Entering into a darkened room crowded with people, there is a powerful smell of incense. A robed figure touches the forehead of each initiate, uttering an incantation. In the centre, a figure crouches, swaying slightly, engaged in some kind of mystical ritual.
British composer and pianist Will Todd has worked at the Royal Opera House, the Lincoln Center in New York, London’s Barbican, and with Welsh National Opera, award-winning choirs The Sixteen, the BBC Singers, and Tenebrae. His music is valued for its melodic intensity and harmonic skill, which often incorporates jazz colours. We caught up with Will to ask him a few questions about his inspiration and approach to composition.
At a speed few can fathom, nationalism has become the dirtiest word in all of European cultural politics. Embraced by the right and rising populism, nationalism seemingly poses a threat to the very being of Europe. Nationalists proudly proclaim a euroscepticism that places the sovereignty of self over community.
At the root of all Western literature is ancient Greek poetry—Homer’s great epics, the passionate love poems of Sappho, the masterpieces of Greek tragedy and of comic theatre. Almost all of this poetry was or originally involved sung music, often with instrumental accompaniment.
Time and again I’ve heard musicians express some variation of the following sentiment: “I guess entrepreneurship is fine for some folks, but that’s not me. I’m a musician, not an entrepreneur.”
During a ‘question and answer’ session at a recent music convention, four contemporary composers of choral music faced a plethora of musicians from all types of backgrounds and traditions. Amongst a selection of interesting and searching questions asked, one brought an eerie silence to the room. The question was: ‘Would you consider writing for a male choir?’
In 1977, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope captivated audiences with stunning multisensory special effects and science-fiction storytelling. The original Star Wars trilogy sent shockwaves of excitement through popular culture that would resonate for years to come. Beyond the films themselves, the Star Wars universe extended into a wider sphere of cultural artefacts such as toys, books and comics, which allowed audiences to recreate and extend the stories.
The other day, I posted something on my professional Facebook page about entrepreneurship and my compositional activities, and someone who I don’t know commented: “Forget entrepreneurship. Just compose.” (Well, they actually put it in somewhat more graphic terms, but in the interests of decorum…) This sentiment is nothing new: resistance to “the e-word” continues; if anything it’s intensified in recent years as entrepreneurship has become an over-used buzzword.
Bach’s superlative works for violin are considered the pinnacle of achievement for any violinist. Both the unaccompanied Partitas and Sonatas and his violin works with keyboard accompaniment require great technical mastery of the instrument alongside a mature musicality. Players who haven’t yet scaled these heights are also keen to access his music and develop their understanding of Baroque playing techniques.
Melody is one of the four foundational materials—melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture— used to make music. It is also the one most people would cite as the most attractive, the one that draws audiences to the works of Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and others, and to the popular songs of George Gershwin, Diane Warren, Bruno Mars, and more. Yet I know of no college course that is devoted to teaching this subject in depth.
Chicago is arguably one of the most famous Broadway musicals of the 20th century, if not the most famous. Based off Maurine Dallas Watkins’ satiric 1926 play, it has spawned a Tony Award-winning revival and Academy Award-winning movie version. Songs like “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango” have become household tunes and were recorded as singles by jazz and pop singers alike. So many versions of the same song can lead to contention: was Chita Rivera’s original “All That Jazz” the most varied interpretation, or does one prefer the breathiness of Renée Zellweger’s raw (if underdeveloped) take on it? How “jazzy” should the song be? (It is a show tune, after all).
When the family of the Japanese rap pioneer and activist ECD aka Ishida Yoshinori announced on 24 January 2018 that he had passed away, the music and activist worlds let out a collective sigh of mourning. Zeebra, Japan’s most commercially successful rapper, cried audibly while honoring him on his radio show. Meanwhile, political theorist Ikuo Gonoi credited his constant presence in demonstrations with creating a “liberal moment” mixing culture and politics. But who was ECD, and what were his contributions to Japanese culture?
What is church? In the social sciences, church is ordinarily conceptualized as a physical gathering place where religious people go for worship and fellowship. Church is sacred; it is not secular. With this idea of church in mind, sociologists find that U.S. Christian youth (particularly young white men) are dropping out of church. Some are dropping out because they have lost faith in God. Others, however, are leaving church because they feel alienated from organized religion, not because they stopped being Christians. This rise in “unchurched believers” raises a question: how are Christian youth creating and expressing church beyond the confines of a religious institution?
“Entrepreneurship.” It’s such a troublesome word, partly because it’s been overused and misapplied such that it’s become a buzz-word – which is never conducive to clarity of meaning or purpose. But it’s also a difficult word to get our hands around because it has many different meanings and can play out in so many ways. So what is it about entrepreneurship that I feel is so important for us in classical music to embrace? I can remember quite clearly the moment when I began the path towards entrepreneurship: that moment when you realize you have to change the way you’ve been thinking about things and the way you’ve been approaching a problem.
I can still recall the trip to Bournemouth to get the Atari ST “Discovery Pack.” The Atari ST was a major leap forward from our previous computer, the ZX Spectrum, offering superior graphics and sound capabilities. It also had a floppy disk drive, which meant it was no-longer necessary to listen to extended sequences of noise and coloured bars while the game loaded (this was an exercise in patience at the time, though retrospectively these loading sequences seem more interesting due to the similarities with experimental noise music!)
If composers and arrangers have long reworked the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, they have followed the lead of none other than the composer himself, for Bach was an inveterate transcriber of his own music and the music of others. For solo organ Bach transcribed Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins Op. 3 No. 8, while his G major Concerto BWV 592 acknowledged the musical efforts of Prince Johann Ernst, nephew of his employer at Weimar, discreetly tidying and improving details in the process. Bach’s great Mass in B minor is a compilation of his earlier compositions, while the exuberant opening sinfonia of Cantata No. 29 is an expansion of the Prelude from his E major Partita for solo violin.