Category: Composer Feature

John Luther Adams- Music and Nature

After hearing two known pieces, Become Ocean and InuksuitI immediately took an interest to John Luther Adams, not just as a composer but as an artist. The way he views music as just something more beyond then a few melodic instruments put together is what I feel is missed in today’s music.

I was happy to see a numerous amount of music he’s made and each was more unique than the other. Since the class heard his most recent piece, Become Ocean, I decided to listen to older pieces, first one being SongbirdsongIronically, there’s no “bird” sounds but mimics of bird’s whistling from high pitched instruments like the flute, wind chimes and a vibraphone. Having just 9 movements that last about 40 minutes, Adams creates this atmosphere where I feel like I am surrounded by birds. “There isn’t a clear narrative to the piece, but there are scenes that sound somehow familiar: a nocturnal episode in which the sharp, bright birdcalls mellow into owl hoots; a terrifying scherzo that could be a storm or a hunt; a shimmering finale sunrise (or sunset).”

While looking for more of Adams’ music, I just found out that he released a new album about 2 weeks ago called Canticles of Holy WindOf course with an album title like that, it came as no shock that some songs were related to wind and its sounds, whether on its own or bushing on nature such as trees. I listen to bit of all 14 songs from the album and found out that they pertain to wind, birds, and sky. The winds are actually vocalist singing. “Slow-moving, sustained chords typically painted the sky movements. These usually had no discernible pulse, only a gathering density, followed by a gentle dimming of the sound. Wind movements were animated by eddies of rippling arpeggios enveloped in placid streams of fused voices.”

He’s very philosophical when it comes to art music or the way he describes it is intriguing. For instance, in interviews he would quote questions like was it something that created the artist or the artist created something.

Art is a journey that is completely experienced differently by everyone because of the discoveries founded everyday. The environment is Mother Nature’s “art” to the world, at least to me, because of the infinite amount of things seen and unseen. Same thing with music, Adams took the sounds of nature that happens like a normal routine everyday but turned it into something more. I wouldn’t know if I can pull of composing pieces like Adam did, but visually I can see what he’s hearing, if that make sense? To me I would put his music on paper, sometimes people can understand what they hear while others need a visual presentation.

Anyway, John Luther Adams is a unique and original thinker that you don’t know about quite often. I looked forward into hearing more of his music from his new album along with anymore pieces and compositions he plans to make over the years.



Florence Beatrice Price

As a female studying classical music I always wondered if there were any female composers in the early classical history eras. I have not found many. I supposed it is be expected as women throughout history have always been denied certain rights and freedoms. However, in my search one female composer stood out among the rest, Florence Beatrice Price. Not only was she a female but also an African American composer in a time when African Americans, let alone African American women, had little to no freedoms or rights. She was the first African American woman to have her compositions played by a major symphony. She faced adversary which led to her having to move out of her town due to hate crimes such as lynching and even pretended to be a Mexican student to save herself from prejudice. But at the end she finished her musical education at Conservatory of Music in 1906. In the end, Price finished a whooping total of more than three hundred compositions. Shortly after her death in 1953 some of her pieces were lost due to lack of interest as new modern composers were emerging.

One of her most famous compositions was The Symphony in E Minor. There are four movements within this composition. Each one with a different sound or inspiration. Although some say that the first movement is a representation on the African American spiritual or spirituality. I found the piece to be much too soft sounding and peaceful to represent the African American spirituality. When studying American African history and their music their spiritual music sounds very powerful and strong with an intensity that moves and penetrates. I found the very end of the first movement closer to this ideal representation than the rest of it.

The second movement has a soft oriental sounding harmony that sneaks up throughout the piece. True to popular saying, the trumpets did remind me of a hymn like song just as Price based it to be. The melody in this part is played only by a brass choir. Later in the piece when the wind instruments join the strings in harmony it gives you a feeling of righteousness and strength as if you are constantly rising above temptation that is displayed by the minor melody. Then of course there are the famous church bells at the end that tie together this feeling of being in touch with a higher being and your spirituality.

The third movement is defined by many to have a jovial feel. When asked Price stated that the third movement was influenced by the African American “Juba dance”. She wanted to bring out some of her Africanisms within her compositions. Prior to listening to this piece, I familiarized myself with the Juba dance and music. So, when I heard the third movement I immediately detected the Juba dance melody throughout the whole piece. It even had the percussion beat that follows a Juba. It truly is a jovial piece as all I pictured in my head was Charley Chaplin in a film happily strutting down a nice sidewalk with a side to side head movement to the Juba beat.

Finally, in the last movement the tempo speeds up. It feels as though Price is rushing to a finish. There are a lot of repetitions of scales throughout this movement. Towards the end when the instruments join together and play as a force, the ups and downs among the minor scale feel as if you’re on a winding carousel with no end. This piece comes together in a loud forceful sound that brings this movement to a strong end.