Sonic Mosaics: Conversations with Composers should have been called Talking Points, because the book’s interviews are about what the composers are thinking at the moment. Listening to the music itself is for another time.
Just published by University of Alberta Press, Sonic Mosaics collects interviews with 31 composers – Canadian as well as international -- by Canadian composer Paul Steenhuisen. It may sound a bit too inward-looking, but, because most of these interviews were done for Toronto’s Whole Note magazine (a free monthly bible for the city’s music lovers), the writing is light and accessible.
Steenhuisen is able to focus the discussion in a way that resonates outside a circle of composers. They include the great Pierre Boulez, Canadian veteran John Beckwith as well as many much younger voices.
I thought it would be neat to pick out some of the composers’ statements over the next few weeks, and use them as an occasional food for thought:
The Toronto composer who has become best-known for his opera scores, addresses the slow pace of change in the music world:
“It’s always been said that music is more conservative than other arts, and that change comes more slowly in music, but I think the word convention is key when thinking about that. Music is an art form that operates with conventions passed down through oral history. Playing an instrument is taught verbally, with physical examples. The mechanism of teaching is by word of mouth, and there is a conservatism about that kind of tradition. Things will evolve more slowly as a result, or there may be more resistance to change, by the nature of the means of transmission.”