Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Why Can’t People Write Music Like This Today?

Posted on December 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm, by Ben

Composition: Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor by J.S. Bach
Orchestral Arrangement: Leopold Stokowski

It’s a legitimate question–‘why can’t we’? …Or maybe the question is ‘why don’t we’? We’ve got unparalleled access to vast quantities of music and possess instrumental tools that Bach and his contemporaries would have traded their wigs for (wigs were a big deal back then).

Hearing this music just makes me wonder what sorts of musical achievements Bach would have accomplished (on top of all his other unparalleled musical achievements) if the modern symphonic orchestra (that Stokowski helped develop) had existed during his day. Then I wonder a step further: if Bach had access to the musical tools of today, not to mention the virtually unlimited access to sheet music and recordings of basically every piece of music written in the last 400 years that we have access to (including the 260 years of music written after Bach’s death he never was going to hear), what more might he have accomplished with that knowledge?? Yeah, it’s kind of a humbling thought.

Let’s not waste these precious advantages–nay, privileges–that we’ve inherited, and let’s not be lazy. Maybe we can apply a Bach-ian level of industry to our craft and, standing on the shoulders of such great men, progress beyond even their accomplishments, for as J.S. himself said:

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed . . . equally well.”

Navigating History: Egypt

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 8:26 pm, by Ben

Adventure. Exploration. Discovery. Pyramids. Pharaohs. History. Danger. Wonder. Are these words that spark your imagination and kindle the fires of intrigue within you? If so, then the Navigating History: Online Video Tour is for you.

My brother Isaac is on the ground in Egypt at this very moment with a team he has assembled for the purpose of cataloging the history and assessing the culture of the oldest civilization in the world… from a decidedly and self-consciously Christian worldview. I thought it was an interesting idea when I first heard the concept brought up a few months ago, but since then I’ve become way more invested and fascinated in the series and the subject matter than I ever thought I would.

In summary, you need to sign up. Now. Go to www.navigatinghistory.com and do so before the hyperbole of this post wears off. Or, if you are not totally sure you can afford to meet the paltry $49.99 sign-up fee, enter the Navigating History Subscription Challenge. For every 5 friends you get to sign-up for the show, you will be given a free subscription yourself, or a $35 Western Conservatory gift card–whichever you prefer. I would totally do this myself, except that I already have all the video they can crank out because I’m writing the music for the series.

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On that note (har har), here is a teaser medley of some of the music I have written thus far. I also wrote the music in the video above… visuals courtesy of the guys at The Effects Forge.

Flash 10 is required to view this file

At about 0.35 in this track you can hear my wife, Audri, playing harmonics on the cello. I only had about an hour to write that cue (0.13-0.45), so I played a series of notes for Audri and told her to improvise on them for a few minutes while I loaded a template in Cubase 4 to start the project. By the time my template had fully loaded and started up, I had some quality ethnic cello phrases to slide of our H1 handheld recorder into Cubase, ready for reverb and processing. I love my wife. 🙂

Look out for an upcoming post on the instruments and tools behind the production of the score, but for now, Here is a question for all of my dedicated readers (Audri and Mom, please rise):

How many of you would you be interested in purchasing some of the music from the show when it is completed as an mp3 album download?

How to Study a Film Score – Part 1: Why Study?

Posted on May 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm, by Ben

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“Students’ questions are always very pointed about ‘How do you do this, how do you do that, how do you write in these styles, etc.’ My response is always to ask, ‘Have you dissected the popular songs of all the eras to find out what makes them work? Have you analyzed them to find out what the chord progressions are, what the melodic tricks are, what chord tones on what chords created a certain sound in a certain era? And can you sit down and write a song in that style because you have spent hundreds of hours dissecting those songs?’ And they say, ‘Not yet.’ Well, I have. I have spent thousands of hours dissecting and playing those songs. It’s a matter of craft, it’s a matter of study.”
~ Alf Clausen, Film and TV composer

Great music takes a great deal of hard work to create. It won’t just “come,” no matter what your music teacher says about “letting the music flow through you”. Music is not a spirit. Music is a medium of communication and as composers we need to learn to direct the vast amount of communicative potential it possesses. We can learn how to do this through careful observation of creation, hard work, diligent study and academic humility. Proverbs tells us that “the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Pro 10:4) and “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work;” (Pro 21:25), so why do we think we can experience great musical success if we don’t work for it? We live in a world where reality is defined by God rather than man, and if we want to succeed in it we need to live according to the principles of creation that He has placed therein, such as: “Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal 6:7)

If you don’t sow, don’t expect to reap.

It is interesting to note that in times past this (correct) attitude towards honest toil used to be the culturally accepted norm, even in “artistic” fields. Rushdoony points this out in his article “Genius”:

“In Christian Europe, the artist was not an artist in the modern sense. He was a craftsman, an artisan, and a businessman who was a specialist in his field. …The Christian artisan did his work like any other skilled specialist, without any pretensions.”
~ R.J.Rushdoony, from Roots of Reconstruction

Noted historian Paul Johnson has this to say about Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), a Christian artisan who arguably became the most influential musical figure of the last millennium:

“Bach was by far the most hardworking of the great musicians (emphasis mine), taking huge pains with everything he did and working out the most ephemeral scores in their logical and musical tonality, everything written down in his fine, firm hand as though his life depended on it—as, in a sense, was true, for if Bach had scamped a musical duty, or performed it with anything less than the perfection he demanded, he clearly could not have lived with himself. It is impossible to find, in any of his scores, time-serving repetitions, shortcuts, carelessness, or even the smallest hint of vulgarity. He served up the highest quality, in performance and composition, day after day, year after year, despite the fact that his employers, as often as not, could not tell the good from the bad or even from the mediocre.”
~ Paul Johnson, from the book, Creators

Consider Bach’s theory on academic success:

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

Here’s some food for thought:

bach-190If Bach, who did not have as great a wealth of musical content to learn from, or technologies as advanced as we have to benefit from today, was able learn so much about music in his 65 years—couldn’t we (theoretically) have just as much influence on the course of music history as he did?

No.

At least, this is what I’ve been told by several musicians upon their first hearing that I was an aspiring composer. They’ve informed me that there is no possible way I could ever be as good as Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven. It’s just…impossible. From the perspective of my flesh, this is a convenient lie because my ego would rather believe my music is shoddy because I’m inherently under-privileged than because I’m a lazy student. Ouch. Were these above-mentioned men providentially granted gifts and abilities by God to be proficient in music? I believe so… but I also believe that any one of them would be deeply offended if you suggested he achieved that level of proficiency without having to work at it.

Hard work is distasteful to many, so it’s not surprising that scores of musicians today embrace an emotional, mystical and spiritualistic viewpoint that dismisses music-as-craft requiring hard work and industry to achieve excellence in it—because excellence is arbitrary!

Fact: If you want to write for films, the going will be tough.

There is no such thing as an easy path to musical greatness, and the relativistic “I just gotta wait for the right mood to hit” attitude is going to be completely unacceptable to any good director because a wise filmmaker understands that composition is a matter of craft, it’s a matter of study.

Will I ever be as masterful a musical craftsman as Bach? Beethoven? …John Williams? That’s really hard to imagine, but if I convince myself that that’s impossible and if I never strive after excellence with as much unrelenting dedication as they did, I never can be.