Jennifer Thomas talks about why creativity is everything to her and that if young people want to go into Classical music as a career, there are so many things you can do with it other than teaching or performing.
For me, music is a form of expression. And since I am not just a performer, but a composer as well – it goes even deeper because the music I am sharing with the world comes from a place within me that bares my very soul. When I “offer” my music to the world, it is like offering a piece of myself – my pride and joy, my greatest work and expression of the world inside myself, my heart, and my mind.
Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?
This is an interesting notion. I suppose that a lot of why we listen to music is to escape, to take our minds to another place. We want something to make us feel more than we can conjure up on our own. But music is also a very real form of realism, sometimes to what is current in our lives or in the world. Out of the darkest times in history have come some of the greatest pieces of art – both for the sake of interpretation, and also escape to a fantasy world.
If you were not a professional musician, would would you have been?
I love video editing, and so definitely I would have tried to go into professional film editing. Fortunately I still do get to do quite a bit of this with my music career as well. I’ve done a lot of editing for content on my Youtube channel over the years, but typically had a professional editor handle my official music videos. But I recently had the opportunity to finally edit one of my music videos for my channel, and it was a great joy to do that. I look forward to doing more, and continuing to improve my skills in that area.
The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?
I think that the future of Classical music is already on it’s way to finally integrating itself into a more modern way of living and breathing, and because of this it’s finding a younger audience. As more orchestras start streaming their concerts live online, performing music from living and modern composers, and also collaborating with artists that aren’t just inside the Classical world – it will continue to thrive.
Here in Seattle, the Seattle Symphony has had a tradition of performing the film score from The Lord of the Rings films in concert every summer (composed by Howard Shore), while projecting scenes and images from the movie on a gigantic screen for the audience. I know that this has been one of their biggest selling concerts of the season, year after year. They have also collaborated with modern artists from pop to rap, and the audience has found it quite refreshing to see classical renditions of pop songs. To know that these types of concerts do quite well is easy to see that today’s audience is yearning for a more modern concert program that pleases a wider audience.
What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?
Well, I think that there is a give-and-take situation going on with Classical music at the moment. While many popular artists are creating music with Classical influence and bringing that music into the limelight, Classical music is also taking a thing or two from the modern world and integrating that as well.
As far as the role it will play, I hope that it continues to be a strong influence and a foundation in the world of music. Even though the way it is being presented is ever-changing, the fact remains that the music is there and will hopefully always be so.
When I say that classical music is searching for new ways or that the classical music is getting a new face, what would come to your mind?
Well, to be honest what first comes to mind is my entire way of approaching my own music and composition process. I started lessons on both piano and violin at age 5 and continued all the way through college. I endured years of adjudications, competitions, chair auditions, concerto competitions, and more. I remember it actually being quite stressful.
Eventually I found my own way through the Classical music world and realized that I could take these skills I had worked so hard on for so many years and actually create new music, and modern music at that. I feel like what I am doing with my own music today is giving Classical music a new face. I am taking the foundation I have in Classical, and creating new music for the new generation that hopefully not only appeals to the younger generation but to the older Classical lovers as well (well, maybe not the purists, ha). And it is not just me, there are several other artists out there right now doing the same thing- from 2Cellos, The Piano Guys, Tina Guo, and many others – we are modernizing a genre of music and making it more accessible. There are those in the younger generations who are now being introduced to Classical music through our music, who might otherwise not be.
Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? What’s the role of creativity in the musical process for you?
Yes. I do think that Classical musicians need to be more creative. I think that more originality needs to happen, and less imitation. People are tired of hearing the same set of standard classics over and over, they want to hear fresh new music or fresh interpretations.
The role of creativity for me is EVERYTHING. As a composer, I need it. Without it, my music has no life. For me, sometimes it involves taking time to be in the outdoors and enjoy the beauty of the forest, or the ocean – and then the music starts to trickle into my mind in the form of ideas, styles, and more.
I think music is so much more than just an auditory experience. It’s visual, emotional, physical, and spiritual. I think the only thing it isn’t is physically tangeable but perhaps that will even change – maybe one day someone will create a virtual reality app where you can see, hear, and feel what a pianist experiences while performing a Beethoven Sonata.
Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?
I think it has everything to do with the choice of music that is on a concert program, and how it’s presented. The Classical purist in me says “Stick to the format of the past.” But the modern composer in me says “Don’t forget to add some content that appeals in a more popular way.” And I know that is sometimes hard to digest for the Classical music world that have done things a certain way for so long.
When I put out an album, I would say 90% of the songs are ones I wrote and chose because I loved them and wanted them on the album. But the other 10%? Definitely there because of popular vote and what my audience wants to hear – even if it’s not exactly what I think it should be, or even what I think will do well. But in my experience, it’s the 10% that sometimes gets people in the door to one of my concerts, or attracts them to buy one of my albums - and then they stick around long after.
Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favourite piece (written by you) How did you start working on it?
One of my own favorites from my compositions is a piece that I wrote called “Eventide” from my Illumination album. When I wrote the song, I had an 11 month old and a 3 year old, and my husband was working long hours. So in the evenings, after the day was over and I finally had an opportunity to sit down at the piano, it was my time to relax, meditate, and wash the day away.
At the time, my piano was positioned in a big bay window where I could see the entire starry sky if I looked up and out. It was quite beautiful, and I found many moments of peace and tranquility from my late night piano sessions. This song came from one of those, and while it is a very simple song, it is very emotional for me. I orchestrated it with strings and choir, and actually right before I was getting ready to send it off to my mixing engineer, I was listening to it late at night while driving in my car. I kept humming the theme from Sheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov) with it, and eventually was inspired to add a violin solo to it that plays that theme. It was a perfect match – and just by the way, a great example of how classical music can be used in modern music in new ways.
The song has ended up being one of my more popular songs on Pandora Radio, and I still use it as an un-winding song in the evenings.
We, Moving Classics TV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?
Oh goodness, I LOVE them all. I feel like music is essential in creating an emotional presence, and brings so much more to these other forms of art as well. I have scored a few films and it’s amazing when a director gives me a cut of a film with no music and allows me to watch it and feel inspired and be able to add music to it that will hopefully have an impact on the audience in a certain way. I especially love music and dance, of course. It is one of the most beautiful combinations in my opinion.
Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?
Yes! Well for starters, I think perhaps young people have heard quite a lot of Classical music without actually knowing it. From cartoons like Bugs Bunny (the use of Wagner), to commercials about beef (Copeland), or Disney films like Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky) – they have already heard quite a bit but just don’t associate it with “Classical music”. This is a great starting point – to realize that Classical music doesn’t have to be sitting in a concert hall, or made to feel rigid or boring. It’s exciting, and beautiful, and there for the exploration and taking!
Again, I would also suggest finding modern artists who are using classical music as an influence and if they happened to find a particular song catchy or exciting, they can search more about that song and learn about it and listen to it in it’s pure original form. As I mentioned before, there are many of us Classical-Crossover artists out there who are performing Classical works in a new and modern way – and opening up the doors into this world for the younger generation who might not otherwise have an interest.
Also, lastly, I feel it’s important for younger people to know that if you do want to get into Classical music as a career, there are so many things you can do with it other than teaching or performing. When I was in school, it seemed to be the emphasis and I had to choose between them, but now there are so many more options from engineering, producing, and so much more.
Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?
Well, this is an interesting topic, and it might vary a bit for me as a modern composer/recording artist (so I can’t speak directly for Classical musicians). But yes, I definitely have experienced a “supply and demand” pressure – from making sure your album has certain content or criteria – for example, to meet a certain chart for placement on your debut release week. However, in my experience in the end it also doesn’t make too much of a difference. Whether one debuts at #1 on the Classical music charts, or doesn’t chart at all – it doesn’t win anyone an award, or make them more money.
There is also a huge supply-and-demand right now for cover songs, whether it’s a cover of a pop song, or a cover of a film soundtrack, or Broadway play. It seems to be sort of a necessity that every artist do at least one cover in their repertoire. I too have followed this trend on one or two occasions (I recently released a cover of the Prologue music from Beauty and the Beast). However, don’t throw rocks at me but this is a trend that I personally would like to see a little less of, and see more original content arising out of the woodworks. But again….supply and demand. And sometimes this is part of that 10% I talked about that gets people through the door, and hopefully afterward you can let them fall in love with your own original work.
More than anything, I think we as artists should really concentrate on just making the absolute best music that we can and staying true to our own artistic vision.
Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?
I’m not sure I completely understand this question, but I’ll take a stab at it. If you are asking me what, if any, expectations I have from my listeners/audience –and I think I speak for all artists and musicians, we just really appreciate those who genuinely appreciate what we are doing. The little compliments, a note, a message, an Amazon review outlining what they specifically enjoyed about a song. These things actually mean a LOT to us. People who go out of their way to make sure I know that the music I am “offering” to the world has an impact and is meaningful – gives me SO much joy and motivation to continue making more.
What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?
Right now I am finishing up a project that delves into a new genre for me – as I’m working with a talented spoken word/rapper from the Los Angeles area. I can’t be quite certain if one would even classify it as “rap”, but definitely more along the lines of poetry being said very rhythmically. I have composed a very epic orchestral song, in which he has written lyrics and we will be filming a music video for it this summer. We plan to release it as part of the 4th of July celebrations here in the U.S.
I’m also re-writing and re-orchestrating one of my first originals (off of my debut album), which was inspired by the MacDowell 2nd Piano Concerto, and will be filming a music video for that this summer. We are hoping to find a beach where we can put my grand piano and film some lovely ocean waves.
And then for the remainder of the year until next, I will be turning into a hermit and saying no to most projects as I work on creating a new album that I’m hoping to release by mid-2018. One of the major works on this new album is a two-piano duet that I’ve co-written with a talented pianist named Kimberly StarKey. It is written in the style of a modern short double piano concerto, and we will be recording with the Ensign Symphony and filming a video for that as well early next year.
Thank you for having me here, it’s been a pleasure to talk about the Classical music world and how it is transforming, and also effecting me as a modern Classical composer/performer!