Emergent Style

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience, but it is true: you know far less about yourself than you feel you do.—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2011.

In my mature works, my sense of aesthetic style has been guided primarily by my intuitive responses. Since my mid-30s I’ve worked with whatever idiosyncratic mixture of materials keeps me fully engaged in the work at hand.

The traditions that most influence my compositions are those of Western art music, and my principal artistic interests are concert music and theater music. I was classically trained as a performer (French horn), and my works are composed with classically trained performers in mind. In my teens I also played trumpet, played in some jazz groups, and arranged and composed for them. I also sang in choral groups, and sometimes arranged for them. I enjoy other kinds of music as well, and my mature compositions often merge elements from diverse traditions, whether folk, popular, or art music.

Many of the composers whose works I admire have done the same, and I use the music of these composers as touchstones. Key examples of composers whose works I’ve studied closely are Monteverdi, J. S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Berlioz, Chopin, Bizet, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, early Stravinsky, and late Bartók. I have also enjoyed and studied the music of many other composers (including current ones). And I have studied some jazz, folk, and popular music, particularly American roots music and Latin American music.

But studying works by the classical composers listed above proved especially helpful in identifying some of my deepest aesthetic preferences. I have had many peak experiences while listening to their music, and studying particularities in their scores helped me to identify particular stylistic qualities that (for me) trigger strong physiological responses. These responses occur not by intellectual choice, but spring from sudden, unanticipated visceral excitement.

Trusting my Unconscious

My process of composing became increasingly intuitive in my 30s, and the resulting works increasingly reflected deep-rooted enthusiasms. The musings on this site generally reflect the aesthetic preferences I discovered as I learned let my adaptive subconscious lead the way. Early in this more intuition-driven process, the musical ideas that emerged were different enough from my previous work that I was sometimes bewildered. (See Spirited Muses.)

But being bewildered was endlessly intriguing. Somehow, what was happening felt right—more like me.

Working this way has been exhilarating and liberating. Not fully understanding the workings of my unconscious helps keep the creative process wonderfully mysterious and unpredictable—sometimes even chaotic.

Through this process, an overall sense of personal style has gradually emerged. Giving my intuition more freedom to lead the way has created an accumulated history of related choices—choices that, like the brush strokes of painters, create stylistic traces.