We live in a time that is quite accepting of other musics. Whether it is uncovering the past works of early music and its predecessors, to new scholarship on the common practice period, to the ubiquity of 20th century music in today’s conservatories, to the inclusion of popular and non-Western musics–not to mention technology’s influence on electronic music and its progress–we live in an age that accepts into our daily lives all kinds of classical and non-classical musics.
So, what happens when we go and write music in our current times? We surely want to create something new and fascinating, but one thing that we can draw on is the overwhelming presence of the music we are accepting as a musical community. Sure, we may want our sound to be fresh, but we have the opportunity to draw on a wide range of musics. Any era, any composer, any form of transmission; it is all fair game to influence us and help us create new music.
My point is: don’t worry about being influenced–even obsessed–with the history of our musical world. There is so much possibility that can be gathered from looking outside our normal scope. Furthermore, don’t worry about your music sounding “modern”–while it is good to avoid cliche and be original, progress in music is not a straight line. It is more of a canvas, with every epoch contributing new ideas to the mix but not necessarily being superior to any other one.
That being said, do not be myopic. Know as much music as you can, with as much diversity as possible–even if you don’t like it at first. Trust me; you will never run out of new music in this hunt for diversity. You will be surprised at how music you don’t take to as much as your favorites, or even music that you dislike, plays into your ever-unfolding and neverending evolution as a composer.
There are reasons bands play their greatest hits on tour while they release new albums. I know that it is mainly to keep their fans happy and sell tickets, but in truth I believe that their youthful chart toppers are still loved by them, like past epochs of music contained in a lifetime. It’s almost a certain sense of personal, epic nostalgia. With so many of our great innovators leaving us, from Boulez to Bowie, it is important to keep in mind how, while not all music is great, there is great music to be found in places we never thought to venture to.