." - Igor Stravinsky

  9. #9
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    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    A composer today, like a composer before, must be two things. A person who can express himself with distinction in the realm of sound. And, a person who has to eat and pay the rent. Concerning paying the rent, and looking at the situation from a dispassionate height, it has to be said that music is a vast industry with many facets, and the opportunities for the individual can never have been greater than now. Concerning the ability to express oneself in sound, I am sadly reminded of the world-weary comment of the journalist-pundit of a few decades ago, Malcolm Muggerdige, who said (something like): for the first time in history, everybody has the means to listen, unfortunately, nobody has anything of interest to say.

    Dermod

  10. #10
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
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    Re: What does it mean to be a 21st Century Composer?

    If music is the universal language, the role of 21st century composer would be to keep the conversation interesting. I believe it is not known as the universal language just because all people of every cuture have always made music, but also because music touches the soul.

    I like KeithW's answer, "Being a composer (in my opinion) has always been about two things- ability to make a living doing what they love doing and being creatively independent"

    I have always believed if you don't love what you do for a living, you're in the wrong business, and should start doing what you love. Of course some people don't want to do it for a living and love to create Music, and thats good too. When people are doing what they love, they are doing what the Creator who created them with their interests and passions, intended for them, if not they are missing it.

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