Exploring Anthony Constantino's compositional process and his musical authenticity
    JEREMY LEE | AUGUST, 5 / 2021
    Photo provided by Anthony Constantino
    Ever since his first piano lessons at age 8, Anthony Constantino has been playing and making music. During his time as a pianist and as a member of the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, he always enjoyed creating his own music and eventually participated in the Young Composers Program through the Tucson Symphony Orchestra at the age of 14. Through this opportunity, participants are able to have their compositions read and receive feedback from professional orchestral musicians, allowing them to get a head start on developing their compositional voice and prepare to compose professionally.

    By the time Anthony began his undergraduate career at the Manhattan School of Music, he already had three orchestral pieces completed. A few years later, he had completed his masters' education at UCLA and is now in the process of completing his doctorate dissertation, also at UCLA. With dozens of completed works under his belt, Composium interviewed him about his compositional style, his process, and his take on the world of composition.
    From the beginning, "writing music has always been the way that I feel I can best communicate. My ultimate goal with my music is communication," Anthony explained. He made sure to specify that communication does not always have to come in the most complicated or clever packaging. One piece of wisdom he shared is that "if the music you are writing is genuine, if it's coming from a place of sincerity, then people will get it."

    From the recordings Anthony has made with UCLA's Dr. Richard Danielpour to a number of other commissions he received for world-renowned violinists, chamber orchestras, youth choirs, and instrumental ensembles, they all attempt to form a connection with audiences by telling a sincere story through the music. The pieces are rooted in his own experiences and he channels that to create work that is not just technically impressive but also emotionally impactful.

    Anthony underscored the importance of balancing technique and talent when trying to make music that resonates with people. "I think when people zone in on the technical aspect, right, there's going to be something missing. You also need to cultivate that emotional capacity," he said. Once someone's technique is supplemented with emotional depth, their music can become more authentic and reach people.
    "When you get that occasional email from somebody that says, 'I heard this piece and it really meant something to me,' that's really what I do this for...I'm interested in not necessarily the first performance, but also the second or the third performances. I want people to come back to my music to find something."
    Anthony Constantino experiments with electroacoustic composition in addition to more traditional chamber and orchestral work. He described his approach to this kind of composition as "combining electronic and acoustic elements, so a piece for a live player might include processing." A recent piece of his, titled "Cabin Fever", featured a live horn player accompanied by a rock-inspired drum beat and a few synthesized effects.

    He also highlighted his preference for limitations as another dimension of his compositional process. They act as guidelines for the piece itself and actually push him to be more creative to solve problems. With his piece for horn, he limited himself to only using one plug-in to create all of the desired processing of the recorded audio. Other limitations include only using recorded sounds, or sticking to one scale or tonality throughout the piece, for instance.

    While adding limitations to music may seem counterintuitive to the creative process, Anthony elaborates that "the biggest barrier I find myself running into is that when you open a new project and stare at the blank piece of paper, you can do anything you want." This may seem pretty counterintuitive, as having artistic freedom is generally hailed as a great thing. I can speak from personal experience, however, that this pure freedom can be a little daunting to face, simply because there are so many options for your piece.

    "When you put limitations on yourself, it forces you to be more creative to find ways around those limitations...as opposed to using whatever you want and creating a piece that doesn't feel cohesive," he continued. The paradox of choice faced when beginning a new piece can be paralyzing, so adding limitations can inspire a different kind of creativity.
    Anthony is also about to complete his doctorate degree in Music Composition from UCLA. When asked about some of his thoughts on the program, he highlighted the wonderful professors that he had the pleasure of working with and the compositional freedom awarded to students through the program. Anthony shared that "a lot of schools tend to have a particular style, where all the composers seem to write within a certain idiom...and at UCLA that really does not exist."

    During UCLA's doctorate program, Anthony worked specifically with Richard Danielpour and Ian Krouse, both of whom are legendary composers and musicians in their own right and they each have their own approach to teaching composition. "When you have a lesson with [Professor Danielpour], you bring a printed score, you bring a CD, and you sit at the piano. With Ian, you send him your notation file and you sit at the computer and listen to the playback," Anthony recounted. These two completely different perspectives from the UCLA composition faculty allowed Anthony to hone his work to the best of his ability.

    Additionally, he rejected the notion that music schools should restrict their students to making music within one genre or style, what he referred to as a "certain idiom". Some schools may have their students only engage with contemporary concert music, jazz, classical, opera, or some other genre, but UCLA gives its students greater degrees of freedom with the styles they want to explore.

    Due to this, there is a much greater variety of influences to draw from, especially for collaboration. "We have students who write tonal music, atonal music, movie music, music influenced by pop and jazz, we have composers who focus almost exclusively on electronic music, we have a huge range of artistic approaches," Anthony continued. The intermingling of all these various approaches serves to enhance a student's educational experience as well as their own compositional voice.
    "If you're somebody who's already interested in going out and finding these people to work with, it is definitely possible and...encouraged at UCLA."
    Looking to the future of composing, Anthony mostly reflected on this past year and a half in lockdown and how that has shaped musicians' careers. He underscored the reality that we have normalized the use of technology like virtual lessons, home studios, and more and that these things will likely stay. "All of a sudden, we've been forced to become experts with [home studio recording and audio interfaces] in a very short amount of time...so I think that will continue to have a foothold," he elaborated.

    Private teachers, including Anthony himself, have more options with their students, either teaching them in person or online. Music producers and editors that typically did their work in professional studios have had to learn how to work from home studios instead. While this originally may have seemed like a burden a year ago, these new mediums have become standard and even beneficial to a certain extent. Where we are now, chances are that the industry will continue to operate in a hybrid fashion, allowing musicians and composers to connect with their audiences in the best way possible.

    Lastly, when asked if there are any current compositional trends that are popular now, Anthony acknowledged that trends can and do exist, but wholeheartedly rejected them. These trends can take the form of any popular style now, from atonal contemporary music, electroacoustic music, prepared piano, even simple pop music. None of this is to say that these styles are bad, as composers often make incredible pieces that fit into these boxes. The problem arises when a composer writes a piece strictly to fit into a box, rather than writing something that they are inspired by and truly interested in.

    Music that comes from a genuine place and conveys real emotion will win out. "When a composer follows trends, that's another recipe for writing music that's not sincere. My firm belief is that even if it's out of style or not the current trend, if you just do what it is that you feel you want to do, and you do it well, then eventually your music will find a place," he shared.
    Jeremy Lee is an undergraduate composition and economics student at Loyola Marymount University and Composium Ambassador
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