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Apr 26

Contemporary Classical Composer – What It Takes

Music has come far in the past few millennia, starting as basic rhythms and melodies lonely hunters sung to themselves as they stalked the night’s dinner. Over time, more elements merged and combined to create sounds to intrigue and impress listeners. Now, music is as cross-pollinated as the deepest daughter plants of a series of hybrids-and it is in this world that the contemporary classical composer finds himself.

Music has come far in the past few millennia, starting as basic rhythms and melodies lonely hunters sung to themselves as they stalked the night’s dinner. Over time, more elements merged and combined to create sounds to intrigue and impress listeners. The music became more complex, and schools of thought emerged around music later almost wholly abandoned. Now, music is as cross-pollinated as the deepest daughter plants of a series of hybrids-and it is in this world that the contemporary classical composer finds himself.

Modern art music is, by definition, the culmination of everything before it. Combining the highly modernistic aspects of serialism, aware of old musics that are barely mentioned in histories, and brought up in the long-standing traditions of -common practice.- The contemporary classical composer has to know about everything in the line of western music.

But just knowing the European tradition isn’t enough. A contemporary classical composer must know about musics that are foreign to his tradition’s ears. More important is the ability to see across the trained sound of his background, to connect world music to his own. Seeing connections between the improvisation of Jazz and of the classical music of India, the Gamelan of Indonesia and Minimalism of Glass, and the melodic counterpoint of Japanese Koto music and Bach fugues.

Contemporary classical composers must be able to combine these disjunct components and create a whole piece, unified by some touchstone between the parts. This art and skill can be learned in a school, but simple listening offers the tools. You hear what you like, then using what you’ve learned either in class or in life, you write what you hear. This ultimately will be the arbiter of quality-the only thing that really matters.

Based in New Orleans, contemporary classical composer Laoshi Ma challenges himself and listeners with his music. His works can be found at .

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