Author Topic: December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?  (Read 1692 times)

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Ron

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December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?
« on: December 01, 2016, 07:13:23 AM »
The question of the month is: do you incorporate your cultural background in your music? Or, no?

This is something that has often bothered me, being a Canadian. Up until about the middle of the 20ieth century, Canadian composers looked to Europe for their guidance and inspiration. In my own case, I closely identified with the music of the Russian giants, I think, because their music comes from a landscape and climate similar to my experience. Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite" has a similar appeal to me. Now-a-days, Americans have a huge resource to draw on, incorporating so many cultures into their music, especially from the black African heritage. In Canada, I look around and see nothing but a few folk songs transplanted from the UK and France. I've tried using First Nations instruments and techniques, but am leery, as I don't want to be accused of trying to assimilate their culture, though I certainly "hear" their influences when I look out over a forest, or travel through hundreds of miles of nothing but rock, lakes, and scrub pines. European composers have had deep cultural history to draw on, and South American composers have a unique blend of aboriginal, African slave descendants, and Spanish-Portugese influences.


I still haven't figured out where I stand, but, what is your experience?
Ron
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Michel.R.E

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Re: December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2016, 08:21:47 AM »
*I HAD written a long post but there was a forum glitch and it got lost somewhere in Tron-land*

I've struggled with the idea of writing music that reflects my national heritage. Part of the reason, as Ron correctly points out, is that so much of our heritage is "imported". Regardless of the fact it was imported 400 years ago, it remains a heritage that we didn't really create.

My own musical influences have been relatively wide ranging, from Americana, to French Impressionist, to a healthy dose of Hindemith, and some of my own identity piercing through.

With my clarinet quintet I tried, for the first time, to create something that reflected my French-Canadian heritage. I avoided the outright use of folksongs, preferring to do as Bartok did and invent my own based folksong-like material, based on my study of the genre. But this is one single work, and I cannot say that it is something I would return to with relish. I found the idea of writing based upon the melodic structures of French-Canadian folksong to be limiting.

My music has covered so many influences: my 1st symphony is pure European romanticism mixed with a tinge of Americana, my 2nd symphony - while titled "Sinfonia Canadensis" - contains only 5 fleeting references to nationalist music (in the 3rd movement), my 3rd symphony is structured around 3 poems by American poet Walt Whitman, and my fourth is completely "neutral" of influence.

My contrabass sonata is based on a Japanese creation myth and incorporates some Japanese modes. My little 4-hand piano sonata has a French folksong as the basis of its last movement.

But other than that, I really can't see any nationalist influences in my music. I tend toward the "international" as far as influences are concerned.
I must admit that I've tended to avoid French-Canadian elements mostly for political reasons. (it's complicated)

One of the few great works I've heard that incorporated French-Canadian folksong into a "modern" framework was Roger Matton's "L'Escaouette" (which I had the tremendous pleasure of singing when I was in college).
Roger Matton, "L'Escaouette"

« Last Edit: December 01, 2016, 08:54:17 AM by Michel.R.E »
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RJB54

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Re: December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2016, 11:04:49 AM »
For me I've always felt that when I write rock I think 'American' and when I write classical I think 'german' (my secondary heritage).

Part of it is that I can only think of two ways of writing explicitly 'american' music. First is to incorporate turn of the 20th century americana, but when you do that to me it sounds like second rate Ives or Copland. Second is to incorporate jazz-like elements but then it sounds to me like second rate Gershwin or Bernstein.

Therefore, I don't really have the idea of writing an 'american' piece anywhere on my mind as I conceptualize a composition.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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Michel.R.E

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Re: December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2016, 06:27:26 PM »
with this potential new commission project in Italy, I'm looking again at having to write in an idiom that clearly defines my cultural background: french-canadian. which means I'll have to incorporate some fiddle effects, and various other effects that are directly drawn from Québecois musical folklore.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

tbmartin

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Re: December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2016, 06:02:18 AM »
With most of my work being arrangements, I'm purposely NOT including my own cultural background. With the few things I've done starting from a blank piece of staff paper, I can't say I've purposefully included or excluded my background. It's not even something that really hits my consciousness.

My ethnic background is "British Isles Mutt" which is a bit hard to pick out as a distinct element of the US culture. Two of my kids were adopted from Paraguay when they were 4 months old, so they really don't act or associate closely to the Paraguayan or Latin American culture, and besides, that's them, not me.

So, I guess my answer is "No, and I'm not sure how I would do it, even if I wanted to."
Terence Martin

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MikeL

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Re: December, 2016: Do You Incorporate Your Cultural Background?
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2017, 12:55:50 PM »
Always wanted to write an orchestral version of a "fado".

My mother was Portuguese.
These aren't the chords you're looking for.