Immigrant Composers

The Seattle Symphony's Spring Festival is going to honor immigrant composers, people who came to the US to further their musical career. and they're calling the programme "Coming to America: Composers in Pursuit of a Dream." While I was at Napier University (Edinburgh, Scotland) we studied a number of these composers like Stravinsky, Schoenburg. We studied other's who aren't included in the programme, like Dvorák, Holst, Brittan and Ferneyhough (to be fair Holst only came over to promote his works in the US and Brittan eventually moved back to the UK). We also studied composers like Cage who went the other direction (at least for a while).

As an American in the UK, I often wonder whether I'll be considered a "British" composer because of my educational stint here, or an American one because of my birth. I suppose some of that depends on when (and where) my fame occurs (soon would be nice!). It probably also depends on where the publicity is happening, ie. the London Times is more likely to want to leverage my British educational roots for the human interest angle, while the New York Times will want to highlight my American birth. And in that regard Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and California can all lay local "son" claims as places I have lived.

In a world made increasingly smaller with air travel and internet, the idea of composer living and working in only one region is almost unheard of. Certainly during Mozart's time, composers travelled about Europe to learn and grow as composers. That was extended to the US in the late 19th century with ocean liner traffic and made pretty much global by mid-20th century with airplanes. Now, with the internet, composers and discuss ideas, share scores and experience new sounds without leaving the comfort of their island homes (nod to Peter Maxwell Davies who lives on an Island in the Orkneys).

There are a dozen composers I speak with on a fairly regular basis, all of whom live in various parts of the world. I will be able to stay in touch with people I know now in Edinburgh regardless of where my music career takes me - and I'm glad of that. I can't say I'm a very active Facebook member (I do have one, I just don't check it near often enough), but the concept is right.

However, there is something about living in a place that affects more than a conversation (or an email) can ever match. My time here in Edinburgh has exposed me to new thoughts about what music is, but it's also taught me a different way of looking at the world in general. What impact did coming to America have on those Immigrant Composers? Holst used it to gain notoriety, Brittan used it to learn, Schoenberg taught others (Ferneyhough is still doing this) and Dvo?ák so fell in love with the place he wrote a symphony about it. I don't know that I'll write a symphony about Edinburgh or Scotland (Mendelssohn already wrote The Hebrides and the Scottish Symphony), but certainly living here has had an affect on my music (more than just the education at Napier).

But I am hoping to expand that to a much greater exposure. I'm not done travelling/living in various parts of the world. While there is something to be said for living in a town where you can meet the right people for a career - I have been encouraged to move to either London or New York to further my own - I am not done learning. I can only hope that the result of my travels is a music that touches the hearts of people like those great composers before me. I also hope that (compliments of the internet) I can still meet the people I need to in order to actually achieve a career.

- side note: If anyone has any suggestions as to how I can better further the career side, comments are more than welcome.


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