How I spent my musical summer: Hollywood, Paris, Okinawa

by Guest Blogger

OFA Artist Development Fellow and guest blogger Chad Cannon '11 spent part of last summer working with a Hollywood composer and studying composition in Paris and Okinawa. He's headed to The Juilliard School in the fall to continue his education. Below, Cannon shares his experiences of traveling abroad, meeting other artists and exploring the world of music.

Following my experience working with composer Chris Bacon (whose latest project is Source Code), I departed the shores of America and headed to the great city of Paris, France. My arrival was less than grand as I tried to navigate the RER trains with two oversized suitcases - which contained the basics of my music composition studio - and a violin.

However, I soon found myself in the company of some of America’s greatest young composers at the Schola Cantorum, where the European American Musical Alliance summer program was being held. For four weeks, under the tutelage of the program’s director Philip Lasser and his associates, I experienced a great amount of musical growth.

The program is held in honor of the renowned 20th-century pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, who instructed some of America’s most accomplished composers, including Aaron Copland (and Harvard’s own James Yannatos, among others). By focusing on the basics of composition - counterpoint, orchestration, keyboard harmony, solfege and ear training - the program helps composers establish a solid foundation upon which they can build their own styles.

I certainly benefited from this approach, though the method itself is far from the best thing I obtained by attending. Rather, I immensely enjoyed meeting fellow composers from across the U.S., and learning directly from them how they approach the composition process. I was very impressed with much of the work they shared, both informally, in our late-night discussions at the Cite Universitaire where many of us stayed, and formally, on the stage of the Salle Franck, through the many student concerts that were the finale of the program. It also didn’t hurt that the whole experience took place in Paris, the center of so much of the focus in Western music history.

Following this program, I ventured to the beautiful island of Okinawa, Japan. There, I spent four weeks researching Okinawan folk and classical music – a genre rarely explored by scholars in English. I was supported by a Henry Rosovsky Undergraduate Thesis Research grant from the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies at Harvard, an institution that has amazing resources for students interested in Japan.

I had lived in Japan for two years as a missionary between my freshman and sophomore years and had taken courses

in advanced Japanese at Harvard. I had even spent the summer of 2009 as an intern at a medical supplies company in Okayama, Japan, supported by grants from the Reischauer Institute and the Office for International Programs. Thus, having experienced somewhat of a dichotomy between my interests – Japan and music – I wanted to design a thesis that would allow me to fuse these two fields. I decided to do a creative thesis where I composed a piece of music based on Okinawan folk and classical music. The idea of a creative thesis in the music department, I later found out, was pioneered by one of my favorite contemporary composers, John Adams '69 and '72. (I took a course on his music this past semester, and this was brought up during his visit to the class in April.)

My time in Japan was occupied by interviews, music lessons, and visits to the National Theatre Okinawa. Following my return, I worked closely with Professor Chaya Czernowin to create a composition for voices and chamber orchestra, and the premier took place in April of this year. It featured a special appearance by world-class violinist Ryu Goto ’11.

My artistic life was deeply influenced by the experiences provided through Harvard’s various organizations. I am happy to say that I will be attending The Juilliard School this fall, where I hope to continue to develop my voice as a composer. I will also be attending the film scoring program at the Aspen Music Festival, to which (rumor says) only five individuals are accepted each year. Both of these opportunities are direct results of the experiences that were made possible to me by the Artist Development Fellowship awarded to me by the Office for the Arts at Harvard.

[Caption: Chad Cannon '11 (right) in Paris with roommate Sunny Shen from the San Francisco Conservatory. (Photos courtesy Chad Cannon.)]

[Caption: Cannon (right) at the National Theatre Okinawa in 2010.]