The Cliché That’s Worth Repeating

Advice for new composers.

I’ve been asked a few times recently for that one word of advice that I’d have for new composers (I’m still a new composer, btw). As much as we all get tired of the normal cliches there is one that I feel has been huge in my life as a composer.

Follow your heart! Follow your muse! 

When I first began composing I was fairly new to choral music and my output was quite frequent. I was full of creative ideas some good, and some not so good. As I became more and more informed on what was out in the larger music world, my composition well dried up, so to speak. It may not have helped that I was also newly married and working at starting a family.

However a big thing that happened was as I explored more and more choral music, I began to desire to create good works like some of my favorite composition heroes. My output no longer satisfied me as I felt it didn’t match up to that of today’s best composers. Because of this I went through a very dry spell. A spell where I wrote almost nothing. 

“Follow your heart and create the music that is inside you. Stop trying to be someone you aren’t and be you.”

Then one day I was listening to an interview with a fairly popular choral composer and he said (in my own words) “Follow your heart and create the music that is inside you. Stop trying to be someone you aren’t and be you.” Wow! That changed me. Suddenly when I left behind those high ideals and followed my inner muse, the music again began to come.

Yes my style is still informed by what I listen to but I’ve learned to embrace my personal style and now, I feel very creative. Very able to write. And, very inspired.

Go! Follow your Heart! Write! Every day!

Why Choral Music?

Why choral music? This is a question that I’ve been asked various times throughout my short life so far. Why do I like choral music? Why have I chosen to make that my main medium for composition? The answer to that question is multi-faceted.

One of the first answers is simply my upbringing. I was raised in a Christian culture where music was a huge part of our life. In church services, our congregation sang 4-part unaccompanied music. Everyone from young child to the elderly gave their voice in the singing. Because of this I grew up with an ear that has been trained to hear vocal harmonies. Then as I explored concert music I naturally was attracted to the choral instrument.

Second, I have come to recognize the power in ensemble singing. There is certain unity in a group of people all striving to bring beauty into this world where things seem to become less beautiful every day. Beauty instead of carnage [insert whatever other ugly news you read every day]. A place where people come together peacefully rather then pull apart from each other. A place where differences can be set aside and all strive for a common goal. Together the choir is able to give love to those who are hurting after a recent hate attack or bring peace and a feeling of belonging to those struggling with depression.

Thirdly I love the sound. Whether it be finely tuned consonants, or tight well balanced shimmering dissonances, the choral voice so expressively is able to move between different sounds. Pair that with instrumentation like the piano or strings and you have a huge palette of sound at your fingertips.

Does this mean I’ll only ever compose for choir? No. I enjoy other instruments as well and would certainly entertain the idea of composing for another ensemble should that right time and occasion ever come. For now I’ve chosen to focus on the choir as it feels like my native instrument.