On Describing My Music…

November 10th, 2016

With a large family gathering looming it will no doubt bring the dreaded question: “what is your music like?” Or: “what does it sound like”, “what sort of music is it” or “who does it sound like?” All reasonable questions to ask a composer but all frankly unanswerable in a simple, succinct manner – generally I either give an unintelligible answer or I completely evade the question (something I have got very good at now). You could also add “what exactly do you do for a living” to the awful questions, but that maybe is a different story.

I guess the major problem I have with these questions is that often I’m not even sure if the person asking the question would understand a correct answer – my stock answer (given to me by my former PhD supervisor) is “I try to reconcile mainstream European Modernism with English Pastoralism” – I’m not sure my Uncle Stephen would really get that.  “Its Classical music, but nothing like Mozart…or film music” is another answer, but that doesn’t really do me any justice. “It is working within a tradition, rather than against it” is another, but that depends upon whether you know anything about the tradition? You kind of need to ascertain the knowledge level of the questioner before giving the answer, but then that kind of ‘modelling’ isn’t really that nice – my Uncle Stephen may really enjoy a mixture of Webern and Holst – who knows?

A friend of mine uses the “it is like modern art, but with music” which is good, but I don’t think my work is that modern. My particular favourite when asked “what sort of music do you write” is “the sort that doesn’t make any money” which is kind of true, though hugely dismissive and not good conversation etiquette. You see the problem…

Any help would be greatly appreciated as I have less than a week to hone my answer.


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