|Letters from children|
Articles by Colgrass
Letter to a young composer (New York Times)
A New book by Colgrass:
Letters from Children
I receive many letters from children. Here are two letters from teenagers at Laurel Valley High School in New Florence, Pennsylvania, who were encouraged by their high school band director, Jim Colonna, to write to a composer. I have a continuing correspondence with both students. Their letters are a ray of hope that the arts and living artists have meaning for young people. Mr. Colonna is an example of what one teacher can accomplish by stimulating the minds of his students.
Dear Mr. Colgrass,
On the way home from the district choral auditions Mr. Colonna and I got into a very deep musical discussion. Well, it might not have been deep to him, but it was deep to me.
Some music education in our school makes me so mad. What people don't realize
is that we, the young adults of America, are the future of everything, including
music. They think music is for really nerdy, rich, smart people, not for the average
person. Music is an art that requires skill, not some dumb air head getting a quill
pen and staff paper and jotting dots on paper. Music is also a very personal emotion
that takes a lot to get out of you, and also down on paper. Where will music go without
people like you and Mr. Colonna who take the time to talk to teenagers who you've
never met? You guys are the people we look up to for guidance in this big craziness
of the music world. Music is so many adjectives I don't know what really to describe
So get ready because I have a whole bunch of questions.
- Why do some people like classical music and others not?
Let me try to answer these apocalyptic questions one at a time.
Why do some people like classical music and others not?
I think music is like food - you tend to eat what the people around you eat. Meet new people and you start eating new foods. For example, many people don't eat yogurt, because yogurt isn't heavily advertised, like hamburgers. And few know how to prepare it so it's really good - with fruit, raisins, nuts and honey. The question is not only the taste of this food, but it's relationship to your lifestyle - yogurt isn't associated with any social life that is known to be fun, whereas the hamburger is an American institution and MacDonald's is a place to meet your friends. Classical music is like yogurt to many people. They may try it once or twice, but, that's usually not enough. There has to be some form of continual contact and the music, like a nutritious food needs to be integrated into their lifestyle.
Why do you learn more about emotions as you listen to and study music?
Why can't some people feel the music?
Well, some people have trouble feeling any emotion - or expressing it, at any rate. Emotions need to be developed like language or imagery. Our senses are like muscles: the one's you exercise are the ones that will grow strong. You can actually practice feeling, the same way you can practice expressing yourself in words and making pictures in your mind. Music gives us a way to practice developing emotionally. Maybe that's why some people don't like music - they're afraid to express their emotions, afraid they'll lose control of themselves, break down and cry, or get too charged up and not know what to do with the energy.
Why is music such a deep subject?
Because emotions are unfathomable. With music, you can even express contradictory feelings - like sorrow and joy - simultaneously, which is sometimes how we feel them. That's what makes emotions so interesting. That's what drives composers to try and recreate emotions, digging into them for new insights. Emotions are like the gold embedded in mountains. No matter how much you dig out, there's always more, somewhere. And, of course, there's fool's gold and real gold, like with emotions. To be able to tell the difference between superficial music that may excite your taste like sugar, and great music that nourishes you forever, requires a lot of digging. But what an adventurous dig it is!
How can you bring out the musical creativity in yourself and others?
I wrote a report about your music. I know you don't want to read about yourself, but you might get a different perspective on your music. Most of the people who wrote about you were probably older and have formed an opinion of how they think music should sound. Since you're a "modern composer," I think modern minds should give their opinion because their minds are more open, but can still give their opinion with feeling. I find it really exhilarating when music totally changes your emotions, then it stops and you're so confused you don't know whether to cry, laugh, or yell at them for making you feel like that.
Now I have a question: How do you focus your attention when you want to
You're asking a question that has puzzled some of the best minds in music. Let me offer two ideas on this subject:
1) Creativity is a habit. Think of the habits you have right now and how you developed them. For example, do you have a time when you study? Perhaps between five and six, just before supper? (I assume you do your homework!) Recall how you developed that habit and how it feels to have it. Have you noticed that if you do your homework at the same time every day you tend to concentrate more easily? The idea is to do the same with creating. To create with ease and comfort, you need a place physically set apart from your other activities, because creating is an act set apart from other things.
2) Establish a set location for creating only. Lay out your materials on your "creating" desk - music paper, notes to yourself, lists of ideas, etc. - and don't ever do anything else on that desk. That way when you return the next day everything will be just as you left it and your mind can "pick up where it left off." This helps you organize your ideas. Whenever you have an idea you can write it down and place it in your own creative spot, even if you have no time to work on it at that moment. This way you accumulate ideas and have a "home" for them - they will be waiting for you when you get back to that creative location. Also, your unconscious mind will work on an idea for you in the meantime since you have clearly identified the idea and your mind has a place to locate it physically. I call this technique "anchoring a location." Your brain learns that when you sit down at that spot creative ideas come to you, because that's all you do in that spot - create.
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