Sometimes I am asked, in applications for grants or music competitions for example, to write about myself. It is a certain special torture to have to act as your own greatest champion in writing (or in person), but that is what is often required of any artist, or perhaps even most of us, in many fields of work, in order to be given opportunities, to “get ahead”. What follows are excerpts from one such required essay I have written, leaving out some of the biographical nitty gritty and focusing on some essentials.
Here is a bit of how this composer sees/hears themself:
I am an American composer/writer/actor born and raised in Berlin, Germany, living in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve composed “pop” songs and “art” songs and chamber works for various instrumental combinations; yet my main body of work as composer/writer lies in music theater in all its variety: musical comedy and drama, opera, oratorio, experimental, children’s theater, original stories, adaptations of classic texts and writers, as the sole author/composer and working with collaborators.
My greatest strength is melody. Drawing in as well as surprising the listener. Creating musical phrases that caress and prick, soothe and confound, that are smart and visceral, moving emotionally and intellectually, but mostly do what music does best, exist in the ineffable.
Mentors and audiences tell me I have a distinguishable “voice”. But I also always push myself to explore a wide spectrum of musical styles, idioms, possibilities. My scores employ folk, pop, rock, jazz, tin pan alley, Lieder, vocalese, classical, modern (all 20th century idioms), to name some. Any style, any form is an opportunity for growth and creation.
Many composers influence me. If I had to name just one, it would be Kurt Weill, for his versatility throughout the “serious” and “popular” arts, for his melodies that are lovely, prickly, ingratiating and unmistakably “Weill”, for his peripatetic history in which I find some echoes in my own (growing up in Germany and then settling in America; being bicultural and bilingual).
I would also add Ludwig van Beethoven, Béla Bartók, Cole Porter, Frédéric Chopin, George Gershwin, Kate Bush, Stephen Sondheim, Billy Joel as some more of the many great composers whose work I not only revere but has also influenced me on a deeply personal level.
Although I am perfectly comfortable writing “pure” music, meaning music without words or story, some of my chamber works do employ a narrative framework. And certainly the great majority of my composing has been produced within music theater narrative structures.
In all my work I strive to be moving, beautiful, exciting, challenging, memorable, unique.
— Danny Ashkenasi —