Chris George, ‘Doah Staff Writer
November 6, 2013
Shenandoah Conservatory opened its American Icons series on Saturday, Nov. 2 with a visit from the world-renowned American composer, Philip Glass. The new speaker series is designed to give dedicated conservatory students exclusive access to a discussion with established professionals in their chosen fields. “Philip is a really dedicated person. He’s known for being a genuine human being as much as he is for being a genius. That’s the kind of people who we’re hoping to get,” said Sloan McRae, Shenandoah Conservatory’s managing director and a co-chair of the committee responsible for the series.
Glass’s distinctive musical style has earned him a place among the most widely recognized minimalist composers. His use of repetitive musical structures and expert ability to expand upon them with mesmerizing harmonies combines the refined appeal of classical styles with the accessibility of popular music. This masterful marriage of form has gained Glass noteworthy success in musical spheres as diverse as dance, opera, concert performance and film. Yet the composer’s tenacious climb to fame is one that students of any concentration should take note of, as Director of Composition David Little points out: “[Glass] formed his own ensemble and produced his own performances, controlling the means of his production even while driving a cab in New York City to make ends meet.”
As Philip Glass put it, his rags-to-riches mentality was simply born out of necessity: “I developed … I would call it a ‘habit’ of independence. Not that I had it to begin with, but I learned it because it was the only way to do what I wanted to do.” In the modern economic environment, the ability to self-produce opportunities is particularly vital in establishing one’s career. “No one is going to give you anything for free, professionally speaking,” added Little. Glass, who forged his own path through the harsher business aspect of his artistic ascent, is a living example of how students can very realistically map out their own artistic futures. He also discussed his collaborative history with other musicians in addition to providing some sage insight regarding the creative process to which the composer attributes his inspiration: “I like the feeling of not knowing what I’m doing. It’s when I know what I’m doing that I get bored … I’m still learning about music,” said Glass, “We rob ourselves of the surprise of creativity when we know too much about it.”
The American Icon series aims to provide access to similar mentors of this caliber for vocal, dance and acting students in the future, as well. Though the prospective speakers have yet to be revealed, MacRae encouraged students to expect greatness: “The series is designed to give students access to legends in their respective fields. This might be once-in-a-lifetime access to these people. And when we say icons … We’re talking icons for real.”