Immediately following my own presentation at the NAfME Eastern Division Conference last week during which I encouraged teachers to compose, Dr. Evan Tobias from Arizona State University gave a talk on integrating technology into the music classroom in order to give students as many opportunities to create as possible. One of his examples, however, put the audience on edge as he introduced them to the concept of Dubstep, playing Skrillex’s “Scary Demons and Nice Sprites.”
After he suggested that many students were not only listening to electronic music like Dubstep but were interested in creating music with those techniques, there was a palatable shift in the mood of the music teachers in the room. Not only did they not have the first clue about how to help a student make music like this, but they felt they had no way to assess whether or not a student was doing it correctly or not. Tobias might as well have been suggesting that they incorporate Tuvan throat-singing or Balinese gamelan into their marching band curriculum. These teachers were (rightfully) scared of the prospect of both being forced to learn an entirely foreign musical style as well as the entirely foreign technology with which its creators are working—a very different paradigm than the composers these educators have lived with and studied their entire lives.
Over the past few years, I have gotten used to the various types of students who audition for my composition program at SUNY Fredonia. There are those who have a lot of experience composing, and while they may not have been exposed to much contemporary music yet, their experience and talent usually demonstrates a strong, traditional background in concert music. There are also the songwriters—they usually play either guitar or piano, may or may not sing, and usually will demonstrate a strong, relatively traditional background in popular music. And then there are the film music enthusiasts, who usually will point to one or more of the “epic” school of film composers (Williams and Zimmer are both quite popular), and their experience will demonstrate a variety of talents depending on the individual.
Within the past five years or so, however, I’ve noticed that prospective students are bringing with them a new interest that might intimidate a composition teacher almost as much as Skrillex did the band teachers back in Hartford, and that is video game music. Even for someone like myself who has studied film scoring, this relatively new career path for composers is one that is very much an unknown. Of course, composing music for video games isn’t all that different from film scoring or even concert music, but the underlying conceptual frameworks defining how the music interacts with an ever-changing environment as well as the related repertoire, history, and traditions that have sprung up over the past 20-30 years or so make this endeavor more than a little challenging for those of us who have not been ensconced in the industry as a professional or as a player. If I am to even consider the option of creating a class that addresses this growing interest, there would be a lot of learning and growth on my part.
The more I think about stories like these, the more I realize that similar experiences are occurring everywhere. As we become more interconnected, we’re going to discover even more links between the disparate “worlds” that we all find ourselves in. Whether or not these situations call for change-of-self or change-by-others, they do signify a growing trend towards inclusivity, appreciation, and a “big tent” concept that embraces those people, sounds, and ideas that run counter to our own. In this day and age, such statements may seem obvious to some, but they still bear repeating—especially when working with children and young adults, whose future attitudes and experiences will be colored by the examples we provide them today.