I admit, I spend way too much time on social media, but my reason for logging on is first and foremost to connect with and learn from outstanding artists and musicians with friends we share in common. I’ve been touched by the generosity of these talented and humble professionals in their sharing of their wisdom and inspirations which I then, in turn, pass along to my students. It’s an art and piano teacher’s dream.
Recently, through comments on posts by friends of friends on Facebook, I learned of composer George N. Gianopoulos. After viewing his compositions on his YouTube channel, I knew I had to learn more about this remarkable composer. I reached out to him and he graciously accepted my invitation to be interviewed on the school’s blog. I hope you enjoy getting acquainted with and learning more about the musical world of composer George N. Gianopoulos.
Q1. What styles of composition are you known for? For my piano students, would you please describe what these styles mean or represent?
A1. Musical style is such a difficult question to answer with complete accuracy. As a composer living in the 21st century, I am exposed to such a wide variety of music on a daily basis and hope that in my own music, you can find the diversity of music that influences me. I think many people would find my music most akin to composers of the early 20th century with hints of American jazz accompanied by an extended chromatic harmonic palette.
Q2. Thank you for that. I’m a fan of American jazz as well.
What instruments do you play? Are you self-taught or did you study with private teachers or at a conservatory?
A2. For a classical musician, I started my studies very late in life – at the age of eighteen. As I sat in my very first college class, Introduction to the World of Music, the professor opened with “For some of you, this may be your very first college class, ever!” and for me, indeed it was. Throughout the class, we were introduced to the music of Debussy on the piano, Strauss tone poems, Wagner operas, and so much more – and I was hooked.
The following semester, I enrolled in an Intro Music course where we learned how to read basic rhythms, key signatures, time signatures and other foundations of music. The next school year, I began in a Class Piano course and quickly advanced to private lessons the following semester. The next three years took me on an intense and focused dedication to music, absorbing all that I could, both pianistically and aurally, studying scores of master composers. Since I had started music performance so late, I decided to also pursue a more behind-the-scenes, creative role in music, as a composer. The culmination of my studies resulted in a mixed program of solo piano music performed by me alongside faculty performing some of my earliest compositions.
Q3. How exciting that must have been for you! What a wonderful musical education you had.
My students are interested in the latest composing trends, tips, and techniques. For example, how do you prefer to mentally and physically prepare for a composing session? Do you have a set routine (best days/times)? Do you write longhand or use music software or a combo? Are there hardware and software you recommend to budding composers? Any to avoid?
A3. Finding time to dedicate towards composition is an increasingly difficult task as I grow into several new roles in my life, first and foremost as a father and husband and with a full-time job as Artist Liaison at the Colburn School. With that said, I no longer have optimal times to compose – I fit it in as often as I can, whenever I can! I am, however, constantly thinking about what I want to compose and it is very helpful to regularly think about current projects and new ways to develop them that I can experiment with when I have the opportunity to compose. My process for the actual notation part is first, I begin with staff paper and begin sketching ideas – sometimes I will finish an entire work just on paper, or for longer works, I will begin on paper, transfer to Finale, my preferred notation software, print and continue composing on the printed paper by hand – rinse and repeat!
Q4. Your time juggling is admirable. Good to know about Finale software.
At what age did you realize you were a musical spirit? How old were you when you first began composing? Was there a specific moment of inspiration you’d like to share with my students and readers?
A4. As I had mentioned earlier, I began studying classical music quite late in life, but I quickly realized that I wanted music to be my life almost immediately. I began composing about two years into my study of piano [and music, in general] and this was in part because of my lack of public performance experience throughout my life, I was not a natural performer, but mostly because I preferred the act of creating something new, that did not already exist. I’m not sure there is a specific moment of inspiration that I can share, but I can say that it brings immense joy and further inspires me to want to continue to compose, to hear the unique and individual interpretation of a piece of music you have composed by a fantastic musician.
Q5. Very inspiring, indeed.
Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as a composer? If so, how did you handle it?
A5. I’ve never been talked out of fulfilling my dreams as a composer before, however, many people throughout have warned me of the struggle and difficulties that I would face throughout my career. I can’t say they were wrong, by any means. It is extremely difficult to build a career as a composer – especially when you did not begin developing a musical language and technique from a young age. Ultimately, a contemporary composer of concert music is someone who has to wear many hats, not only as a composer and engraver of original music, which is already a full time-consuming art but also as a networker, marketer and salesperson, at times.
Q6. Good to know. Words of wisdom from real-life experience is appreciated.
What was your first composition that was performed? How did you get the gig? Was it through teacher connections or via a professional manager?
A6. My music was first performed as a part of a university concert series and again at my senior capstone recital. I did not have another public performance of my music until two years later, and then not again for another two years after that! Any performances outside of a school setting were a direct result of personal networking and relationship building that I have slowly worked on and developed. This is a crucial aspect of building a career as a composer that I would highly recommend to any young composer. Since then, I average over fifty performances of my music around the world, per year.
Q7. Patience and perseverance prove itself again. Congratulations on all the performances of your compositions!
Speaking of compositions, when I had asked which works to feature on the blog, you sent me the following:
●Quintet for Strings, Op. 22 (2011)
●The Last Silent Voice, an Opera in One Act for Soprano, Baritone, String Quartet, and Piano, Op. 32b (2018)
●Birds of Paradise for Flute, Op. 38 (2016-18)
●Clockwork for Percussion Trio, Op. 34 (2015)
●Theme and Variations for Piano, Op. 15, No. 5 (2011)
●Thirteen Haiku for Singers and Piano, Op. 27 (2013)
●Three Conversations for Two Clarinets, Op. 16 (2009/2013)
What are the stories on these compositions? What would you like my readers and students to know about these specific projects?
A7. I chose these works to share because I think they represent a large scope of my compositional output, dating back as far as 2009 through 2018, and demonstrates a variety of genres, including opera, chamber music, solo instrumental music and art song – all combinations which I most prefer to compose in to this day. The musicians featured in these recordings are fantastic and have a sincere commitment to the performances they’ve given.
Q8. That’s wonderful. I encourage my readers to click on each link and enjoy.
Do you currently have a manager? If so, what tasks does a manager handle on your behalf?
A8. I do not currently have a manager and I think most composers don’t, especially younger composers who are still relatively emerging. Older and more established composers are the ones who most often find management, but even then, not all do. I would hope most composers will not find this is discouraging, by any means. With dedication and commitment to your craft, one can achieve success without a manager or other systemic support.
Q9. Good to know. Thank you for passing along the encouraging words to budding composers.
Which composers, past and present, do you think have the most influence on your approach to composing?
A9. As a composer, it is my responsibility to keep my ears open at all times and be willing to listen to new music of all genres, even if I might not be interested or predisposed to it. I regularly listen to new and young composers and older established composers. Some of the biggest influences on me are Russian composers Alexander Scriabin and Igor Stravinsky, French composers Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen and several American composers, including George Gershwin, Roger Sessions, and Lukas Foss, and many American jazz musicians and composers.
Q10. See, here’s another example of gracious sharing of intel. I had not heard of composers Roger Sessions nor Lukas Foss. I look forward to studying about them and their compositions in the near future and share my findings with my students.
Music can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my piano school partners with CoachArt to provide free piano lessons for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A10. CoachArt sounds like a fantastic program and I’m happy to learn about it! There are so many important issues facing the world now, it is difficult to narrow down. RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and two very important organization that help provide assistance and legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers throughout American, and in particular, at our Southern border, where we see regular abuses of ICE and border patrol agents. More information can be found about these organizations at www.raicestexas.org and www.aclu.org. Another issue that is important to be is curbing climate change. 350 is a fantastic organization that focuses on reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels. More information can be found at www.350.org.
Thank you for that. I hope my readers will click on the links to learn more about these organizations you are passionate about.
It was a pleasure interviewing you, George. We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing performances of your remarkable compositions now and in the years to come.
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