Daniel Gracely





My B.A. and M.A. are in music composition (Geneva College; Duquesne University). I was a Ph.D. student at SUNY-Binghamton. I taught Art History I and II at Judson College in Illinois, before moving back to run my father’s plumbing and heating supply business with my brother. Later I ran a used bookstore and custom picture-frame shop. I have written a humorous memoir, a novel, and two long religious works, one opposing Calvinism (I am a former Calvinist), and one on the harmonization of biblical and extra-biblical chronologies (i.e. Hebrew with Egyptian and Assyrian timelines). I currently work as a property manager. Tennis, golf, bicycling, and gardening have been some of my favorite pastimes. And sticking my feet in the vast Atlantic.




What does music mean to me?

Pathos in the music I like best, pathos in the composers whose private and musical struggles I most identify with, and (I hope) pathos in my own work form together what music means to me.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

It’s hard to think of any great composer whose oeuvre shows he or she felt music was all about fantasy. However, many of my favorite works are certainly fantastical in theme…The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Night on Bald Mountain, Scheherazade, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mother Goose Suite, etc. A fantasy theme can generate mental images for the composer he or she might not otherwise have, and thus ease the writing of musical ‘emotions’ suitable to the theme.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

As I closed out my studies for my Masters Degree in music composition, I realized a career meant either writing film music or teaching music theory in a university, neither of which appealed to me. I decided I wanted to teach humanities at a Christian college, which is why I chose a Ph.D. track in art history. The dream was never realized, however.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

I worry about everything, so, yes. Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than music and the internet zealots who recently got attention for themselves in the lead-up to Beethoven’s 250th birthday by claiming his music was white elitism and should be shunned. All the traditional arts and literature are in danger. In communist China in the 50s and 60s there were gangs of youths who were given enough reign to burst into houses and terrify its inhabitants by destroying or confiscating anything pre-1948 (pre-Revolution), because, of course, nothing produced before that was worth anything. It can happen again, especially in a country where the environment has been highly politicized. I experienced the rumblings of this politicization even in the late 80s while pursuing my Ph.D. in art history. At one point our class was assigned to write about third-world housing in Kingston, Jamaica. The British expat professor had made a tenuous connection between “land allotment” and architecture, and from there to the large acreage granted to British colonial administration buildings compared to the crowded living conditions of Kingston Jamaicans. Such a paper, I thought, might be appropriate in a Political-Science class (or these days in a Social Justice course). But in Art History??!! The sad truth is, nothing is neutral to fanatics, and the political animal disbelieves in art for art’s sake. Everything must serve the Cause. And so composers might eventually face their own version of Stalin’s spanking of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, et al for writing politically incorrect music. I wish I had the answer. As C.S. Lewis said in another context, “I don’t know the way out.” Yet perhaps there is an answer. Prayer. Hope. These two I would put in the suggestion box.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

Music critic Harold Schonberg once wrote that some composers look backward and some look forward, but that either approach is legitimate. He was speaking of Rachmaninoff looking backward, and how the critics of his generation panned him. I’m one who looks backward, too. Others are convinced that looking forward is the only way. In the last 1.5 years I revised most of a concerto I wrote 32 years ago. I struggled with whether I could be a 21st century compose yet write some melodies in 4/4. In the end I gave myself permission. We all recall Arnold Schoenberg’s remark that there are still many pieces waiting to be written in C Major. I don’t think he was suggesting we imitate composers of the past. I think he was saying people tend to be impatient and end up prizing originality over craftsmanship, because craftsmanship requires time/patience. I think it was Schoenberg’s way to say we need to give one another time to blossom into the best composer we can be. I could be original by composing for an odd assemblage of six instruments for which no music has been written, and ignore craftsmanship all the while. But that would be a false step. As my teacher used to say, “Great art will not tolerate impatience.”

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

It looks like I inadvertently answered the general question about creativity in my last response. But a few thoughts should be added. One is about the “great art” my teacher referenced. Here is an example. I had just begun my piano concerto, which opened with two single lines of violins moving away from each other softly and chromatically, with solo violins echoing the lines but diminishing into silence. It was certainly mood setting. But after the second week my teacher said emphatically to me, almost yelling, “Pedestals! Pedestals! I have pedestals but no statue!” I immediately understood. I needed to write a motif with enough melodic and rhythmic distinction within itself so that it could be developed into a concerto-length movement having a beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, I think this way of composing is often discarded even in some of today’s romantic music. We hear pieces whose harmonies and quietness identify it as romantic music, but some of it sounds like it was designed as background music to a yoga session. I suppose that’s okay if that’s one’s aim. And admittedly, short pieces can sometimes make it impossible for much development. But to use with this approach in a long work would be a misstep. All we would have are pedestals with no statue. Authentic progression in long, neo-romatic works seems to be missing. I long for the days when neo-romanticism meant something like George Rochberg’s violin concerto. As for my own creativity, I recall another remark by my teacher. I had asked him why Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra was so different from the ‘herky-jerky’ style of his earlier years. My teacher simply replied, “Bartok learned to relax at the end of his life.” I’m 61 now. The piece Anna is playing is one of only two short pieces I composed in about 32 years. When I was 27 I composed a piano concerto in partial fulfillment of my Masters Degree. Back in mid-2019 I was turning 60 and began asking myself, “So what has my life added up to?” I began thinking how my concerto was written when I was young, when everything was Sturm und Drang for me. Even my teacher had called the piece “terrifying.” I wondered if in 30-odd years I had relaxed a little. I revisited my concerto and got rid of some of the dissonance and introduced more melodic material. I’m much happier with the piece now. My goal is that the listener will want to hear my piece a second time. I think that’s what all composers hope from their listeners.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

I think other composers have already given very good advice on this, so I’ll just repeat it. Begin with listening to pieces you like, and branch out from there. Youtube ‘watches’ what we click on and uses algorithms to guess (pretty well, I think) what other musical pieces we might enjoy. Both young and old can benefit from this Youtube feature. On the other hand, it took me a long time to find neo-romantic piano music on Youtube. I had to search Google, or enter keywords in Youtube like “world premier concerto” to get to something recent.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Yes. My grandmother (b. 1897) studied opera singing and had her lessons immediately after Alma Gluck. My grandmother understood music as well as artists. Her brother was Lawrence Saint and his studio did more stained glass in the National Cathedral than any other. And so when she spoke about music or her brother I especially listened. She once said to me, “Every artist needs an audience.” I think every composer wants to know that someone out there feels exactly about their piece as does the composer.

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

I’m at a disadvantage here. My wife and I never had children, and our contact with the younger generation is less than most people. The only thing that comes to mind is that we ask them! “Hey young person, What would make you come to a classical music concert?”

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

In the last 1½ years I revised about 65% of the piano concerto I wrote back in 1987. I didn’t plan on it. But as I notated it into Finale I saw that it needed it. Thankfully, a friend of mine believes in the work. He has a studio and is mixing my revised piano concerto so that the orchestral sounds are much better than the ones Finale software provides. As for any possible upcoming projects, I can’t make up my mind. More solo piano works, perhaps. Or something with chorale, or maybe a symphony. At any rate, my courage doesn’t run far: I’m not one who experiments for experiment’s sake, i.e., I would never wish to compose for an ensemble of instruments for which there is no repertoire, even if I were paid. As Ashkenazy said, “If the music doesn’t mean something to you, it will sound so.” I’m getting older and life is short. I don’t expect to write much beyond the pale of “Mon plaisir”, to borrow Debussy’s justification. Typical artist selfishness!