I spent July at the European American Musical Alliance (EAMA) summer music program in Paris, France. The program is organized by professors whose musical lineage descends from
, whom many believe was the most consequential music teacher of the 20th century. Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Eliot Carter, and Quincy Jones were among her students. Although Mme. Boulanger was French, many of her most famous students were American.
The EAMA program is devoted to her teachings, which means an emphasis on keyboard harmony. If you’re interested, try Googling “Boulanger cadences” – you can find PDF files of musical cadences to be played at the piano in all keys. Once you master these, you’re ready to write music that freely modulates across major and minor keys. And you’ll see their patterns all over the classical repertoire.
This summer’s program had the forty-or-so composing students write choral pieces, of which three were selected for performance by the chorale. I was fortunate to be selected for a Kyrie Eleison I wrote, and the piece was performed on July 29th at La Schola Cantorum.
Getting a choral piece ready with about 20 minutes of rehearsal time is eye-opening (to say the least). I learned two things are important. One, make it easy for the singers to find their pitches. And two, mark your music with plenty of dynamic, tempo, and articulation markings to get the exact musical effects you want. Do those two things, and you’ll be good to go.
The EAMA program also focuses on counterpoint, through its director Philip Lasser, a composer and professor at Juilliard. He proposes rather stringent rules for counterpoint exercises, and presents an analysis method based upon counterpoint (rather than harmony). This leads to discoveries of very deep structures at work within certain masterpieces, such as Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which is as much a treatise on music as it is music.
He also runs an EAMA Lecture Series in New York City during the fall – if you’re into art music, it’s worth a look at the schedule. Here is one talk embedded below, check out the first 4 minutes or so concerning Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the controversies of equal temperament, and why all of this is important to the music you and I listen to every day: