Magazine article Musical Opinion

Classical Music Today: Living in the Culture of the Ear

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Classical Music Today: Living in the Culture of the Ear

Article excerpt

A polemic from a young composer

My name is Greg Ryan. I am a composer of piano music and generally disregard tags like 'post-modern', 'minimalist' and 'new age' not only as inaccurate, but as unhelpful barriers to what my music is really about. The fact is, I still wholly regard myself as a classical musician. Although my childhood was defined by inspirations drawn from Beethoven's Sonatas and Rachmaninoff's Preludes, my mother (a piano teacher) failed to keep my attention longer than a pass at grade two piano. So how can someone like me possibly be a worthwhile addition to the world of classical music? I think the main points lie in the massive shifts in musical culture over the past few decades.

Composer and Music Theorist Chris Cutler talks about how the ease of recording music in the present day has taken musical culture away from the eye and back on to the ear. In other words, gone are the days where music could only be truly appreciated by the highly literate, score orientated academics, and we now live in a world where people attach meaning to the sounds they hear rather than the music they read. Therefore, my music aims to marry the art of classical music composition together with the aurally based culture born out of these technological revolutions in music recording and production. I should at this point emphasise that I am not trying to commit the heresy of claiming that my style of music is the next stage in the on-going progression of classical music, I am merely trying to argue that there is a gap in mainstream classical music culture in which my music can sit quite comfortably.

I really have the greatest respect and admiration for formally trained musicians and I think ifs a very long time before anyone could consider referring to their music as a dying art - in fact quite the opposite! So I aim to use my music to appeal to those who are intimidated by a genre they see as over their heads. Those who don't feel they need a prior knowledge to appreciate it, they just need an open mind. In short, my music aims to widen a demographic, not to change it.

All that being said, past all this talk of music theory and culture, my first and most important aim in music is simple: to create an image or story. However this manifests itself on a technical level is a secondary matter. I recently composed a piece of music which I showed to a selection of friends. One of them gave me the most beautiful description of how it showed them an unspoiled snow covered garden suddenly interrupted by children running and playing in the snow. I personally take that description as a far greater compliment than an appraisal of chord progressions or technical prowess.

So what of my lack of classical training? I would understand the person who argues that to inspire a generation of people into a style of music that marches with the standard of "Classical" but which seemingly disposes of the core values of music composition, performance and practice, would be a dangerous backward step. I don't see it that way. When I composed one of my most popular pieces 'Mountain Rain', it took me almost a year of experimenting with sound and timbre and practicing the runs specific to that piece. I don't see this concept as much different to someone spending a year reading, memorising and mastering a written score.

I was always terrified of showing my music to these people that I saw as 'proper musicians', (the kind who had doctorates in music performance and honorary degrees from more conservatoires than they could count). …

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