Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Kind of Music I Write

Why is it that I only get around to posting after a large holidy-related meal? Oh well, here we go. Food-coma-induced post, take 2.

Today's topic: classifying my musical "style".
or, my answer to "What kind of music do you write?"

I write music that sings - vocal or not. I am unafraid to write a melody, but I can feel afraid and lost without one, which is both a strength and a weakness. Although I am continually working to expand "from within," my harmonic language consists of progressive motion using extended triadic structures. My notes tend to fall onto the page in regular, predictable metrical patterns that combine to form even-numbered, symmetrical phrases.

I (usually) work in 30-second blocks, with a juxtaposition of contrasting material taking precedence over melodic development and transformation. This format certainly stems from the musical diet I grew up on: the verse-chorus-bridge format accidentally and passively absorbed by me, a non-specialist listener, from a hodgepodge of country, Top 40s, etc. (My interest in music as a career didn't spark until I was 17, and didn't start in earnest until I was 20, so I'm still playing catch-up... oh, "musical catch-up" - that would be a good next post!)

These "popular" leanings are certainly controversial in some composition circles, but I believe this is mostly caused by fear and ignorance of the "other side" of this artificial divide. But "crossover" music and artists are pentiful and diverse in today's music. Even the music of Igor Stravinsky, certainly a classical (not "pop") composer of the Twentieth Century, exhibits many of the qualities I described above: melodic focus, regular rhythmic patterns, and block structures (not so much the progressive, triadic harmonies).

So, to the point. I have never been able to provide a satisfactory description (explaination, defense?) of "my music." When I was 18, this was because I really didn't write very much or very often. When I was 20, I had just begun to compose seriously, but I lacked the vocabulary or experience with musical literature to identify myself with any distinct styles or composers. Now, even as I am starting to come into my own as a 24- (nearly 25!) year-old composer and student of our musical heritage(s), I am still caught offguard when asked what kind of music I write. Perhaps this is because all the sub-sub-labels of "popular" music (alternative progressive, indie) and all the mini-movements of "classical" music (post-minimalism, post-romantic lyricism) feel too limiting. Perhaps this is because I am afraid of alienating some listeners by checking a box that doesn't match one of their iPod playlists.

But the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that these categorical labels should fall solely under the jurisdiction of music theorists, whose job it is to describe and analyze music of the past, and music industry ad executives, whose job it is to try to describe their product to an impatient consumer in one (hyphenated?) word. "Post-romatic lyricism" describes my music as well as "post-Catholic" describes my religious views. Especially in this fragmented, post-post-modern age of eclectic, potluck-inspired styles of composition, the only healthy and productive way to approach one's own output is simply to write. Write, and write, and write, and write, and leave the categorical walls for others to erect as they see fit. Maybe you'll end up in a room you like, or maybe you'll end up smack dab on top of one of those walls. If so, enjoy the view up there, and keep on writing.

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