Classical music is hard. There’s no way around it. The path towards becoming a competent, let alone masterful classical musician is arduous—filled with hours of repeating arpeggios, working out fingerings, playing long tones, and holed up in a practice room and questioning one’s lot in life. Many musicians begin their careers this way and end up discovering that these rigid, demanding parametres don’t quite fit with their creative process (author of this article included). What’s left is a musician full of training and hopefully some remnants of inspiration with nowhere to go. Without sticking to your daily regimen of those arpeggios, classical performance becomes a very daunting beast. The same can be said for the composition side of things. If your particular tastes as a composer don’t quite fall in line with dense textures and mathematical themes, you can quickly become a pariah in the eyes of the classical establishment. What to do then?
The answer for many in this position has been a genre shift to a style with the immediacy of expression found in popular music coupled with the leftover techniques acquired from a rigorous classical training. The results are diverse and almost entirely satisfying. Some musicians retain many aesthetics from the classical world and create styles unique to themselves, while others apply their skills to already established genres. The most notable examples of this would arguably be Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones, two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century. Bacharach studied with a who’s who of 20th Century composers and teachers, including Darius Milhaud, one of the first composers to mix popular and classical styles, Bohuslav Martinů, Henry Cowell, and Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger is widely considered the most influential composition teacher of the past 100 years and taught the likes of Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, Elliott Carter, and Aaron Copland. Quincy Jones also spent time studying with Boulanger along with the French master, Olivier Messiaen.