Considering the broad range of influences that feed American contemporary classical music, it is now easier for me to understand why, when posed the typical question: “What kind of music do you write?” I am halted to the point of stuttering. Desperately trying to put my music into words my listener can understand, it’s a wonder the conversation can go any further without pulling out the Grove Dictionary of Music while simultaneously recounting the entire development of U.S. culture from the end of the 19th Century to the dawn of YouTube. In pondering possible answers to this question, I find myself, among other contemporary composers, to be in a unique position. We are essentially hunter-gatherers of sources that have trickled down the line from European form, to minimalism and computer music, to Jazz, and Rock N’ Roll. We have developed an aesthetic that is essentially a fusion between the European classical tradition concerning counterpoint, harmony, and form and the content and aesthetic of sound from traditional American sources of folk melodies, blues and the popular idioms which came out of those traditions. Because of the history and overtness of popular culture and multi-media in this country, references to popular idioms are used very liberally among young composers. Examples can be heard in the music of Nico Muhlyin his recent work Seeing is Believing, where a solo electrified violinist is accompanied by a mixed ensemble of strings, winds and percussion in a whirlwind dance of neo-classical-rock-fusion. (I just made that up--one luxury of the contemporary composer is that everything can be named if you are willing to use hyphens.) Also, much of the music coming out of New Amsterdam Records is steeped in references to Rock and Electronica. I find my music sits somewhere in relation to these artists, even if simply in relation to their use of references from American pop culture.
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