I Write The Songs: New Course Offered

(Posted April 15, 2013)

Starting in the fall 2013 semester, Dr. Gabriel Gould will be offering music composition and songwriting lessons. He encourages students of varying skill levels and interests to give it a try.

Q: What are your experiences and training with music composition?

A: I'm a classically trained composer and pianist. I started out as a pianist in first grade. I was very serious about the piano for a long time. I had aspirations of being a concert pianist, but at some point realized that wasn't my path, about the time I started college. That's when I started studying composition seriously. I did a doctorate in composition at the University of Michigan. I continue to play piano to this day, pretty seriously, although not with the same dedication as a concert pianist. I'm a professional composer, and I'm working on commission when I can get one and writing for free when I can. I have experience in a number of genres but I write classical primarily.

Q: Your plan is to allow students to choose which genre they'd like to learn composition in. How will that work?

A: Because it's a private lesson, it can be designed specifically to the student's interests. I don't want to cookie-cutter a student into my musical interests; I want to help shape theirs. For students who are more interested in, say, writing their own folk-rock songs or something like that, or even country songs, and have toyed around with it for a long time but feel like something's missing. I can provide them a couple things that will give them a solid foundation.

I don't want to take a student who has no interest in writing string quartets and make them do that for no reason other than that's what I think is important, because although my skills are in one area, they're applicable to any genre of music. The same things that you learn in terms of approaching how to write a classical piece, I think apply to anything.

Also I want to cater the course to the student's ability. I can't push them further than they're able or willing to go. Since music is more of a hobby for most people than a profession-which is actually pretty smart because it's hard to make money in it-I want this to be a place where people can build their skills in a practical way without pushing the envelope so far that it actually turns them off, because that can happen.

If the student comes to me and is really interested in doing electronika, I can still work with them because I actually have done electronika music, but even if I hadn't, I'm able to offer them tips on how to shape a piece, how to make it grow, how to make it sound organic, how to make it sound like them. It really doesn't matter the genre. As long as they have some basic reading skills, we can talk about these universal truths in music, voice-how to make it sound like your own voice-how to make the structure flow well, and how to sell it, how to advertise yourself, how to attract other people to your music, if you're not going to play it yourself, how to find people who would be interested in performing your music, which is something I want everybody to experience.

Q: What aspects of composition will you cover?

A: It partly depends on the student, but there are some basic things: notation skills are the first thing that has to be covered, but also listening skills. One of the first things I'll do with every student is have them bring in a piece of music, something they like listening to, I don't care what it is, and tell me what they hear in it. Tell me what appeals to them about the piece. Describe certain specific aspects of a piece, like texture. What's the musical texture of the piece? What instruments can you hear? How does that song fit together, what sections does it go through? Does it return to the same idea at the end?

And then to be able to translate those to notation skills. I'm not necessarily talking about transcription, because that's an art form to itself-being able to listen to somebody's performance and put it down on paper. That's really hard, to get it just right. It's a useful skill, but that's not necessarily what we're going for here.

To be able to use notation-whether it's tablature for a guitarist, treble and bass clef for a pianist, single line for an instrumentalist who's just writing for themselves-and not just rely on computer notation to do it for them.
Then once we've assessed those skills and see where the interests are, we'll design a series of assignments to build those skills up from something very simple to something more complex.

Q: Apart from the Music Fundamentals prerequisite, is the class open to all experience levels?

A: You have to have those music fundamentals, especially a basic understanding of scales and cords and intervals. Other than that-that's really the basic foundation. I would prefer that everyone have some familiarity with the piano keyboard, at least how to find notes on it. I'm not saying they have to play piano, but they should be able to understand the piano keyboard. Whether you're a clarinetist or a pianist or a violist or a guitarist, it's sort of the universal language of music.

Q: Why do you consider this an important class to offer at Juniata?

A: Even though there's no music major at Juniata, there's an instrumental and vocal program. There's currently no theory beyond Music Fundamentals, and no composition offered. I don't know if that's true of the past, but it's not offered now. That overlooks the fact that a lot of people toy around with writing their own music, or like to do covers of songs they hear on the radio. It's not currently offered, so I feel like that's a hole that needs to be filled, because almost every musician-I can't think of any musician really who hasn't "noodled" around on their instrument, and just played. That process of improvising is essential to the composition process, so everybody's already kind of doing it. But those who have really thought to themselves "how would I turn that into something bigger?" That's what I do for a living. I sit down at the piano and "noodle" until something happens, then it clicks, then it grows and builds into something better. I feel like it's something students are already doing, to an extent, so I want to give them those skills to make that into something more interesting to them, something bigger, something they can share or even just keep to themselves.

Interested students should contact Dr. Gould at gould@juniata.edu. More information about Dr. Gould can be found at http://www.gabrielgould.com/index.html

Kelsey Molseed '14, Juniata Online Journalist

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.