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Lifestyles

October 29, 2011

Music composition can happen anywhere, songwriter/conductor says

Writing music is a wonderful way to express yourself and give joy to others. It's an activity that can be helped by formal training but doesn't absolutely require any specific education.

When you write music and lyrics, you're creating a unique reflection and expression of yourself. You can say things openly with music that you might feel you could never say in a conversation. It's a free and truthful statement about yourself that you're willing to share with others.

Many songwriters in our area are looking for advice from musicians who have achieved success. They want to know how composers can make a living and make their music accessible to a large audience.

I was given a great opportunity to find answers to these and many other questions when I worked this summer at Glimmerglass Festival under the direction of Jeanine Tesori. As a member of the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra, I performed "A Blizzard On Marblehead Neck," an opera she conducted and for which she had written the music. The audience and professional critics loved Tesori's music and her work as a conductor, so I asked her to tell me about her career as a songwriter/conductor, and requested that she give me some advice I could share with The Daily Star's readership.

Tesori, described by Linda Buchwald in an article on Theatre Development Fund's website as "perhaps the most prominent female composer working in theatre today," has been nominated for four Tony awards and has composed successful music for films and plays.

She is a serious musician, but she has a ready smile and easily finds humor in most situations.

I asked Tesori how she had started her career in music and how songwriters living in The Daily Star area could build their success as composers.

Early Career and Training

Tesori started playing piano when she was 3 and studied piano throughout most of her childhood. She had the good fortune to work with a teacher who was interested in all styles of music, so Tesori played classical repertoire, TV music and a wide variety of other styles. She started writing music at an early age as she was listening to very diverse types of music.

When speaking of her introduction to different musical styles, she said, "I loved it. It was like being raised in a household that spoke four different languages."

When she was a teenager, she "stopped cold" for a few years, but returned again when she was 19 with a clear understanding that she had to make up for the time she had lost.

She studied music history, theory and harmony, a combination of subjects she called "the basic food groups of music."

She studied music at Columbia University, and began to take any job in music she could find, including a job as a music director at a summer theater camp.

She built a network of music business contacts from the jobs she had and says, "I've always gotten work from other work. That's a key asset in being able to 'play well in the sandbox' and getting recommendations for more employment."

She was hired in New York as an assistant conductor, training singers and playing piano and composing music for dancers in shows.

Thoughts for area songwriters

I asked, "What steps for career-building would you recommend for songwriters who live in upstate New York?"

She said, "This is a wonderful place to be, and you can work on becoming a better songwriter wherever you live. Decide what you'd like to accomplish and build a path in that direction. If you reach a stopping place, build a bridge to the next level.

"It's very important to write down what you dream about, the things you aspire to do. At some point in your life, you'll experience great sadness. At that time, you'll realize some things about life that other people don't know. You'll understand that life is very fragile, and it's important to find beauty in every day."

Dr. Janet Nepkie is a member of the music industry faculty in the music department of the State University College at Oneonta. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/musicbeat.

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