Sunday, November 22, 2009

Artistic Statement

When I'm asked to describe my own music, I find the task extremely difficult. I remember being in a session with William Bolcom where someone asked him how he would describe his style, and he said, “I don't know. You tell me!” As a young composer, I know that I have not found my own unique compositional voice, or fingerprint, as George Crumb calls it, yet. In our age or recordings and the internet, with instant access to nearly any, and every, kind of music all over the world, a composer today has so much more music than in the past to explore before he/she learns what is really “his/her music”. Mozart only had whatever scores he could get his hands on and whatever concerts he could attend, and thus developed his own style while still young child. I am excited to explore every kind of music that I can find, and I often feel overwhelmed by all the great music that already exists. I believe one of the most important things for a composer today is to be open and willing to learn from all styles and genres of music and not let stereotypes get in the way of finding meaningful music (I believe this also holds true through all aspects of life). Like Charles Ives, I believe in substance over the manner it is presented through, and I have found and enjoyed many things in many different kinds of music. Consequently, I am a voracious listener and explorer of music. I have explored much of the standard classical repertoire and lots of rock and popular music in my teenage years, but recently I have purposely searched for gems outside the standard classical repertoire. Of course, this means that I have had to listen through hours and hours of music that I have no desire to listen to again before finding the hidden gems, but this is not wasted time. I approach every experience in my life as an opportunity to learn, and in music I have learned and gained much from pieces and composers that I don't particularly like or enjoy listening to.

So then what can I say about my music? While I hope that the music speaks for itself, the works that I have composed to date are heavily influenced by many diverse musical sources, many of which I am well aware of and others subconsciously. I'm also sure that there is some uniqueness, some of my own musical voice, somewhere in my music always, although the percentage is most definitely in the minority at this point. I have no doubt that my future compositions will grow in their effectiveness, range of influences, beauty, sophistication, and uniqueness as I explore and live more.

In the more recent past, I have been searching for effective ways to marry my passion for music and art with my unquenchable desire to help contribute as much as I possibly can to solving the many enormous and potentially catastrophic crises of the world. In light of these problems, I have gained a huge feeling of guilt because of my chosen career path. How can I be spending my life in so esoteric a field as contemporary, and often abstract, concert music when in a hundred years (or less) the world may not even exist, never mind my music, if we do not do all we can to solve problems of climate change, nuclear weapons disputes, racism, genocide, finite energy and water resources, etc.? I strongly believe that art and music always have to be evaluated and appreciated in light of a person's life experiences; that the substance does not come out of spending eight-plus hours a day in a practice room, but from meaningful life experiences. I have no doubt that art and music have a huge impact on people's lives, and consequently the world, but my problem is that I feel it often is not immediate, while these pressing world crises, such as climate change, must be dealt with now. This is surely something I will continue to explore and struggle with in the future and will have a huge impact on my music, if it hasn't already.
Keane Southard
Fall 2009

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