Introduction

Hello to all!  I just joined the forum yesterday and wanted to introduce myself.  My name is Greg, I'm 47, and I've been composing since college.  Although I majored/minored in history and philosophy, I did take a number of advanced music courses in college with a beloved professor who took an interest in my passion for classical music.  Other than that, I'm largely self-taught.  I've spent a lot of time studying scores and listening to the masterworks.  I never mastered an instrument, though I can play a little piano. My main interest has always been composition.

Because life took me in certain directions, I never did anything formally with my musical interests, and I must admit I do have some regrets about that.  But I have to say I've been lucky to have a job doing meaningful work in the community that has also allowed me a lot of time and flexibility over the years to compose.  

I've written 3 symphonies, 2 piano concertos, a harpsichord concerto, variations and fugue for orchestra, and a lot of other miscellaneous single-movement pieces.  I love composing for the orchestra!  I know, I know -- that lowers the chance of my stuff ever getting performed.  But I can't help it, I just love it.  I've been a little slow to get these into score format, but do have my 2 piano concertos and 3rd symphony scored and audio files (Finale electronic "performances") of them that I can share.  It's hard to describe my style; I do try to write accessible music -- tonal, with transparent structures.  I'm not interested in originality for originality's sake, though I do strive not to "sound like" other composers.  The word of the day when I was in college in the 90s was "derivative" -- the last thing you wanted to be was derivative.  And they really drilled that into my head because it's always at the forefront of my thoughts when I'm composing.  Sometimes I fear I've lifted some melody from another composer subconsciously.  But I suppose almost all composers (and artists of any kind) struggle with that.  At the end of the day, I do this mainly for the joy of it.  I experience a unique "high" when I compose -- it's unlike any other fulfillment I've ever felt.  I don't know if my music is any good, or if it has any value beyond the pleasure I get out of writing it, but I keep doing it because I feel that I have no other choice.  It's an insatiable hunger.  I'm sure many of you have similar feelings.    

I mainly wanted to join the forum so that I could meet others who have a passion for musical composition.  Unfortunately, my small circle of friends in the real world does not include anyone who's involved with music to any great extent.   I've been content all these years working in isolation, but now I'm really wanting to make connections.  I think artists need to connect with their creative peers so they can share ideas, give feedback, and be supportive of one another.  I believe it inspires and nourishes the soul to do so.  I'm happy to do my part.

Anyhow, enough of my rambling.  I'm glad to be here and look forward to some interaction.

 

Greg           

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  • I'm late to this party, but just wanted to drop in and say that I appear to have a lot in common with you, Greg. I also have a passion for classical music, can play piano (amateur level) but my main interest is composition, and also aspire to orchestral writing. And self-taught, life having taken me in a different direction so my day job has nothing to do with music.

    And also composed "in the closet" for many years, so to speak, everyone around me not being interested in classical music. That is, until I found this forum some years ago.  At the time, I had reached the bursting point where I simply couldn't compose any more without feedback of some sort. I just needed to hear something from someone about my music -- even if it was to tell me that it's all junk and that I should give up. Anything except the silence! So I took the leap and joined this forum, and was mighty glad I did. My compositional skills improved by leaps and bounds, I must say, because of this forum and the people I got to know here.

    Now about being "derivative": perhaps this is where my view differs from yours.  My take on this is, why should I consciously, painstakingly, avoid sounding a certain way just because it's "uncool" to do so? Who gets to decide what's cool and uncool anyway? And why should I take their definition of cool for granted?  If I happen to sound like one of the master composers, I think I should be darned proud for managing to outdo myself, rather than beat myself up for "omg sounding like somebody else, I must be derivative!!!!111rotflmaobbq".  OTOH, just because some of my music doesn't sound like any other composer, doesn't mean it's bad, it just means I'm good at being me. :-D

    In other words, my opinion is that this is a false dichotomy.  Good music is good music, I don't care who wrote it or who/what it sounds like or who it may be omg-"derived" from; as long as it's good music, that's all that matters. (But it had better be darned good. I have a high standard for that. And I have to be ready to be very self-critical so that I don't let myself off easy on that standard.) Recently (as in the past 6 years or so), I've starting composing fugues. My first attempts were pretty weird, and probably not "real" fugues per se :-P, but I don't care, I love them anyway. But I strive to improve, and to learn from one of the purportedly best fugue composers of all: J. S. Bach.  And in the process, I discovered (admittedly, to my pleasure) that even when I'm trying to sound like a Bach derivative, I just can't!  Just by virtue of being me, I am spontaneously and effortlessly different from Bach, I don't even have to try. And even when I try, I discover that I'm pretty bad at being Bach. But I'm darned good at being me.

    So I realized that all I have to do is just write. Whatever I write will be uniquely mine, "derivative" or not. As long as I write it sincerely, and not take the lazy way out of just ripping off somebody else's work.  And I think that's the key: sincerity.  Once you have that, your own voice will spontaneously shine through, even if you're trying not to. There's no need to worry (or care) about being "derivative" or not. And frankly, I could kill just to be able to sound like a derivative of, say, Beethoven. Or Bach. Believe me, I've tried -- and couldn't even come close.  My "me" voice just refuses to go away no matter how hard I try to pretend that I'm Beethoven. Or anybody else, really.  So I just let it rest, and compose however I want, whatever my inner muse leads me to do. I don't even care if I'm "derivative", as long as I can listen to what I wrote without my ears bleeding, I'm happy.

    • Hi H.S., I'm so glad you dropped by!  It is amazing how much we have in common.  It was great to read your story!  

      I think you may have misread my feelings about the issue of being "derivative" though -- or perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough in the original post.  I actually agree with basically everything you have said here.  The point I was trying to get across was when I was in college taking music courses, they tried very hard to convince me that "being derivative" of another composer's work was the worst sin imaginable.  What that usually meant was writing ANY KIND of tonal music.  Which I thought then, and still think, is absolutely ridiculous.  Far from being a "freeing" philosophy, an impetus to be myself, to be original, it had a very stifling effect.  It was like being put in an arbitrary creative prison.  You've got to remember, this was back in the 90s, and my professors were taught by major 20th century serialists, after Schoenberg. 

      But I had found a quote at one point in those years, thanks to a friend who was a fellow music-lover and old Romantic like myself, in which Schoenberg had made the remark that, "There is still plenty of good music to be written in C Major."  That blew me away and really helped free me from that restrictive musical education.

      Nonetheless, as hard as I have fought it, I must admit I do continue to worry at times about sounding "old fashioned" or writing music that is a pale imitation of another composer much greater than myself.  But I have largely put aside those concerns because, as you put it, it's really all about writing sincerely and just being myself, and letting the chips fall where they may.

      Thanks again for contributing to this thread!  Your words were inspirational to me.  I look forward to sharing some music here eventually, once I spend a little more time on the orchestration and performance simulation, and I will eagerly look for your works as well.

      All the best,

      Greg       

      • Ah, I see what you mean now.  Thanks for the clarification!  What you said about music courses in college reminded me of this conversation from this very forum last year. Seems this atonal bandwagon was indeed pervasive back in the day.  In retrospect I was fortunate to have been spared that torment (I did not take any formal music courses in college); I'm pretty sure it would have utterly put me off composing forever.

        Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to hearing your music. I have already posted quite a lot of my own here, though the current forum interface seems rather ill-suited to finding them. If you'd like, I can send you a collection of links. Just give me a shout.

        String Quartet No. 1, Op. 1
        This is a repost of my first venture into composition in 45 years. The work was started as a summer composition class project at Michigan when I was…
        • Thanks, H.S., for the encouragement on the other page to go ahead and post my music.  This is probably TMI, but I suffer from OCD and perfectionism, which can definitely hinder my productivity and initiative sometimes.  I'm trying to put the final touches on the first piece I plan to post here, and will hopefully put it up here soon.

          Which brings me to my next remark: by all means, send me some of your links.  I'd love to hear your stuff.  And that leads to a question I have: I'm somewhat familiar with some of the websites that can host music.  Do you have your own website?  Do you use YouTube?  Sound Cloud?  Something else?  I'm trying to get a sense of how composers of music in the classical tradition post their work online.  I want to build a website eventually, and maybe now is as good a time as ever, but for now just wondering what some of the better options are without creating my own website.     

          • Greg,

            I think most of us are OCD and perfectionist to one degree or another and are in the same boat. So, don't let that stop you from posting your work. If it in "in-progress" I think we'll all understand that and try to give you support and useful comments and questions. In doing so, I know I for one, hope that might emcourage you to do the same for me at some point. 

            My view is that nothing is ever perfect and there is always more than one way to do things. We aim for perfection to do the best we can but it is never attainable. My symphonic work that I posted recently in this forum under "concert composing" is a big piece that I have been revising and editing off and on for the past 35 years. Even though I managed to get a recording if the first 2 movements 30 years ago with the Slovak Radio Orchestra, I'm still working on it. I my view, composing is a long journey and the music we write is simply moments we capture along the way. 

            I look forward to hearing your work--finished or in-progress!

             

            • Thanks, Marty!  I needed to hear that.  I guess perfectionism and OCD tendencies come with the creative territory. 

              I definitely agree that "nothing is ever perfect and there is always more than one way to do things."  I have to remind myself, that even the greatest of the greats -- Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and the other elite few -- could have made different choices when they composed their greatest masterworks.  It's actually somehow a strangely comforting thought to imagine that the final movement of the Ninth Symphony might have looked different had Beethoven made other creative choices. 

              I want to listen to your piece.  I will look for it.  That's amazing that you've been working on it for 35 years.  Someone famous said (I can't remember now who it was, but it's a household name, I believe) that a work of art is never finished, it is only abandoned.  How true that is.  And how hard it is to abandon a cherished work, which is more or less like a child that you have invested in and raised -- eventually you have to let it go out into the world and face the cold and harsh reality, as much as you want to continue to nurture it and let it develop under your wings. 

              I have a symphony I'd like to post here.  It's complete, I just need to make some adjustments to it to get a decent "performance" out of it with NotePerformer, which I bought after reading some positive reviews here.  It was worth it - NP is much better than what I was using. 

              I struggle with meaning in life.  I don't know if my work has any merit, ultimately, but the act of creating gives me a sense of purpose in this world and brings me some degree of fulfillment.  I think your statement that "composing is a long journey and the music we write is simply moments we capture along the way" is brilliant.  It resonates so much with me.  Thanks, Marty!       

               

      • I think it is important by way of context to understand that the products of the academic arts and humanities industry are credentials.  Whatever they pretend to be, they really have no purpose except to serve as a bid to get tenure, or a promotion to the next professorial level, or grants, or at least to demonstrate that the creator is "part of the club." If you are not interested in getting those things, there is no reason you should write or compose things like what the people who want those things do -- except, of course, that they are the same people who adjudicate calls for scores and concert and publication programming.  So I too feel that I might as well just compose what I want -- occasionally something gets accepted for performance by some of the few people in the music world whose taste is not bundled up in the academic straitjacket.

        I think in music we've reached the ironic point where the only really rebellious and radical thing you can do is to compose in pre-20th century traditions.

        • I think in music we've reached the ironic point where the only really rebellious and radical thing you can do is to compose in pre-20th century traditions.

          Haha, perhaps that might be true. 😂

          But on the other hand, there are still compositional techniques that are largely unexplored or under-employed. A few off the top of my head:

          • Writing a composition entirely in portamenteau glides (what I tongue-in-cheek call "true atonal" music, in the sense that every note changes in pitch and none hold a constant "tone"). The underlying idea isn't so much to negate tonality, per se, as much as in imitating the human voice, esp. in speech, which rarely holds a single, constant pitch, but modulates up and down over the course of an utterance.  The kind of "atonality" that the serialists have completely neglected.
          • Microtonal pieces. At one time I was dabbling with fugue-writing in 19-EDO, in which the octave is divided not into 12 semitones but 19 (thus making all sharpened/flattened notes distinct from each other, except for E# = Fb and B# = Cb). Unfortunately I have not completed the work yet.
          • Poly-style pieces, e.g., an orchestral piece in which part of the orchestra uses modern/unusual playing techniques to make unusual sounds, to serve as a kind of musical background to the other part of the orchestra plays traditional tonal music. I actually have some conceptual notes along these lines in a tuba concerto sketch. Unfortunately, nothing concrete to show just yet.
          • "Mosaic" pieces, in which diverse styles (baroque, classical, romantic, serial, jazz, etc.) are juxtaposed in the same work.
        • So much of this is true, particularly the last sentence. On another forum, a poster declared that the 4th Symphony of Brincken which was the impetus for my 14th was very pleasant but 100 years out of date. Now I happen to like music which is 100 years out of date and therefore that is what I generally try to compose because in my view there is still plenty of scope for individuality in that area. I have no objections at all to experimentation with compositional techniques and indeed there are still occasions when something new and interesting is done. But so much contemporary music just seems like experimentation for the sake of experimentation and an emphasis purely on sound rather than musical development or even a distinctive humanist message I started composing because no-one was still writing the sort of music I like to listen to. That remains the primary reason even if I do of course hear exceptions to the rule from time to time, including on forums such as this.

           

          • I can boast that I've composed a piece which is a thousand years out of date:

            https://musescore.com/user/2488/scores/5377

            Winter, by Konrad von Würzburg
            Download and print in PDF or MIDI free sheet music for Winter, by Konrad von Würzburg arranged by jcorelis for Piano, Mezzo soprano, Flute (Mixed Tri…
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