THE OPENING ACT of of tonight's blog is "Hey! Its All Music!"
I AM A COMPOSER. To many this creates an instant image of either a wig wearing maniac or John Williams. Not so much the actual image of John Williams, just the idea of him as one of two living composers that are household-ish names. I like the term composer but to me it expresses a number of things besides "a maker of stuffy old music" or "movie music guy." A composer is a musical poet/artist, crafting soundscapes instead of words or paint. A composer can be (as I want to be) a songwriter or a psalmist, though not all songwriters or psalmists are composers. A composer can do movies or ballets or jazz symphonies or song cycles or even albums or ring tones. Critics impose any number of appellations to a composer's music, "minimalist" "new wave" "emo" "Quintessentially Modern American" etc. The important thing to me is that I am making music. As I have repeatedly stated, I want to draw on a vast palette of music means/styles/textures to achieve my expressive ends. No matter what kind of music those means are employed to create, "Hey, its all music!"
SO IT IS that I hope to be found writing songs that could be found on the radio, concertos that receive standing ovations in the concert halls, reverent works that invite the Holy Spirit to a religious service, or even rousing works that glorify the freedoms and principles on which America is founded. I want to make music for the people, music that is meant to be listened to by people who need music for specific and important functions in their lives. In each 'facet' of my work I want to apply the same artistic integrity, dedication to quality and wellspring of inspiration. For me it feels entirely natural to combine all these kinds of works into one portfolio and call the man who made them 'Composer.' Whether a love song or hymn, a symphony or a concept album, a jazz suite or an oratorio, there will always be behind it: Michael Wahlquist, Composer. No matter what the 'genre' of work I am creating, the same standards apply, especially moral standards. As a composer I have a purpose, and that brings us to tonight's main act.
LAST WEEKEND I was in Pittsburgh (a long way from Rexburg, Idaho where I live, or St. Petersburg, Russia, where I served my mission, but it does have a 'burg' suffix, so it must be destiny for me to live there. The random 'h' even echoes the random 'h' in my last name) with interviews at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. I particularly had a great time talking with composers Matthew Rosenblum and Eric Moe from the former and Nancy Galbraith and Leonardo Balada from the later. It was a wonderful experience and as different as the two schools are, I would love the opportunity to study at either. I'm also waiting to hear back from a few schools closer to home, in Utah.
A CURIOUS THING happened while speaking with Leonardo Balada. It has had me thinking ever since. He asked me about my time in Russia, whether it had been difficult, since they were mostly atheists. The question following was, "I'm an atheist, do you think I'm a bad person?" I have to admit, I was not expecting such a question, or really any questions about my faith, since I had only a 20 minute interview with these two composers at Carnegie Mellon, and since the discussion was supposed to focus on my portfolio of works. In any case, hopefully they got what they wanted from the interview, which did otherwise focus on my portfolio, influences, and education. Perhaps even my answer to his offhand question let them know that I am a composer of convictions. I told him that of course I respect all people no matter what they believe, and when it comes to music, I really appreciate it when a composer uses their music to express their philosophies or beliefs - how they feel about life. I then used the example of work of his, an "Agnostic Requiem" (by which title I might have guessed he would bring up my faith!) I'm really not worried that they will let my faith bias their decision. Nancy Galbraith, the other composer present, has plenty of religious music on record.
I REALLY BELIEVE that there is a lot of Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom that comes from people of all or no faith. I enjoy a good Requiem or even a Mass or Passion, even though I can't agree with every part of they message they contain. I enjoy a good love song, because if there is one way that almost everyone in the world glimpses the Divine it is by being in love and creating families. I love a well constructed jazz solo or violin concerto, because there is something inherently glorious in the act of musical expression and creation.
NOT EVERY composer/music-maker sets out with such a determination to express their beliefs and views of life through their music. I intend to be one of those composers who does. There is a such a vacuum of works that portray, endorse, promote and glorify the things that I believe in and for which I stand. One of the central tenets of my faith is that I 'seek after' things that are 'virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy'. I feel a sense of obligation to make sure that my music stands up for Truth and Beauty, that it is virtuous, lovely, and indisputably praiseworthy. There is so much music out there taking up people's attention and lives with things that either don't matter that much or even are harmful. I regard it as my duty as a composer, as a music maker and therefore entertainer, to make sure I stand in opposition to such things, as a one holding up a light and standard.
SO IN my love songs you will see a portrayal of the ideal of love and family life that I believe in. In my reverent music for church you will find conveyed as clearly and beautifully as possible the eternal truths on which I found my life. In my more classical works intended for the concert hall you will hear principles of Order and Beauty, you will find symbolism of concepts of faith and truth. To me it is all music, and it all expresses something about how I feel about life. I intend to be an active influence for good in the life of any person who hears my music. There is so much other music demanding our attention, I don't want to submit anything to the world that doesn't live up to these ideals.
I AM A COMPOSER. I want to make a variety of music, but I want it all to matter to the discerning listener. I know it can matter to someone because my music will embody, exemplify and exalt the things that matter to me. Those are the things of love, of family and eternity and gospel truths that I know will bless anyone who embraces them. So even if a person only ever hears a nocturne from me, or a love song, they will have heard something that is striving for true beauty and beautiful truths.