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Music

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Composing Music

Composing is the art of blending the sounds of different voices and instruments into a pleasing composition. Instruments have always been used to make music. One can imagine early music as a spontaneous combination of rhythm instruments, flutes or strings and singing. In every region of the world, music developed with combinations of folk musicians and more formal music cultures that involved instrument makers, teachers, notation, composers, sponsors and producers of rituals and entertainment. In China, a music culture was well developed by the second millennium BC. In ancient Greece, choirs performed for entertainment, celebration and religious festivals. Music education was considered essential; music theory included the modal scales that became the basis for European classical music. In India music developed along with Upanishads as Ragas, devotional music. Raga theory developed remarkable complexities in terms of scale structure, microtonal distinctions and song structures.

Small ensembles evolved in the European Renaissance with little distinction between vocal or instrumental parts. Music for dance emphasized rhythm and repeating sections with changes in tempo. Liturgical music often involved an organist alternating with a hymn sung by the congregation or choir. The prelude was a short performance piece that involved improvisation on a keyboard or lute. Variations on melodic themes formed the structure of longer pieces. Themes of four to eight measures were repeated but with different counterpoint and different voices. These simple elements continued to evolve in the classic repertoire with increasing complexity and growing ensemble size until you had orchestras playing symphonies. The progression of European music involved increasing reliance on music notation and obedience of musicians to the instructions of composers.

Some of the best known 20th century composers of symphonic music were Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Otto Klemperer. Schoenberg and Stravinsky wrote music for films. Homegrown composers often combined orchestral music with popular music. Stylistic distinctions were overcome by creative innovators in the US such as Copeland, Ellington, Gershwin, Bernstein and a host of jazz musicians who emerged as virtuoso performers and creative composers. Musical ideas converged in the US, Canada and Europe to produce rapidly evolving and eclectic styles. As recorded popular music emerged, song writers and arrangers became the new composers who dominated radio play.

Composers in the Europe of old were immersed in music from their early childhood. They followed forms that were fashionable and influenced each other. JS Bach, the great master was influenced by Handel and Vivaldi. Mozart expressed musical ideas from Bach, Handel, Haydn and many other composers at work in Europe. Beethoven studied with Haydn and was inspired by Mozart. Händel was born in 1685, the same year as JS Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Bach eventually complimented Handel and his music saying that Handel was "the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Mozart admired Bach's genius. Beethoven said that JS Bach was "the master of us all". Each musical "genius" added his own innovations so that the ideas that drove musical composition progressed, despite the resistance of patrons and audiences. There has always been a battle between audiences who want more of the same and composers who were innovative. Many creative composers suffered repeated rejection and penury.

Composers in the 20th century were often employed to write Broadway musicals and film scores. One of my favorites is Ennio Morricone who is credited with more than 400 movies scores. My favorite is the soundtrack to the movie, Mission. In response to questions about his prolific productivity, Morricone stated: “Compared to classical composers like Bach, Frescobaldi, Palestrina or Mozart, I would define myself as unemployed.”

Jon Pareles described Marioconne in the New York Times( January 28, 2007): “Maestro Morricone’s parlor, in a palazzo with a view of the Campidoglio hill in the center of Rome, is a Baroque room so large that the grand piano is almost lost amid the lavishly ornamented chairs, couches and tables. He composes not at the piano or on a computer but at an imposing desk in his writing studio. On a coffee table supported by a realistic rhinoceros is a neat stack of score paper with all the parts for an orchestra written in pencil. His extensive background in classical music can be heard in his swelling love themes and in his meticulous orchestrations, which can suggest the stateliness of the 18th century or the eerie dissonances of the 20th. Unlike younger film composers who create their music as studio recordings rather than manuscripts, or who hand off their themes for others to arrange, Mr. Morricone writes full scores and conducts them himself. Morricone grew up playing trumpet like his father, who worked in jazz bands and opera orchestras; sometimes Ennio substituted for him at gigs., Mr. Morricone was also arranging and sometimes writing pop songs. He experimented constantly with timbre, using surf-rock guitar or jew’s harp, panpipes or synthesizer, wordless voices or exotic percussion. For the beginning of “Once Upon a Time in the West,” he persuaded the director not to use conventional instruments, just amplified ambient sounds, from the creak of a swinging sign to the screech of an arriving train.”

Like Morricone, I played the piano, trumpet and have eclectic musical interests and delight in playing with sounds of all kinds. I feel free to combine musical styles and invent new ones.

Morricone stated: ” I have studied the expressive methods of the entire history of musical composition. At times I turn more toward light music, at times I turn more toward serious music. I mingle things, and sometimes I turn into a chameleon. We are living in a modern world, and in contemporary music the central fact is contamination, not the contamination of disease but the contamination of musical styles. If you find this in me, that is good."