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It is apparently a rare event when a music major takes on a concentration in Victorian Studies. It seems to be even rarer when this individual is not attempting to act as a musicologist, but instead is trying to complete creative senior project. These two sides, at least initially, seem at odds. As a composer I can do nothing except write contemporary music, unless of course I stumble across a time machine. On its face, writing contemporary music appears to be a poor manner in which to learn about an era which ended about a hundred years ago.
The presence of this contradiction is based on a flawed assumption about the nature of what writing music in the present means. After four years at this school I think that most people assume that when creating a new work it is best judged on how different it can be from what came before. This difference allows for ground to be claimed as someone with a voice, as a pioneer, and to get noticed. It is the easiest way to stand out. As exciting as newness is, it provided very little sustaining power to the works created; there is always something newer. The sustaining power of a work comes from its meaning. Personally I have focused on a freshness of expression in order to achieve some meaningful work, but I want to add that a meaningful change in formal aspects, such as structure, harmony (or lack of it) and orchestration, as well as conceptual aspects, can produce a meaningful newness, which will be sustained through the work, and those it influences.
I have tried to make my work express something meaningful. I would rather have a piece of music speak clearly to a group of people than myself stand out amongst my peers as someone “doing something exciting”. In fact, there is no reason to be exciting unless you really have got something to say. When we abandon the drive for difference as the only though in our heads, we can finally sit down, and look at what we, as artists, do have to say, and ask what tools and styles we ought to use.
In writing my music the tool I have found most often helpful is the folk song. Even when I do not end up stealing one outright for a piece, their character has infected most of my work. I have treated hymns in much the same manner. By adding these components to the music I write, the pieces are given a solid connection a web of ideas which would otherwise be inaccessible. I am also able to write music that is both programmatic and absolute at the same time. My seasonal bassoon hymns are obviously programmatic, but I wrote them in a manner in which I worked directly with the music, and generally ignoring the program. The Moonstone, which has an explicit program even contains several references to other works. These are mostly nods some of my favorite composers, but it also contains a hymn tune which highlights certain thematic elements of the novel.
In my pursuit of the folk song which has so greatly informed my style I found that have been, over the course of the last year, drifting, in a sense, across the Atlantic. Because of my involvement with Bard's Sacred Harp singing group, and the geographic proximity to the College to American folk music, rather than British, my music has begun to sound, to my ear at least, more American. How true this really is, I don't know. There is a close relation between the folk music on both sides of the Atlantic, and the difference may not be terribly discernible. A listener told me after hearing the Autumn movement of the Bassoon Quintet that it sounded “very English”, despite being, in my opinion, the most American of that whole quintet.
By writing with these sources, I am allowing myself to pull together music with a deep set of expressive content. I have striven for a sense of clarity in my presentation of this content. I hope that these methods have allowed for my music to reach further into the listeners and resonate within them stronger.
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Robb, Maxwell Friedman, "The Moonstone, and Other Works" (2013). Senior Projects Spring 2013. 196.
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