Though composer Judd Greenstein recently traveled from Brooklyn to Scottsdale to premiere a new work written for violist Nadia Sirota, his journey into new and expanding musical spaces began long ago. Greenstein recalls writing hip hop and rap works while just 12 or 13 years old, and taking piano lessons too — realizing one day that he could combine the two.
Greenstein was 16 when his piano teacher asked whether he wanted to be a composer. The teen’s “yes” was met with the admonition to work a whole lot harder. Soon Greenstein was taking to the library, reading scores and such. But there’s something more, shared by several of his friends who compose — seeing the 1984 film “Amadeus.”
Suspecting that composing requires a certain sort of brain power, I asked Greenstein when we spoke on Friday about what it takes to do what he does. “I have an intuitive sense of form, where I can make a musical idea and can see how it relates to other things.” A lot of it, he says, is throwing things out. “You can’t get too attached to it.”
Greenstein’s “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” premieres Saturday night at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. He describes it as “a very emotional work” reflecting “my process of trying to understand what music is to me.” Still, music isn’t the only thing on Greenstein’s mind.
“I really believe that our culture is in a pretty troubled place right now,” says Greenstein. “We’ve lost our sense of what’s important as humans.” He’s convinced we all need a closer relationship to art and art making. “Art isn’t anything but a way of communicating myself as a person,” shares Greenstein.
Even artists have fallen away from the essence of art, notes Greenstein. “Artists have allowed themselves to be a weird, sequestered community.” But art and humanity aren’t nearly as separated as they seem nowadays. And there’s much parents can do to promote art making in their children’s lives.
“Make art a part of other activities that are already enjoyable,” suggests Greenstein. Art becomes an unpleasant place when separated from everyday interests or delivered as mere “teachable moments.” Weekly piano lessons alone rarely fuel a real passion for art.
Greenstein recalls spending time at Tanglewood from a young age, sitting on a blanket with his family and looking up at the stars together. More than isolated episodes of music practice, it was art in the larger context of life that powered Greenstein’s journey from child to composer.
Coming up: Shakespeare meets musical theater, Fun finds for Father’s Day
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