Some of our favorite moments at Flat are giving the floor over to our passionate community of music lovers. Eric, May’s composer of the month, shows why: his thoughts on music and composing resonate with so much of what we’ve seen happening in our community, and demonstrate a level of reflection and maturity that we can only admire. Read on, and don’t hesitate to listen to some of his works for background music!
How did you first get into music and composing?
I started learning to play music in middle school, when they put us into the band program. I wanted to play guitar, but of course they didn’t have that. So I settled for the oboe instead - a very close relative of the guitar, I know! [laughs]
Then in 7th grade I also started composing, when we had a composition project for band class. I think I was the only person who actually did the assignment myself, everyone else just found cheat sheets on the internet.
But I really loved it. It was all I could think about for a while, I’d be humming to myself everywhere, thinking ‘If only I could put that on paper!’ And eventually I started to really learn how to do just that.
What are some of your big influences?
My latest passion is impressionistic music. I fell in love with an oboe solo by Francis Poulenc, it was actually the last piece he composed before he died. It was meant as a memorial to Sergei Prokofiev, who had died a few years before. It’s a beautiful piece, and it is just an example of how I get a lot of inspiration from people like Satie, Poulenc, Debussy, and even more modern composers like C418, who lots of people on Flat might know from the Minecraft soundtrack.
When did you start using Flat?
I joined Flat about 4 years ago, and I really do love it. I was using a different program before, and it was garbage. I got to Flat, and all the instruments were free to use, there were instruments that the old program didn’t even have, I was hooked.
Maybe a year later, I got the premium membership because I ran out of storage! But then I also started experimenting with HQ strings and other things, and I was like ‘This is good stuff, and it’s not even that expensive!’, which is nice!
Who is your favorite fellow Flat composer?
I love Jacob Trueblood’s style. He has so many elements in his music that I’d really like to have in my music.
What composition are you the most proud of?
It’d have to be the second movement of my double-reed ensemble piece, Blur. I just feel like it’s a really well-written piece, even though the instrumentation is a bit odd, with one bassoon part, four English horn parts, and two oboe parts. Still, it’s a very cool piece that I’m quite proud of.
What does your creative process look like?
In the past, and even sometimes now, there would just be a melody or an opening that pops into my head, and I’d write it down. Then when I got a piano, I’d start by playing random chords and seeing if anything gave me that feeling of, “Hey, that sounds great!”
Sometimes now I’ll start with a chord or even a progression that comes into my mind, but I’m not that good at music theory yet, so it’s simple stuff. If I had to sum it up, it’s just about having something come into my head, writing it down and going from there.
What does music mean to you?
It’s a bit of an escape at the moment. I have a lot of hearing problems right now that come from playing in band ensemble. So my music is a way to escape, to get away from harsh sounds. I try to write soft sounding pieces, not necessarily always piano or pianissimo, but just music that is peaceful, hopeful. My pieces are an ambient sound, something that lets me escape for a bit and relax.
Do you see music as a part of your future?
Definitely. I want to go to college to study music education, with emphases on composing and performance. As much as I’d love to compose full-time, there aren’t really a lot of opportunities in that field. But since I love teaching and I love music, music education makes sense to me.
And I’d love to keep playing in a chamber orchestra, to keep composing on the side and make some decent money off it. I want to get to a point with my instrument where I’m really proficient with it. With band we just went on a trip to Disney, and so we were talking about how the musicians who perform Disney music do things. They’ll come in, and in one – maybe two – takes, that’s it, they’re done. I want to get to that level of skill where I can play what I want in one go.
What advice would you give people who want to start composing?
Oh man… just be yourself. Do your own thing, don’t try to copy classical composers. There was such a long time when I’d be listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, even John Williams or Tchaikovsky, thinking, “Oh yeah, I want to be a huge composer like them, I want my music to sound like John Williams” or whatever. But that’s not who you are as a composer. So of course you’re going to be inspired by other music, but you want to find your own way, that’s the key to actually enjoying it.
Plus, trying to imitate other composers makes it more difficult to actually produce anything. I went through months, a year maybe, where I only wrote one or two pieces because I was trying to imitate these famous composers, but I wasn’t ever happy with anything I wrote. It’ll give you horrible writer’s block, instead of just being happy doing something you love.
I’d also say that a lot of the time, the simplest music is the most beautiful. Complex music can be great - I’ve written some heavy metal, for example, where things were rhythmically complex, and it’s interesting, it gets your blood pumping. But I still think that simple chord progressions, simple melodies, can be so powerful because they’re so digestible and understandable. You don’t need to listen to them over and over to understand them, you listen to them over and over because they’re so beautiful.
Could you leave us with a favorite memory that came from using Flat?
For a Christmas music competition, I ended up submitting a piece that was about the least Christmas-y song you could have! I know I talked about how music should be calming and simple, but I also do heavier stuff, heavy metal, and I was inspired by the new Doom video game to do a piece like that.
I didn’t win the competition, of course, I was pretty much a newborn composer at the time anyway. But I liked the idea of doing something unexpected, and it’s still a great memory for me.