On Convention and Accessibility

Thoughts from my stream of consciousness ensue…

Within the past year or so, my music has taken an accessible turn. Though it has never been particularly challenging for the average listener, my recent music has traveled further away from music typically seen coming out of academia and other “new music” ventures.

One might ask, “Why would you do that?” The answer is, “I have no idea.” When composing, I try to write what represents my most sincere creative expression at the time I am writing, and what emerges happens to emerge.

It all started when I began writing the oratorio, Such Beautiful Things. As I may have indicated in a prior post or two, the music attempts to fuse classical, musical theater, jazz, and pop elements in order to showcase Choral Chameleon’s (the group for whom the piece was written) cross-genre talents. In the end, the piece was thoroughly accessible and had a conventional sheen that seemed to appeal to a broader audience.

Music that has followed since also possesses this same sheen and character, and for what it’s worth, this is where my music has gone and continues to go. I have since received some subtle criticism for doing this. For instance, after premiering my overtly sentimental Horn Trio last Spring, a couple of my schoolmates congratulated me afterwards, saying things such as, “Wow, Jeff, triads!” amidst their giggles.

I realize that in academia, there is a resistance to convention and accessibility (for good reason, sometimes), which has been going on for almost 100 years in the name of innovation and progress. Yet, it is my impression that the music coming out of academia has abandoned sincerity of expression and replaced it with the imperative of innovation. While I believe that innovation is a noble goal, the heart of artistry, as my values see it, is expression. And, it is also my belief that innovation is found when one seeks the most sincere expression, otherwise, it likely falls short of being communicative.

Innovation is certainly a preoccupation for me as a 21st century composer. But, I have not yet discovered the path that has led me to innovation, and it seems futile to seek innovation independent of expression. The course that I am following now, while seeming to be utterly conventional and accessible, might be the very path that leads my music to something new and fresh; or, it could be a creative diversion that dead ends. Only time will tell.

What I know for certain is that my music has taken this turn for a reason, and for whatever reason that may be, I must pursue it until I am satisfied. And if this is considered an artistic sin by current ideological standards, then I will continue to sin boldly.

I leave you with the aforementioned Horn Trio, performed by John Dodge on the horn, Ronald Feldman on the cello, and me at the piano. Beware: triads and functional harmonies abound!

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2 Replies to “On Convention and Accessibility”

  1. Sometimes it’s necessary for composers to shed layers of complexity and go back to the basics. Rochberg did this after the death of his teenage son in 1964; he felt that serialism just couldn’t get across what he needed to say with his music in the wake of that tragedy. (He got panned for it…but that’s kind of beside the point; he needed to do it.) You might ask DC and BA their opinions on this matter; I’m sure they’d be able to offer you some food for thought.

  2. I’m with you! I like triads, if not functional harmony. I’ve always wanted my music to be accessible – I don’t know how much I succeed, tho. You’re much further along your compositional journey than I am, so I imagine things aren’t quite the same; I’m still trying to find my voice. My lessons this year are actually quite a struggle. I’m personally trying to write music that is meaningful to me and appropriate to my players, but sometimes I feel like bringing such music into a lesson would be an exercise in futility.
    Anyway, hope you’re doing well, keep writing what you think is best! I’ve always like your work.

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