This is the story about how and why I became a composer of neoclassical music, it’s all true.
It was a bright and sunny day in 1972, I was at a friend’s house and as I always did, I was messing around on his parent’s piano. I was seven years old and the instrument just called to me. It wasn’t long before I began assembling my own little pieces of music, awkward in some regards but pieces nonetheless. My friend’s mother apparently called my mother and said, “You should really enroll him in piano lessons.” Or at least I think that’s what happened because shortly thereafter my mother and father asked me if I would like to take piano lessons. Well of course I did! Not long after that they found me a piano teacher, took me shopping for a piano and there we are – piano lesson time! For the next four years I would spend time with my piano teacher every week. Toward the end however, I expressed interest in composing my own music. My piano teacher just shook her head and told me she didn’t teach composition. Well I decided to start anyway and I wrote a short piano piece when I was eleven years old. I showed it to my piano teacher and she more or less looked irritated that I was doing this kind of thing. But she looked it over and helped me by making a few small corrections here and there. By the time we were done making those corrections and I played it, she was pretty impressed. But that was the last time I would see her. I got home, stormed in the house and told my mother I was done with piano lessons. Out of discouragement I simply gave up and the urge to write music wouldn’t return for another sixteen years.
But I did continue to play the piano and I even expanded my interests to include percussion and the clarinet in my middle school orchestra (they don’t have those anymore because school budget people are retarded). I even took a stab at playing violin and soon came to realize that just wasn’t my thing (oh my poor bloody fingers).
When I was twenty-seven years old, I was working as a computer support guy and I had fallen in love with Beethoven and Mozart just five years earlier. Before that, well, the music I listened to wasn’t very good at all. As I delved into the intricacies of Mozart’s music I soon had that bug come up and bite me again. That being the desire to compose my own music. Fortunately I had befriended a guy named Claude who was an amateur composer. The only difference was he loved Johann Sebastian Bach and the baroque style in general. Not bad, but not my cup of tea either (at the time). But Claude graciously spent weekends and lunch breaks teaching me the basics of composition. His labors came to fruition when I composed my very first piece of music, a piano piece called Klavierstück No. 1 in C Major. I was on a German language kick at the time, so that would be why it’s a German name. It means Piano Piece. It wasn’t long after that I composed two more of these piano pieces and then I embarked on a string quartet which I intended to give to my mother on her birthday. The string quartet was a challenge, it really put what Claude had taught me to the test. But six months later I happily presented the completed piece, in three movements, to my mother on her birthday.
For the next several years I would crank out new works of music almost every month. In fact my most prolific years were between 1995 and 1999 when I cranked out nineteen pieces of music, including another string quartet, a piano trio, a divertimento for wind instruments, a symphony and concerto for flute. During this time I became very close friends with a man named Harold, who was the husband of my grandfather’s niece. Harold was my biggest fan, he was always encouraging me to keep pumping out new pieces of music. In 1998 I flew out to San Francisco and spent a week with him. During that visit he took me to meet the conductor of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was also my hope that maybe I could get him to perform one of my pieces, but it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t long before I started wishing someone, anyone, would perform something I had written. This led to the big crash of 2000.
In 2000 I wrote nothing, not so much as a single note. I was down in the dumps, I felt as if all this effort was wasted. No-one would ever want to perform music that sounded like something from the late 18th century. And it was during this crash that I decided it was time to stop mimicking Mozart and Haydn and to start developing my own style, but staying within the confines of the period in which I loved – the late classical and early romantic periods (1785-1827).
I remember talking to Harold on the phone about ideas for new pieces of music. We also talked about La Boheme and how he wanted me to hear it instead of scrunching up my nose and saying “YUCK”. I wasn’t a fan of Puccini. He was way outside the comfy boundaries of the romantic period. When I say way outside, I mean like 150 years ahead of it. I wasn’t a fan of classical music written after the turn of the 20th century. But Harold begged me to just sit down and listen to it from start to finish, then make an educated decision as to whether or not to hate it. It would be the last time I spoke to Harold. Two days later he passed away in his sleep of heart failure, he was 76 years old. The last time I cried that hard was when my grandfather died. Harold and I talked on the phone every week, about music, about opera, his time in World War II.
I knew I had to suck it up and get back to writing music. Two weeks after his death, I composed another piano piece, Klavierstück No. 8 in C Major, Op. 22. It was in a very different style that I had been writing. It was the beginning of a period of change in my musical writing. Two months later I composed a piece for string quintet called Streichstück in C Major, Op. 23 “Bouncing Ball”. I was outside playing ball with my dog, Kelsey. I was watching the ball bounce on the pavement and suddenly thought, “How could you represent that musically?” An hour later, the piece was finished and I was very proud of it.
Shortly thereafter, I met another music professional. An American composer by the name of Jeffrey Brody. Maestro Brody is the music director of the Longwood Opera Company in Boston. I don’t recall how we met, but soon after we did I began taking lessons from him in composition, focusing on harmony. I spent about a year as his pupil and then I went on my way for one reason or another. He and I are still friends though. I would be lying if I said I learned nothing from him, on the contrary he helped me tremendously and is one reason why I chose to start writing less and less like Mozart and more and more like myself.
From 2001 to today I have been writing between one and three pieces per year. Because the pieces I compose are more complex, have a lot more to them, I spend a lot more time working on them. So this story also asks a question, why do I compose music?
I could say, “Well, because I can”, but that would be really a wise-ass response and not one based in truth. No, the reason I compose music is because I want to bring a smile to someone’s face, to perplex someone’s imagination. My compositions are my children, they come from my heart, from my soul, from my very being. I compose music because it’s something that makes me happy and allows me to purge emotions that are inside me. Most of all, I compose music so there is something of me that will survive long after I have turned to dust, since I never married and don’t have kids, that is important to me.
That’s my story.
If you’d like to hear some of my music, my entire catalog is online and free to listen to. Just hop over to opus.pixelworxfactory.com