Authenticity has always been something I’ve strived for as a person, to simply just be me. But one of the things I’ve struggled with is, how do I be me with music? Specifically, music that has no words to it, just the sound of instruments. This all starts the day I first discovered my love for classical music. It was a hot summer day in the middle of July and I was at band camp doing stretches with the rest of the band. Our instructor was playing random pieces of classical music on the speaker, some of which most of us had heard like Fur Elise, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. I had already heard these pieces before mostly from films. Interestingly enough though it wasn’t any of those famous works that entranced me, but one of a lesser known composer. In the middle of switching pieces he had accidentally played a movement of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet and even though all I heard was the soft opening B-flat from the violins, a surge of emotions hit me and from a moment time froze. I wasn’t sure why it had such an effect on me and I wasn’t even sure where I had heard it before, but it struck such an emotional chord in me that had never been played before. For the rest of that week I spent hours on the internet scouring its contents with the hopes of finding that very piece, it wasn’t until I searched the words classical music on iTunes that I came across an album named 100 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music and I went down the line playing each one when I hit track 16, “Adagio for Strings Op 11a”, I had found it. I instantly bought the album for a mere $7.99 and listened to the piece in its entirety, music had never made me cry until that day. It was this small event that would ripple on throughout my life till this very day. It set me down the path of my dream to be a composer someday and make music that would touch the soul in the way mine had been effected.
I wouldn’t actually try my hand at writing music until my first semester here at Chaffey College through the Applied Music Program. I was relatively new to many concepts in music even though I had been playing music for a few years already. The concepts of chord progressions, form, harmony, and melody were all very foreign to me, but I tried nonetheless, often getting very frustrated with what I was making and hitting multiple walls. The truth I wasn’t liking any of the pieces I was writing and what I did like I could not spin out in the way I wanted to, eventually I came to the realization that maybe I should treat it like homework, after all you can not write poetry if you can’t even form a sentence. So one of the very first pieces I ever truly dedicated time to was a piece I called “Flute Etude in F Major”. It was this odd sounding thing that almost sounded as if it was from the time period Bach was from, like if it was actually required for the listener to be wearing a powdered wig. The following semester I wrote something similar in a more tuneful sense but a new direction, I disregarded the harmony and although I got critiqued to the point where I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this I suck at it.”, it was a step in the right direction. I was doing what I liked and instead of treating composition like a homework assignment, I was starting to do me. What I consider to be the moment where I grasped my authenticity wouldn’t come until much later.
Funnily enough I did not hit a significant point in the pursuit of authenticity in a music class, it was in a poetry class where I was forced to write about things I had only ever shared with a select few people in my life. It wasn’t until this happened did I realize where my music should come from, in order to move people the way I had been moved so many years ago I would have to dig deep into myself and give life to the things that haunted me, give a voice to the unspoken beast, and face my personal demons all in the hopes that I could be a better composer. It was this revelation that defines my compositions today and enables others to see me in a different light. Armed with this I set forth and wrote what I consider my first real piece, “Angie’s Theme”. The idea came to me by reading all of the work I had done for the poetry class and seeing if anything kept resurfacing throughout. I came to the realization that in all of the work I had written for that class someone was there in spirit, in every single one she was there. I sat down at the piano and for the first time ever I wrote in music how I felt. I gave my grief a voice in something I loved and I told the story of my first love and her death. I honestly felt really good about it until I presented the piece for my class and got ripped to shreds for using unconventional harmonies as that was deemed weak from an academic standing point. I cried on the drive home, it was such a heartbreak to put yourself out there just to get utterly torn apart for trying to make people feel something you felt. This event killed all of my creativity and I didn’t write anything new for months.
I couldn’t find inspiration to write anything until I started to learn a piano piece by Rachmaninoff and got exposed to his music. After listening to almost everything he wrote I came to understand that his music as a whole embodies something very tense and beautiful at the same time. His music was his reaction to things that I could only speculate of, but he captured the spirit of what it was he wanted. From him I learned to redirect myself and I wrote something in a more dissonant and chordal style. This piece would serve to be my reaction to having previously been torn apart and represented something ugly inside me. I once again sat down at the piano and poured out the resent I felt and morphed it into music. I named it “Morceau in F-Sharp Minor”, an homage to Rachmaninoff’s “Morceaux de Fantaisie”. Ironically, I received praise for it when I presented. I was told that it was very ambitious for me to write in that manner and that although it wasn’t perfect they liked the direction. Some of my friends even asked me for copies of it and asked how was it that I came up with it, having worked essentially in that style as most of the other composers in the class had never written like that before. I was a bit dumbfounded with it all.
Looking back I’m glad that I went through all that. Not only did I discover the source of my music and essentially my voice, I learned to grow thicker skin since not everyone will like my music, and to never stop putting a piece of myself in the music. I’ve gained confidence in my skill as a composer and as a musician having undergone the frustrations and heartbreak of what it’s like to be in an art related major. I was also told something I will never forget at my final presentation, although my teachers disagreed with how I constructed my music, one of them told me this, “You never correct Mussorgsky, because then it’s not Mussorgsky anymore.” That line was them paying respects to the way I wrote and it meant a lot to finally be acknowledged for trying to do something as simple as just being me.