What does it take to cross the line of silence and create a piece of music? Is composition equal parts mystery and magic—a discipline whose inner workings are revealed only to a few—or is it a set of skills that can be understood, acquired, and practiced by all? In this ingenious book, award- winning composers and composition teachers Blake Henson and Gerald Custer take a fresh look at what composers actually do by focusing on the elements of craft that composers use every day: the manipulation of sound and silence, gesture and color, text and texture.
In an engaging style that resembles an informal conversation between friends (which is how this book began), the authors unpack each major aspect of the composer’s craft, explaining what it is and how it works in straightforward language.
Selected works by master composers—as well as excerpts from music by Henson, Custer, and a number of student composers—provide concrete illustrations of the practical concepts described in the text.
Each chapter includes thought- starters for reflection and a series of guided exercises based on practical models that allow students to begin acquiring the skills of the composer’s craft for themselves.
Henson and Custer also confront larger questions seldom considered in most books about composers and composing: Why write music in the first place? Where does inspiration come from? How do you survive writer’s block? What’s the best way to get published—and how important is it anyway?
Blake Henson has been praised for his music, which Gramophone magazine says “moves from soothing sentiments to more exultant territory with exceptional harmonic vibrancy; it casts a spell that must be even more thrilling when heard in live performance,” and the New Jersey Star-Ledger called “powerful and thoughtful at the same time.” Born in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Henson currently resides in De Pere, Wisconsin, where he serves as assistant professor of music at St. Norbert College. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music theory and composition from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, as well as Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from The Ohio State University.
Gerald Custer is a multifaceted choral musician, active as conductor, composer, author, clinician, and teacher. A native of Baltimore, MD, he earned a Bachelor of Music in choral music education at Westminster Choir College (Princeton, NJ), a Master of Music in orchestral conducting with added work in historical musicology at The George Washington University (Washington, DC), and a Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting at Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan). A Grammy-nominated, award- winning composer, his work is featured on the CD Inscape: Choral Music of Gerald Custer, performed by the Voices of Anam Cara, conducted by James Jordan. He presently teaches music theory, composition, and choral literature at Wayne State University, leads a multiple-choir program at First Presbyterian Church of Farmington in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and serves as music director and conductor of the Seaway Chorale and Orchestra.