The Privilege of Being a Musician: A Personal Perspective

January 17, 2018, 2:51 PM · At 3:30am this morning, I awoke from a dream of me writing a section of my Henry V tone-poem for chamber orchestra. Of course, I raced to my desk and scribbled down as much as I could remember: a Copland-esque brass melody under pentatonic violin/oboe. I even found a specific spot in my piece for this moment, right when England emerges victorious from the War that has been taken place throughout the entirety of the piece, right at the end. Obviously, there was so much more music from my dream that is now lost from my memory, and in my half-awake state I was free-composing a little, making what my unconscious mind had came up with link directly into the music I had already written. Either way, it was a really magical experience, one I can't say I've had before in my five years as a composer.

Besides also dreaming about my favorite YouTubers, I then awoke to Augustana's Symposium Day on Privilege, and as I went to a couple events during the day, I thought about how I view my privilege of being able to be educated, to study music, and what I can do with music in my future, since my future is something I've been also spending lots of time pondering over lately - I'm going to graduate next year! It's scary to think about - of course, even scarier after grad school.

Joshua Iyer

I think of all mediums of Art as a distraction from the rigors of life, whether that be films, television shows, video games, paintings, books, compact discs, YouTube videos, etc. Some more than others, I think all mediums of Art are valid in their own right and have different meanings to different people.

I've been starting to look at video games differently, mainly since Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on the development team of that game and how it can offer a creator's (Mr. Aonuma's) imagination This could be in an epic cinematic sense or a commentary on life and valuing nature and farming, which Stardew Valley, a game I've been watching through, kind of has. (An interesting idea about video game music is that the player is the performer of this chance music - a composer can't control when the player presses START or completes a level!) It's the same way with movies and books, too - rather than solely getting engrossed in the characters and story, I've started picking apart plot events and looking at commentary and analyses.

What about music? It is, after all, our Art. I find it really special that music takes a very important role in games and movies, and if I truly am going to continue into composing for those mediums in my future, I'll of course appreciate this fact more and more. But music also lives outside of these forms as its own thing. I'm starting to gear a lot of my concert music towards telling stories and being more cinematic with my style. I love program music; I love the idea of combining these sound worlds together. Living in the 21st century like we are, we have the privilege as composers (and performers) of being exposed to everything. There are so many styles and genres that it is overwhelming when being exposed to it all. I've taken little bits of inspiration from video game and film soundtracks as well as the concert music of Copland and Ravel, and introducing Classical forms as Mozart would have, all within the same Henry V tone-poem I'm writing. It allows my music to always be moving, yet I keep organicism within the piece with leitmotifs, and keeping with my own personal style even if I'm slightly changing genres.

One of the sessions I went to talked about viewing privilege in a negative sense. For example, I love the freedom to mix this all together, yet I do it in a way that makes coherent sense. It would not make sense, unless you are intentionally writing a piece for this manner, to write exactly like Haydn, then jar the listener's ear with Finzi. The fact we have so many styles to choose from can be viewed in a negative way. The privilege of choice is not always a good thing. (This doesn't really relate overall to my topic, it's just an interesting observation to ponder over.)

I think this is a really neat way of looking at our musical world on its own. When looking at it in context with the larger world, I think we can stop and wonder what is the purpose of our craft? Why does Art even exist? Ultimately, it exists as a distraction; people come home from a long day of work at the office programming computers to watch the latest episode of a TV show or practice violin. It's something that soothes them. Let us not forget Beethoven's Heiligenstadt testament, where it was only his composing that gave him a reason to continue living. Music has the power to frighten or soothe. Volunteers often go to hospitals or retirement homes (or prisons!) to play string quartets for patients. This often relaxes the patients, and offers a wonderful performance opportunity for young musicians. Perhaps for many people out there, perhaps who do not have the privilege in their high schools of having an orchestra, hearing music can move them to another plane of mind and provide them with something to grasp onto if there is nothing else. I think music more than other arts can do this the best because it exists on its own and as an attachment to other mediums. It also is the art form that is probably understood the least, and for me, program music or soundtracks are some of the most tangible pieces of music out there.

Ultimately, then, this is how I want to help the world. Hopefully I'll be able to write for films and I will be happy doing so, bringing in my own unique style to the cinema screen to move audiences. I would not mind making music for smaller productions, or video games or television shows - I'm still up in the air about what exactly I want to do. Perhaps I can use my skills to craft melodies that children could play and be inspired by for various children's films to help lead the next generation of musicians in. I hope I'll be able to find my place in the world, providing a distraction that could possibly help engage the public in what I have found to be some of the most beautiful music in the world. I know this isn't the most humane of goals, and I will still continue to help out I'm sure with other tasks whenever I can. But to me, like Beethoven, writing music feels like something I can leave behind in this world and offer radical experiences for those who discover it. Ultimately, I feel like my music is sharing my combination of the composers and styles I personally like and find pleasing with my imagination. To the uninitiated, I hope sharing my personal music with them, whether through the screen or in the concert hall, can help some people see its power and help everyone find some beauty in any dark moments in this world.

For now, I can only dream.


January 23, 2018 at 09:55 AM · I like what you've described: and as a person with an albeit interesting desk-job, I agree that music is a great escapism from the norm. Music and art in general allows musicians and audiences alike an opportunity to explore emotions they might not naturally experience in their everyday life. Exploring dark emotions in an otherwise beautiful world is probably as helpful as finding beauty through music during dark moments.

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