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The relevancy of your music

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Henry Ng Tsz Kiu
This post was recognized by Henry Ng Tsz Kiu!

"Very thoughtful and inspiring questions to ask! I am sure they are very meaningful things to think of for our composing."

Thatguy v2.0 was awarded the badge 'Philosopher of Music' and 5 points.

I've been thinking about this for a while now, and as I dig into the music that's posted here, this question always pops up.

How do you associate the relevance in your music compared to the world we live in in 2023?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for learning. I'll be doing it my whole life. But there comes a time when you (in my opinion) need to apply your studies of Beethoven/Bach/Mozart/whoeverfromthepast to our current musical escapades. How has musical language evolved? How has the technological implications of our time effected your music? Where and how do you see yourself in comparison with your peers? 

There are so many posts of neo-classical/baroque style music. It sounds great. But what does it accomplish? What are you going for with your style of composition? 

I'm so driven to have my own unique musical voice, using inspiration from my classical heroes and applying it to today's standards. What are your motivations when writing? I always try and voice my music through a megaphone of the world and time I live in. 

For instance, what if you wrote a baroque fugue with a synthesizer? Or what if you took your love of Beethoven's late string quartets and applied it to a more unique ensemble? 

I'm saying all of this because I want anyone who loves music composition as much as I do to not fall into irrelevancy. Why write what they did in the past so well that you fall into a pit of "I'd rather listen to Bach" versus having your own unique touch accompanied by the technology our current time has to offer? Are we as composers failing to grasp this? I just wrote 12 piano preludes, which centered around all the tonal centers (No.11 was unique as it was ominous until the last B-centered chord) . Was that good enough? Was it just an exercise to demonstrate my skill as a composer?

I live near Denver, Colorado. I've seen the CSO numerous times. But it all seems so pompous, so elitist. What about all the great popular music that I go see my friends play in those grimey clubs in Denver? I've heard horrible music, but I've heard moments of genius. Why is it that I'm expected to like certain things from people with fancy music degrees, but the busker on the street plays something that I've never heard before strikes me emotionally deeper? 

I know I'm rambling a bit, but my overall question is this: with all that we've learned with music, no matter how much at an academic level, how can we stay relevant in our current time? I'm tired of hearing stories of well trained and exceptional composers dying and suffering in our streets because they don't know how to be relevant in today's world of music. 

So many people that post here have so much talent, but what is it? A hobby? A leisure activity? What is the purpose you're writing for? Are you trying to emulate the masters of the past? So what if you write like Mozart did. It's 2023... how can you apply that knowledge and skill to our world today?  We've come so far in harmony, and melody, and rhythm...was does your imitation prove? Again, if you're posting something as a learning device, or a test of skill in that time period's realm of craft, then fine. But what do you aspire to?

I know I sound like a tedious broken record, but I think we should all strive for some relevance today. I could list numerous examples of musicians/composers/bands that are striving for innovation into an unforeseen realm of music, I just wish that what's posted here reflected that same ambition that I strive for. I'm no hero...I'll always consider myself a noob and student. But... do you all feel as I do? Or is the latest post of a Mozart replica enough to garnish a comment here and there?

I'm just questioning what all of our endgame is; like I said, post some pastiche copy of Bach if you will... we'll be here to let you know the technicality and relevance your music has to the studious mind. But I always question the motivation of a composer, and what they strive for in their own musical language. How is it relevant in competing with today's world?

I'm a guitarist, and I have students bringing in 8 string guitars to show me the wonderful and brutal language of the metal world. Or what about the Asian students of music that took classical European music and made tonal gems of their own. Or what of the Spanish foundation of the fingerpicking of today's brilliant gypsy jazz music I hear so much.

I'm rambling yet again. I just question the motive of the posts here, and what the end-goal is with what you're posting. Are you here to just promote you music? Are you looking for feedback to get better as a composer in 2023, and not seek some ego-feeding feedback of your music that only holds relevance 200 years ago? Are we all not trying to grow as composers in a world stricken by the threat of AI trying to replace us?

Let me know your feedback if you're interested... this is something that has plagued my mind and soul and heart as a composer for a while being on this forum. Again, I'm all for imitation to get better at your craft...but where are all the Polyphia copies....where are all the relevant posts that demonstrate the knowledge of the past but the pursuit of innovation and creativity of the future?

This is something that I always strive for, and even if the end product doesn't meet the demand, it's something that I'm going for in my own music. Hopefully this provokes some discussion, as it's a pervasive thought that lingers when I write music. 

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Hi Vince,

These are indeed inspiring questions to inquire.

20 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

I just question the motive of the posts here, and what the end-goal is with what you're posting. Are you here to just promote you music? Are you looking for feedback to get better as a composer in 2023, and not seek some ego-feeding feedback of your music that only holds relevance 200 years ago? Are we all not trying to grow as composers in a world stricken by the threat of AI trying to replace us?

I think for me there are must be mixed motives. I would honestly want promotion and compliments here, and also get feedback to be a better composer. Also by reviewing others you learn most.

30 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

but what is it? A hobby? A leisure activity? What is the purpose you're writing for?

For me it's an obligation to write. If I don't write it down I will probably get depressed or repentant. There's something you must express and that's why I compose. I never compose for the sake of composing only and it never is a pastime for me. It's very challenging to write music for me and every time I have to grind it out and use 300% energy to write a passage. If I want a hobby I can just lie on my bed watching tiktoks. Composing is not enjoyable in itself but very rewarding once you finish a big task. And it's a must to write and no reason for that.

33 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

how can you apply that knowledge and skill to our world today?  We've come so far in harmony, and melody, and rhythm...was does your imitation prove? Again, if you're posting something as a learning device, or a test of skill in that time period's realm of craft, then fine. But what do you aspire to?

To write good music you have to have good craftsmanship and thoughts. Imitating definitely helps polish your craftsmanship. You can stay this way too if you feel OK. But for someone who aims at something original, you have to have original thoughts too and have them realized in your music originally. Musical style for me is a product of thoughts, not the other way round.

For me I don't think the music only holds relevance 200 years ago. Originality in music doesn't originate in music only but in different social, cultural, religious, philosophical context. Some of them remains new and true once created. That's what masterpiece means to be. Mozart's music is still beautiful today since he grasped some part of human soul and perfection and realises it in his music which will remain a part of human soul and culture. Other great composers do this too and have their own voices.

To have originality in your music you will have to have real original things and feelings you want to express. Some succeeds, some fails. Striving for originality and uniqueness in your music is great. But is your originality and uniqueness really meaningful and valuable to the world and human culture overall? That's something I always thinking of. If the thoughts of me is not that original, how come my voice will be unique and beneficial to others? So I strive not only to immerse in music things but also on other subjects. Can Bach write those great Cantatas had he not immersed in the Lutheran Church culture? Beethoven is described as a savage, but he read Kant. Can he write the Ninth Symphony and the Ode to Joy had he not immersed in the Enlightenment thoughts? Haydn and Mozart joined Freemasons. Felix Mendelssohn is the grandson of great philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Mahler thought all those big questions like death and meaning and resurrection. Many of the great composers have deep thoughts in other aspects of human culture and the thoughts are expressed through their music with unique style.

To answer the relevancy question, it is to find both the universality and particularity of being in the world of 2023. We are here in the age of internet and AI, and there are numerous great composers who are out of the Austro-German tradition. The musical voice is changing drastically with much more emphasis on rhythm, tone colour, extended techniques, new sounds etc. The challenges to this particular ages we are facing are very different from what Bach and Beethoven are facing. The answer, expressed as music by composers, hence should be different. The form of expressing the different contents however, depends.

This link to the universality of being in the world of 2023. Yes the society is all different. But we are also human beings like Bach did. There is some universality as a human being even though the society is changing. Master's music are great since they successfully capture these things and have them express in music, and are echoed by us. For some, this call of originality may not be bigger than this echo from soul. Hence the music they write can just echo what they feel as right and akin to older style music. Or in a lower level it can be a habit as well, psychologically speaking.

One who strives for originality and fails can be the result of his music not echoing with the thoughts of others. Or it can just be chance. Handel and Bach's music were unbeknownst in their native country at their time; Handel got his fame in England while Bach almost none for his composition. But if your music is great enough I'm sure it finally be recognized. On the other hand, the uniqueness of some achieved is negligible since they do not answer to what we in 2023 need. I'm sure Tiktok videos are relevant to our world here, but they are meaningless and addictive. When the society changes, new expression is needed. But what expressions are needed? That remains the wisdom of composers and artists to think of. What is your towards the world now? What is your dream and ideal world? How will you express them through your music? These are questions we need to think of.


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Posted (edited)

very philosophical, and more unfitting for me given the type of work I work, but anyway I could share some thoughts as well

The bases of most music foundations are the human voice, even for instrumental music. Perhaps we can also extrapolate to the imitation of the worldly sounds as well. So how well had the different periods of music fare? That's not for me alone to decide, but I'd say the music throughout the ages had accomplished a lot. That is why I have a strong resistance to atonal music if it is written just for the sake of atonality. You don't just stick a banana on a wall and call it art.

That being said, I think we can also look at other forms of art as reference. Not that I am well versed in any of those, but I suppose water colour, oil painting or manga styles all represent different techniques and cultures but can still be utilised today, and they were coming from different time points in the human history. So in general I don't think pieces wrote in supposedly older styles are any less relevant by virtue of their style alone. Not every new piece should sound like Berg or Schoenberg or something idk.
(That being said I strongly think >90% of music composed this age should not use alberti bass -_-, that is the one thing I think everyone should actively avoid >_<)

I think Henry's point that we are all human has a point. Originality is perhaps most important, but just how many composers can you possibly avoid sounding like? Past the first Viennese school you still have Clementi, Dussek, Hummel, Czerny, Field, past Elgar and Grieg you still have Popper and Britten, and then you have film music and game music composers who made a lot of great music as well, you cannot just sound like nobody else imo.

Music being composed should serve a purpose, like an occasion or a narrative. But I think even just to serve the composer's introspects alone is a well valid purpose. So for example, if you post your works here I assume you wouldn't try to make a living out of it? I guess the question becomes "Why do you post your own works?"
I won't name any particular user, for I might be guilty of this too, but if you are just posting pieces back to back without actually performing them live or in recording, or interact with other users, then the next question we must ask is "Why bother?". Because frankly time is short.

Edited by PCC
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Ah, relevance.  Here's a question for you: why is it even important to be "relevant" as a composer?  I've never understood this.  It certainly doesn't matter to me, though it does to a great many others who worry about it unduly.       

I for one want nothing about this crazy modern world to have even the slightest influence on my art.  I'm very happy indeed being relevant to an earlier time and place, namely 18th Century Europe.  

In the last few years, I have had a two motets, an anthem (admittedly in a more modern style), three chamber works, a Sinfonia Concertante, and a symphony of mine premiered by professional and competent amateur ensembles - the Sinfonia Concertante was even performed by an historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble on period instruments - and those are just the performances I know of (thank you IMSLP).  The fact that my music isn't in the slightest "relevant" to our times doesn't seem to be hurting me any.  Why should I worry about relevance?  I'd rather beautify the world in my own way.  I'm so fortunate that attitudes toward historicist composers are changing rapidly for the better.  I fought long and hard to get where I am.  It was as if I knew someday there would be a turnaround of values.  

If some of y'all want to spend your creative time beating the dead horse of "relevance," racking your brains trying to achieve that goal instead of just concentrating on making beautiful music, go ahead, I won't stop you.  But I submit that your time and energy could be better spent just expressing yourself as best you can.  Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck.  

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I can see this from both sides - principally because I used to be entirely and firmly rooted in @J. Lee Graham's camp (you might remember reviewing some of my Classical and Romantic period type pieces - Symphony in E-flat minor etc?). Now though, I write mainly contemporary music which the academics would call more 'relevant'.

I've been thinking quite heavily over the past few months about what music means in the modern day, as I prepare to go to uni to study music. I've sort of come up with a sort of personal philosophy - namely that the way classical music is presented is too stuffy etc etc. But to try to stick to the question at hand, I really don't think I have much more to say than music is relevant if it serves a purpose. You, the composer, decide that purpose. It could be just for your own sake  - @Henry Ng Tsz Kiu's "obligation to write". It could be that you're composing for people to play and to take enjoyment from playing - what @J. Lee Graham has said just above me. Or it could be a political/social/whatever commentary, as is the state of much academic "new" music composed today.

I personally believe that the only real purpose of music is to inspire emotion, to provide an outlet for emotion, to invoke emotions in your audience. And is that not as relevant today as 400 years ago, albeit with a wildly different sound palette?

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Posted (edited)

For me it is simple.

  I'm a student of music composition, and everything I do is with that understanding.  I'm learning.  Sometimes its good.  Sometimes not.  Were I ever to get to a public performance level, I would hope my approach has an audience, but I simply can't pander or be someone I'm not.


    For me, much of music stops around, say, 1945.   I occassionally come across a modern/post modernist piece that appeals to me, don't get me wrong, but most of it I find derivitive, vapid, and, worst of all, UGLY. 

    Life is too short to spend time on that, and we can get ugly anywhere in this world.


I don't at all get the idea that we've somehow exhausted  music in the common practice period/romantic style, and that we must move on.   It seems patently false.   My appreciation of the 1st generation Hollywoood film composers and John Willliams is founded on this continung to explore the ENDLESS possibilites.

   As others have spoken about here, if the music rings emotionaly true and effective, what can be more relevant?   Maybe it's best to keep the nose to the grind stone, follow our inclinations while stiving to be better, and maybe the world will get our drift some time or another.  Or not.    I think most here are like me.  We compose/create because we must.  Its what we are.  And there is/should be great satisfaction in being true to our nature.

Edited by Rich
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Wow, awesome comments so far! It's really interesting to hear everyone's take on this art we all love, and it's really cool to learn more about everyone's motives and reasons for writing. 

I think the most relevant thing when writing is what makes your music relevant to you as the composer. We all have reasons for placing the notes on a particular line or space within the staff, and finding out what those reasons are is one of the most fun parts of being a composer. Every one of us has a place in this world, and if we all occupied the same place, how boring would that be? 

I'll add more to this thread, but for now I'm happy it has given life to well thought out comments from various points of view. 



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Posted (edited)

Something I think about a lot is how we are nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, and thus far, nothing seems to have emerged across technology and art which was not either an overall negative to society OR inferior to the 20th Century thing it replaced.

In the 90s, 80s metal band were told they were no longer relevant; grunge and nu-metal and various types of screaming rock music that rejected guitar solos emerged. Emo Rock was big around 2005, but all disappeared and shows no sign of a renewed interest 20 and 30 years later. However, Van Halen and Metallica still sell out concerts to people who weren't even born during those bands' peak, and they still dominate radio station song requests and inspire new guitar players and bands.

"Progress" at a certain point involves the destruction of things our ancestors nurtured. Atonalism is the prime example. Guys like the one you all know I hate poo pooed on the craft that had been nurtured for centuries, but whose music is still culturally relevant to anyone outside of academics of questionable wisdom and competence? Well, the guys whose work modernists deemed not so and said modernists are unknown to all but a fringe group of listeners who expect you to believe they really do enjoy Schoenberg's Op.25 for piano.

I just feel like this indicates a superiority of the ideas that endured.

I dunno. I market myself as a composer of "20th Century Styles". I'm more interested in following the footsteps of Tchaikovsky, John Williams and John Debney than Zimmer where orchestral music is concerned. The music industry and academia at large claims this sort of style is no longer relevant, but what I do know is that composing such music doesn't seem to have done anything bad for me. It was cutting me paychecks when I was still a teenager whilst most of my peers were working fast food jobs they hated; it won me a spot in the Screen Composer's Guild's Apprentice & Mentor program out of 100s of other people vying for the spot in the country, some of my videos on YouTube got nearly 100k views with 99% like rates, and I have had strangers on the internet message me with kind words regarding what I do, at least some people on here seem to have enjoyed my work, and elsewhere I have recently had people reach out asking me to teach them how to compose too.

My music is relevant to those people, and I am happy with that.


Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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The problem arises as art & music are associated with culture and fashion within it. Fashions change. Once Elgar was the pinnacle of English music. Then Bax and Vaughan Williams knocked him off his perch. The relevance of music changed. Similar happened in France during the turn of the 20th Century. And Austria...I suppose America too.

I don’t imagine my music has any relevance except to me as an outlet for self-expression and a tangential one to a pretty small audience if any. (Perhaps I’m flattering myself there.) I’m never going to be a Mozart or Beethoven. I’m glad about that. It’s all been done. What have I left with the chromatic scale? Put the notes in a different order played by different instruments? Film music which all seems copy and paste these days?

In bygone days before DAWs and sample players were affordable I had music performed with a vain hope of recognition. I played adequately to join ‘amateur’ orchestras. Unfortunately I chose the wrong friends to promote recognition. Now the chance of public performance means the County orchestra giving me 5 minutes at the end of a programme. Most stuff will remain closeted, aired perhaps at fora and local music appreciation groups. I send scores to the BBC along (now) with a sound file but I’ve come to expect rejection. They probably think ‘Oh no, not him again. Send it back.’

A cynical but humorous comment in my text book: “Music has long been recognised and installed as one of the ‘arts’. And anything that is an art is no longer a simple pleasure. Arts are a by-product of that general symptom of human decline called civilisation. Enjoyable pastimes become arts once money is involved.”

So aside from my ceaseless drive to encourage anyone interested to take up practical music making: player, composer, arranger, my efforts have little relevance if any But it seems natural in me to 'do music', I always have - so I carry on. 



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  • 3 months later...

Relevancy - I would expect a variety of expectations among the universe of members. Some of us are hobbyists so, for this group, relevancy may be a meaningless concept. Hobbyists learn at their own pace, have other priorities whether it is family, an unrelated occupation, fear of failure, etc., and may simply strive to improve their skills and appreciation within the confines of these parameters. Hobby composers are relevant, individually, to themselves and possibly a spouse or some circle of friends. Others among us are conservatory-bound or have graduated and are seeking a seat in a prestigious symphony orchestra or chamber group. For them, music of the past is what those organizations tend to play year in, year out. Some members have ambitions to be music teachers, or consider themselves not only composers but also musicians and arrangers and music editors and score supervisors given the difficult realities of making a living in the field, so being a composer for members in this group is just one in a portfolio of several jobs in the music industry. Some members dream of being Spotify gods with millions of streams, or writing the score for the next Jurassic Park sequel. Others are fully engaged in pushing boundaries to establish the next musical genre. Over time, what was relevant to you today may evolve; you may move from one of these groups to another or to several others. If you are excited about what you compose, then you are relevant. Aside from a relative handful of superstars the names of which you learn in Music 101, the rest of us will be completely irrelevant 200 years from now, if not long before, so enjoy what you compose while you are alive.

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