Paul Chihara on composing music

February 6, 2006

After a century of this-ism and that-ism, too many composers look for techniques and mathematical or pre-canned procedures to write music. The rise to prominence of composers in the academy has almost made contemporary music a science rather than an art or a discipline in the humanities. My colleague, composer, and friend Paul Chihara recently wrote me his own thoughts on this situation:

Composition for me has always been a form of play, an activity with few rules and no restrictions (unless imposed by commercial or commission realities). It is never an academic exercise or a search for truth. Often, it feels like a guilty pleasure, and as such, usually becomes an obsession. Working on a piece is an extension of the pleasure principle, and never (for me) a dilectic. A piece of music seduces, but should not argue. Only bad music (or non-music) tries to do the latter. Composing should not be thought of, nor taught as, a form of problem solving. That approach begs too many pernicious questions, and suggests that being creativity is some sort of metaphysical exercise. Be honest, have fun, and work hard (and all the time). That way lies real compositional progress, which is a life-long and truly satisfying adventure — the only pursuit in my opinion worth living for.

Paul Chihara

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