Ryan Collis

Composer

United Kingdom

Author

Videos

Sheets

Interview

What does music mean to you personally?

I don’t think a piece of music can be good or bad, only different. Different pieces have different purposes, and goals. E.g. a horror movie soundtrack might make you feel scared, a pop song might make you feel the need to dance. They do not have the same desired effect. Everyone has different tastes in music and they are all equally valid. People should be more tolerant of other people and their preferences; I hope everyone can agree on that. It seems silly to me to judge someone based on their music taste (unless lyrics directly correlate to violent tendencies). Is that not what separates art from everything else? The distinct lack of sensation, the ability to feel without experiencing. E.g. Bohemian Rhapsody depicts the troubled mind of a bohemian as they contemplate different scenes in their life, an audience member can understand the song’s emotional arc without having actually committed crime. Or with Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, a listener may understand the tragedy being depicted in the heroes funeral march without having been to a funeral. With Xenakis’ Metastaseis, an audience member may fully understand the emotions being depicted without ever actually experiencing the event which is portrayed by the music.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

No, music can be about a lot of things! I think music has an element of fantasy (like with more dissonant music), but some of it is very grounded with reality (like with tonal music). It is less easy to visualise what is happening with dissonant music, making it less and less like reality. But it is easier to understand and comprehend tonal music, often putting clear and very real images in our head.

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

Hmmm, probably an economist… or maybe a psychologist. I have an interest in how people work and I believe that with some taste, it would go well with my creative nature. Music is quite good for that, and can be a lot more powerful than painting or sculpture. Combining my creativity with a love for understanding people.

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

Why are people trying to keep classical music alive? (i.e. persuade people to listen to it). Persuading people that classical music is worth listening to will inherently lead to the discussion of whether classical music is worth listening to. And centrally I believe that everyone should have the right to listen to the music they want to listen to. No one should be told their genre is any worse than another. (Because that’s what happens when you tell someone that your chosen genre is better) An ideal audience to me is tolerant of other genres. If classical music-lovers want to listen to classical music they should be allowed to. If rock music-lovers want to listen to rock music they should be allowed to. Although, I do believe that young people should always be encouraged to try new things! And I think it’s great that there are schools that encourage interest in classical music, as it can be very rewarding to immerse yourself in an environment of music and music-lovers. I think the time that we’re living in now is one of the best in all history for listening to music, not only are there more young people interested in music-making than ever before, but there also so many ways to do so! I believe we are really living at the best time in history so far for listening to and creating music.

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?

The 21st century is made up of all kinds of instant gratification in my view: you want something now and you can have it delivered the next day. It is easy for young people to get absorbed into fast-paced lifestyles so I see a decline in the popularity of large-scale works, but perhaps that may be better as it keeps away public criticism from modern artists’ work. It is always very dangerous to mix popular taste with an artist’s vision. Since there is usually a high likelihood there will be disagreement. I think people get it wrong that art is about disagreeing and having debates, when instead we should be striving for peace and tolerance of all art forms, no matter how an artist chooses to express themselves.

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

No one can control their thoughts, you can’t even control your dreams. Where do your dreams come from? Where does this information come from? We don’t know. But once we have a thought, we can start to develop it. And there are many conventions in developing thematic material, that is where the ordering of the chaos comes in. Sometimes it results in a very pleasant listening process if the themes have been developed properly and in a mature way, like with Beethoven.

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

Young people in my experience are always discovering new things on the internet, and rarely go to classical concerts unless coerced by their parents. I think a big part of this situation is that young people are already prejudiced to classical music. I.e. thinking of classical music as something to sleep to. To counter this, I would suggest that classical musicians continue efforts to show the ‘other side’ of classical music – Instagram pages already cater very well to show old performances and easy tutorials. On the flip side, I don’t know if going to concerts is such a good thing. I mean, if someone wants to pay a fee and go to a concert they should be allowed to. But if someone doesn’t want to go, they shouldn’t be made to.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

Etude in D major, I started writing it in the same way that I start a lot of my pieces! Just dive right in and see what happens . There’s nothing to fear by being creative, especially with music. I think people new to composing are often afraid of their music not sounding ‘good’ and forget that music doesn’t have to be popular to still be music. There are 1000s and 10000s of songs and pieces out there, so to use a metaphor, start writing and see where your pen takes you! Debussy wrote that “Music is the silence between the notes,” However I believe that transitioning music is the some of the sincerest kinds of music there is. A moment between all the chaos can often be very comforting to the listener, especially when transitioning from one part to another. Sincerity is very important to me when writing my music, I try to let my phrases breathe if I can by using spaces and pauses between melodic fragments.

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

To young people considering listening to classical music, I want to say that listening to different genres of music can be very rewarding and that now is the best time to figure out what you like and dislike. But that there’s always time to change your mind later! Taste doesn’t have to be fixed. Listen to lots of classical music if you’re interested! If not, you don’t have to. Genres are a group of pieces/songs where certain attributes and characteristics make them identifiable. E.g. Rock has electric guitars and drumkits. String quartet music involves 4 strings.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Generally I make music for myself, and if someone wants to listen then they can do. Sometimes with individual pieces I like to consider the acoustics, not in any technical way: I mean that I will picture myself sat in an audience seat and imagine how a performance might sound. This has been a useful tool to me, as often with modern audiences the visual component can be very important. I.e. classical concerts don’t use music videos, but some pieces can evoke very vivid imagery so it is important to consider that.

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

Hmmm, in my own projects I try to make each piece different from one another – but it is undeniable that I’ve carried habits from piece to piece. And so I might say that I have a ‘style’ when composing, but always make conscious efforts to structure and develop themes differently. Although lesser known, I do write music for other instruments. Upcoming for me would probably be a Piano trio that I’ve always aspired to write! And a String trio. I find that the relationship between 3 different timbres can be really intriguing and versatile. But I feel that I must disclaim that experimenting in music is not the same as in science… and that music-creators are constantly pushing the boundaries of their own compositional abilities, and the technical possibilities of music-creation. For me, I think I need to work my way up to the point where I can begin experimenting with possibilities in the innovation of music: I need to study counterpoint and orchestration more thoroughly! I am excited to go to a conservatoire, to dedicate more of my time to this. In terms of my style, I would say that I have a very clear and vivid direction that I want to take my music. Recently over the past year I’ve been trying to get closer and closer to the style that I want for myself: essentially mixing impressionism with romanticism – but using philosophies of the 21st century e.g.: ‘My art is my own and I have the freedom to create it.’ I hope to gain more confidence in my music-writing, and wish anyone aspiring to pursue an ambition in music the courage to do it!