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Letter to a Young Composer


How do you find your voice?

When will you know it’s developed?

I’ve always thought of voice as a by-product, not a goal.  Joan Sutherland was not Beverly Sills. They were both coloraturas, but each woman’s unique sounds were a complex result of physiology, experience, training, intellect, and personality.  Likewise, Mozart and Haydn worked in similar media, during the same era, and admired each other’s work; but their voices were markedly different—unique and authentic to them.

Many writers and composers have actively searched for and attempted to cultivate a unique and authentic voice. Sometimes, along the way, they imitate; occasionally, they test, and generally, they explore. But the actual emergence of a voice that is unique and authentic often comes by surprise—a by-product of experience, training, intellect, personality, and, yes, physiology, too.

I thought about voice a lot, as a young composer trying to find my own, and found some encouragement in this written exchange between the composers David Maslanka and Michael Colgrass, published in the New York Times.

Perhaps some of what they said to each other will feel as valid for you as it did for for me….


Listening. Observing.

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