I was born in Washington D.C. in 1975, and spent the next 10 years or so blissfully unaware of the dangers of music and the arts. I do recall waking up to George Frederick Handel in the mornings as my father was at the breakfast table preparing to go to the office. These were very fond memories, yet little did I know that this early exposure would shape the course of my life some years later.

In about 1985 at the age of 10 or so we moved to India as part of my father’s World Bank mission. It was here that I first undertook piano studies with a local American piano teacher. I recall studying Thompson’s early grades at this time.

It was only upon our arrival back at our old house in the US in Maryland that I began to study music more seriously. I began piano lessons with a local piano teacher before switching to both a new piano teacher and a composition teacher at the Levine School of Music in Washington D.C. This study was a part of my IB music studies course that I had begun while in high school at WIS, the Washington International School. Memories here include a number of student recitals, winning a composition competition, and playing at church services at a local retirement home. It was also at this time that the bulk of my early compositions were written.

As my primary interest from the very start of my serious period of study was music of the Baroque period, naturally my compositions were primarily written in this style, for no other reason than that I was curious to see how Bach, Handel and the like, wrote music. (I also felt that this music had the greatest beauty compared to all others). That is to say, how were their pieces put together.

I quickly became aware of the myriad of compositional problems at hand and how tiring and enigmatic the process of composition was. At times pieces would just materialise out of the keyboard, and my role was primarily to pick out the notes of music and write them down. The difficulty was in finding the notes as I heard them and putting them on the paper in a tidy fashion. It was as though the piece had always existed, and that I needed to simply search it out as it were. At other times, this facile part of the process was only partial and much work and craft was needed to fix and explore a composition. Often I would rely on an incubation period following an initial inspiration, which would then see a piece to its fruition. Sleeping on an unfinished piece was often the best way forward, so long as I committed myself to finishing the piece by the next day or at the latest, come the weekend.

A particularly interesting aspect of doing composition was the way playing pieces of the great masters facilitated inspiration. If I was working on a Bach prelude or Allemande, I would inevitably produce something of this nature when the compositional urge appeared. That is, what was produced, although not having an obvious or superficial link to the music I was playing, displayed an essence of sorts which was deeply ingrained. I would never set out to deliberately copy themes and the like, however I would engage various motifs, that is the bread and butter of the style, and not surprisingly some kind of correlation with the music I was playing at the time would show up.

As I later found out, this sort of composition was termed by colleagues and professionals in the industry (both teaching and outside of academia) as “Pastiche”. This term was almost always used in a degrading and somewhat arrogant fashion. Colleagues would often pass me by with up turned noses as if to say “…..yes, [it is good] but you only do pastiche”. Not that I cared in the slightest, but my irritation and curiosity was inevitably aroused. Why is this the case? Where does it come from? This bemusement was reinforced throughout my musical education as the various teachers in composition would go to great pains to persuade me to branch out and write something new, discover my own voice rather than using the voice of others, (although practicing the craft was always deemed valuable from a technical point of view). Needless to say, I never did branch out, not really, as I am extremely stubborn by nature, and do not care what other people think in general (except for what my students think of course).

However the question is still out, and is indeed a grand can of worms, which is not only paramount to open in this day and age, especially if you are an artist, but is a can which has festered and fermented for hundreds of years. Some of the answers to my initial question that was raised can be found here. Interestingly many of the arguments that critics and gatekeepers use are the weak ones. This begs the question of why, and in fact the answer I believe is quite insidious. Firstly, however, one must consider the valid arguments, the strong ones, against pursuing stylistic composition, and in fact be warned of its dangers, which are very real.

This will be attempted shortly, but for now that is my intro.


Feb 10, 2019, 11:38 AM