I’ve brought up the fact that I recently finished a Master’s program in music composition several times on this site. I want to assure everyone that I’m not mentioning it to be pretentious.
Much of the reason it comes up occasionally is because I’ve actually spent a lot of time, especially in the last year, trying to reconcile my education with the way that I want to use it. Let me be clear: the faculty at SFSU was fantastic; they’re dedicated, talented, and their performances and compositions are internationally renowned. I was extremely excited to have gotten into a program run by so many amazing people, and the fact that they only work with six composing students at a time was icing on the cake.
But these guys teach what I would refer to as “academic music.” That’s not to say that the stuff that was in our curriculum is only heard at universities, or that it’s not worth learning or amazing music in its own right. I’m talking everything from ancient music to Gregorian chant all the way up to modern day Avant-garde composers. I studied pieces everyone knows, like Beethoven’s Fifth, and learned a ton from many works I’d never heard before, like Berio’s “O King.”
My point is that, 99.99% of the time, music for media was not part of the coursework. So when I would tell my professors that I wanted to go into writing music for just that, especially for video games, they pretty much made this face:
It’s the kind of face you’d make if you asked your significant other if they wanted to go to the farmer’s market to get some of those really good blueberries again, and they responded by reciting pi out to fifteen decimals and then peeing in your shoes. There’s no connection there.
Let me give you an example. Here’s something typical of the kind of music that would be taught in my program. The piece is called “Rain Tree Sketch” by Takemitsu, and the pianist in this recording is Dr. Roger Woodward, one of my professors at SFSU.
I think this piece is amazing. It’s atonal, and it really evokes the image the composer was going for; a tree that got soaked in a rain shower so that, now that the rain is gone, droplets still fall from the leaves.
Now, for comparison, here is a typical example of my style of writing:
This one is completely diatonic (based on the typical major and minor scales we hear in most music everyday) and is supposed to evoke the image of, like, guys going really fast.
You can see a bit of a gap there. I learned a ridiculous amount about the structure and process of composition at SFSU. I’ve written several pieces in more modern atonal styles (some of which you can check out on this very site here and here). I think the music taught in my program has immense value. There are many elements of avant-garde music that I use in my own work: polytonality, asymmetrical phrase structures, numerous meter and beat division changes and even occasionally, atonality. But I can’t get around the fact that I’d rather write a piece with a great melody and a catchy groove than one that takes numerous replays for listeners to figure out how they feel about it.
To put it another way, I was taught to paint like this:
but I would rather paint like this:
What do you guys think? Am I going to music hell? Let me know in the comments, and have a good week.