As a composer and musician it is sometimes hard to remember how important it is to listen to music. I spend so much time writing, practising and playing that it can be difficult to make time for that all-important task (and pleasure!) In my studio I have a sheet pinned to the wall called ‘Listening List’. On it are a large number of mostly modern classical orchestral works that I have been making my way through for quite a while now. This extensive list was recommended to me by my composition teacher some years ago and it is pretty comprehensive. Composers like Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Copeland, Prokofiev and Vaughan-Williams as well as more modern names like John Adams, Druckman and Dutilleux among many others are all up there. All waiting for me to dedicate time to indulging in the wonderful pieces and soundscapes that they created. Often I will watch a video of a live performance or at other times I will follow the score as I listen, both of which are wonderful ways to really enter into the music and to learn about and appreciate the nuances of each piece. This is an incredibly beneficial thing to do and adds greatly to both my inspiration and my aspiration as a composer.
I also listen to other types of music including rock (mostly progressive, both old and more recent), jazz and electronic-ambient. Every genre that interests me eventually makes its way into my own compositions in some form. When I was growing up I used to listen to music endlessly, which I have written more about in another post. Nowadays I love to buy CD’s of artists I go to see live and have built up a fine collection of non-mainstream CD’s by various bands and composers I admire. I saw a new Irish band recently which really blew me away. The bass player happens to be a friend of mine so he very kindly gave me a copy of their latest release which is a fantastic recording. Of course I also listen through streaming platforms and have discovered some real gems on those. Some of my recent favourites have been Hammock, The Impossible Gentlemen, Snarky Puppy and Luther Adams.
When I don’t remember to spend time listening, something begins to dry up in terms of my own relationship to the music I am writing, and to music in general. It becomes sort of abstract or a little cut off from the mainstream of life. I have another friend who is quite a well-known composer and he apparently never listens to music as there is nothing he really likes apart from his own compositions! Which tend to be extremely good but more than a little ‘out there’ in terms of accessibility.
I wonder if it is the same thing for other creative disciplines? To what extent do artists make a point of going to see other artists’ exhibitions, film-makers watch movies or poets read poetry? Probably a lot do but I think many don’t make the effort and I imagine the quality of their work must suffer as a result. I try to keep my own music alive and connected and always try to strike a balance between coming up with something original while still remaining accessible. Having said that, I am feeling lately that I might move in a more experimental direction with future pieces, combining an ever richer palette of different instruments and sounds. And that is a very exciting prospect!
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