In the mid-20th century, the composer was still a rare individual with very specialized knowledge, skills and years of training, making complicated mathematical statements that were hard on the ear. Composers were still considered as a kind of mysterious and elusive lotâ€¦ mostly male in gender, as that occupation had not been open to women, with a few exceptions.
Now at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, not only women composers (who have emerged in large numbers in the latter part of the 20th century), but just about everyone can be a composer right at home with a computer. Styles are so numerous that it is difficult to even draw up a list. There is at this point in time an explosion of musical styles that reflect different social environments, histories, geographies, ethnicities, coming together as a global culture, and as far as I am concerned they are all valid, from the street to the Metropolitan Opera.
Composing is demystified. It is not the pride and privilege of an elite. Everyone can afford access to music composition and production tools â€“ some like GarageBand are readily available free with every Mac computer. This program offers a very intuitive interface and a series of musical loops that can be arranged and manipulated into songs. Like a childâ€™s construction set, it comes in pieces to rearrange. And everyone has the opportunity to get into the game of songwriting and composing. Even the tone deaf could do it.
It is interesting that while music is widely distributed through free or low-cost downloads, therefore becoming accessible to millions of people, the general interest for music has expanded considerably. And in typical 21st century fashion, people want to â€œinteractâ€ with the music; Â they want to create it themselves and make use of the tools that are available â€“ hundreds of affordable software packages (Logic, Reason, Cubase, Digital Performer, Ableton, Kontakt, and many more) teach everything from songwriting to composing to sound manipulation to music production, while notation software (Finale, Sibelius) can display a score from a performance on a midi keyboard without anyone sitting down to write it. The new DAW (digital audio workstation) software is forgiving for those who do not have much keyboarding technique. With Reason, for instance, you can actually pencil in your notes â€“ they appear as little rectangles. Which means you can create something using a visual interface without having to play an instrument and without knowledge of traditional music notation. I think this is a break-through in terms of creativity.
I am particularly sensitive to this turn of events because of my current teaching job at New York City College of Technology where I introduce both musicians and non-musicians to the creation of music on the computer. Some non-musicians are thrilled that they actually can enjoy the type of self-expression that is afforded by their own music. Some students tell me that they dreamed about making music but felt inadequate because they did not have training on an instrument. It’s been a long time since schools offered music classes, and a lot of people miss them.
When I went to elementary school I had weekly music classes and choir practice as part of the regular curriculum; weÂ had public performances where the school children sang and played the recorder. In high school I remember performing in the chorus of Purcellâ€™s Dido and Aeneas, again part of the high school program. I know… it was in Europe. But that early education may have had a powerful impact on my desire to make music.
Now the education in America is science and technology oriented. It is therefore not surprising that music creativity is finding some new outlets with technology and computers. Even cell phone ring tones make a statement about a favorite piece or can be easily created by the users themselves. Music still is a very important part of our livesâ€¦ it just comes through different channels.