How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Elliott Sharp, Composer



Elliott Sharp
Photo courtesy Elliott Sharp

As a young child, I loved the music of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, began piano lessons at age 6 and was performing by 7 1/2, but at a price: the pressures of practice from parents and teacher plus a rigid and uninteresting approach to the general knowledge of music killed my enthusiasm and gave me asthma (I’m convinced.) More music (clarinet studies) became a chore with only infrequent glimpses of real musicmaking. Composing was something that was done only by long-dead Europeans. The sciences became my major love and interest. Occasional music classes during my first college attempt only cemented my bad feelings towards a stilted and stifling approach to music. The basic theory and history could easily be obtained from books and records and concerts – “education” should be something more.

It took getting an electric guitar and simultaneously exploring on my own the ideas of Cage/Xenakis/Stockhausen as well as the world of improvisation and jazz that brought me to the possibility of composing music. Later, Bard College offered me the freedom to structure my own learning activities (which encompassed electronics, jazz, formal music, esthetics, information theory, and ethnomusicology.)

In graduate school in Buffalo, further studies with Lejaren Hiller, Morton Feldman, and Charles Keil were more about interaction and feedback than they were about the transmission of information – there was a ‘scene’ around them that attracted people interested in the exchange and ferment of ideas, as important as “teachers” and resources.