Advice for Aspiring Sort-of Composer

<p>So, one of my main passions has always been opera. And lately, a lot of ideas have been rattling around in my head, and I really want to write operas for a career. Like I want to do the music, the words, the stage direction - everything. Would music composition be the kind of thing to pursue? I'm hoping to take a composition camp this summer to get a better feel for that aspect. Is opera even a big enough market anymore?</p>

<p>I'm not an opera or even voice guy but I think if you gave a little more information about your musical background those in the know would probably be more able to answer your question. I think if you're serious you should do it because the world of classical music needs to evolve in order to survive, but I also don't know where to begin on giving you any real advice. I know some music schools require their composition majors to take piano as their primary applied instrument. A kid who went to my school who is now at Boston Conservatory played both cello and piano very well but is now confined to piano as a composition major, so if you can play piano that's a very good start.</p>

<p>I've played trombone for about 7 years now. I've played piano for maybe 5-6, but I'm a little rusty. I can put some more time into piano to be very good, but I'll never be performance-level due to poor coordination in my fingers (a birth defect). I've got cursory music theory knowledge, but plan to take music theory next year in school. I've also got experience in acting and drama (which I figure would help with the opera dreams). Sadly, I haven't a very good voice, but I'm not tone deaf and can carry a tune.</p>

<p>Well I don't think you absolutely need to be a regular Vladimir Ashkenazy to be a composition major, so as long as you can put together a good portfolio and audition well for the schools that require one you'll be fine.</p>

<p>You don't start composing just because you 'want to' write an opera. You start from the bottom, write pieces for solo instruments, learn mechanics of every single instrument, write some chamber ensemble music, 'practice' composing over and over, etc... It is endless. My answer is that, from what I know and what I've heard of, composition is not something you should pursue to become an opera director.</p>

<p>It might be good to think about a music major, and go from there. The main decision is whether to do a BA music major in a college or university, which includes 50-75% courses in other subjects, or do a BM performance/composition major in a conservatory, music school, or music department, with a more intense focus on music, with more than 50% music classes.</p>

<p>You do need the traditional training of history and theory to pursue your goals. But someone might know of a school that would let you compose for opera during undergrad years. </p>

<p>Don't worry too much about the piano. Some schools do want composition majors to play a primary instrument, whatever that might be (trombone for you?), some don't require an instrument at all. Piano is used in theory classes but you do not have to be a super proficient pianist for that.</p>

<p>It might be nice for you to volunteer with an opera company to see what is involved in producing, directing, conducting- all the different roles that go into a production. For a music camp, someone might suggest a program that includes opera. Walden School in Dublin NH is a great composition program in the summer, that would let you compose whatever you want and provide musicians and singers for a final performance.</p>

<p>Junebugxpn- It's not that I want to compose because I want to write an opera. It's more that I love opera, love writing, and and passionate about music. And I don't want to be an opera director by any means. Opera is composed like any other music, it's just the genre that really speaks to me. I'm willing to start from the basics of composition like any other student, but I'd like my end game to be writing operas and I'm curious how to get there.</p>

<p>compmom- Thanks for the advice! I'll look into some opera companies around here (there are a lot more than I realized). I'll look into the Walden School, but I'm pretty sure it conflicts with marching band camp, so I'll probably need to find another one which is unfortunate because the music/nature thing is just my speed.</p>

<p>Have you researched the paths taken by contemporary opera composers that you admire. John Addams? Tobias Picker? Stephen Schwartz? Hans Werner Henze? Just a thought.</p>

<p>"Opera is composed like any other music, it's just the genre that really speaks to me."</p>

<p>Yes but opera can't be relegated into a "genre".</p>

<p>When you say "genre", do you mean the 19th century Italian bel canto? or French Grande opera? or German Romanticism? or musical theatre? opera buffa? Singspiel? cabaret? melodrama? dramma per musica? dramma giocosa? lryic drama?</p>

<p>I agree with compmom in that you should superficially research the elements of what goes into a production. First, with just plain theatre (no music) and dramaturgy - you will have playwrights, directors, stage managers, actors, scenic designers, sound designers, costumers, lighting designers, etc. Then add the music elements, and you need to consider the roles of composer, librettist, conductor, instrumentalists, vocal coaching, chorus master, etc. All of the above roles are very specialized professional roles each requiring years/decades of advanced training.</p>

<p>I also echo musicamusica's sentiment - have you paid any attention to what is happening in the world of opera today? John Adams is a pretty hip opera composer right now. Also John Harbison, Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Westergaard, Eric Salzman, Steven Mackey, David Lang, Olga Neuwirth, Thomas Ades, William Bolcom, Tod Machover, to name a few.</p>

<p>Jake Heggie is a very hot opera composer right now. Went to UCLA.</p>

<p>Generally in operas you don't see one person doing everything, some composers for example do the music and the libretto, but even with modern opera generally the composer does the score, there is a librettist to do the words, then someone else designs the sets, someone else directs it and so forth. It could well be someone will do all those things, but given the scope of what it takes to write and produce an opera it isn't going to be the norm IMO.</p>

<p>I agree totally with what someone else wrote, if there is a local opera company where you can volunteer, that may be an eye opener, or I am sure there are documentaries and such out there on how the opera world works (several years ago I recall a documentary, I suspect PBS, that was about the Met). </p>

<p>Having a background in theater and acting is not a bad thing, of course, but composing an opera is composing music, though an opera is quite different then doing an instrumental piece by the nature of Opera (a symphonic composer doesn't have to worry about writing music that can be sung to most of the time) it boils down to writing music. Most operas being written today are written by trained composers, so the likely path would be to get formal training in that. As far as there being a market for new operas it shares the same problem that symphonic music does, while there are new operas being written and performed all the time, it isn't a huge market, most of the Opera performed at houses great and small tends to be traditional rep, maybe with different staging/setting/direction, but in performing Carmen you are using Bizet's score (Operas like symphonic pieces can of course be adapted or orchestrated by someone, but even that is relatively rare IMO).</p>

<p>Like composition in general, you need a passion to do it, because it is a long slog to get your piece actually performed and it is not likely as a main vocation to provide a good living. Most of the operas I have seen being created tend to be commissioned from composers who have done a broad range of work, I can't think of the last time I saw an 'opera composer' the way verdi was, or puccini, or wagner was (even in the 'golden age' of operas where verdi, puccini and wagner could concentrate on Opera alone, other composers who did operas were also symphonic composers, Strauss for example). As a composer your performing or singing skills are much less an issue, composition from what I know of it is more about potential when getting into music programs. </p>

<p>I also would recommend immersing yourself as much as possible in making your decision, start learning music theory (pretty good 'music theory for dummies' books out there, for example), and also reading books about operas and opera composers, to get an idea what it is about/like. The more knowledge you have, the easier the decision.</p>

<p>Thank you guys for all the advice. I will slow down a little and see if composition is really for me first by taking a summer camp sort of thing and then more theory if that goes well.</p>

<p>I think it was the fever talking mostly when I started getting these ideas into my head of composing operas. :)</p>