Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music: Composers’ Forums

Establishing a Compositional Voice

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you think it is important as a significant composer to establish your own voice, that is, your own particular style that departs from one piece to another?

ALBERTO GRAU: Everything in life changes. Your work as a composer should evolve in the same line as you evolve as a human being.

JORGE C"RDOBA: Some things are composed at the moment, at the mental moment, not the physical moment. But I try not to repeat any technical procedure from one piece to another. And try to approach to the real sound that I am conceiving through the choir. This has allowed me to take apart what I call musical trash.

STEPHEN PAULUS: I think it is very important for you to find your musical style. That is what sets you apart; it is your signature. You cannot force it. Your musical style develops as the person evolves, as the artist evolves. Eventually you find sounds that you like better than other ones. Those are incorporated into your work and the other ones get separated out. But if you connect with whatever is in here, and feel confident about it, then that becomes your signature. My principle composition teacher was Paul Fetler. I’ll never forget the first piece, after all the little exercises that I had written, the first piece in which he implied that I was developing a musical style. It was a group of three Elizabethan songs, and we had to go to the piano and play them as best we could and sing them. Actually Libby Larsen sang them; they were actually for soprano. When I finished, he said, “You know, these aren’t bad.” That is the ultimate compliment from another composer, actually.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Stephen Paulus was wondering about pieces that he had written in third-person plural. And I happen to have “Pilgrim’s Hymn,” which even before we call on your name… “We give thee but thine own…” I was wondering if composers think of this as a more appropriate mode for things that will be used in conjunction with communal worship, church pieces.

STEPHEN PAULUS: Sure. I really haven’t thought about it much. Basically what I said earlier is that I know that when I want a more intense thing, separating out the “I” and “we”; “we” would be a more collective thing. I would be more intent on focusing on if the “I” or “we” says something that ends up relating only to male or female gender. If you’re having a mixed chorus sing that, then you either have to throw it out, or somehow cross that bridge. And in “Pilgrim’s Hymn,” it is a spiritual text, not that this isn’t in a certain way, but I was just handed a poem with a “we” in it, and I think I just set it. I don’t know what else to say about that.