Roger Davidson, composer & pianist

Who or what have been your most significant influences as a composer?

As a composer of a wide variety of musical genres, my influences have been many. Among classical composers: Tomas Luis de Victoria, Giovanni Palestrina, J.S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Olivier Messiaen, Herbert Howells, Maurice Duruflé, and Georg von
Albrecht. Among jazz composers: Benny Golson, Michel Legrand, Bill Evans, and Horace Silver. Among Brazilian composers: Heitor VillaLobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carlos Lyra, and Gilberto Gil. There are also many Argentine tango composers who’s music has long
enthralled me, and from whom I have learned much in the writing of my own tangos. Aside from particular composers, however, the main principles that constitute a thread throughout essentially all my work are 1) the forward-moving energy of the music, and 2) the inner flow of harmony, which must have its own integrity in every piece.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

Juggling multiple genres of music at the same time, not so much creatively as in terms of logistics for organizing performances and attaining adequate publicity and promotion.

What are the special challenges or pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It’s always nice when someone asks me to write a piece, and the only challenges have been limiting myself to the musical forces available – which, in fact, has never been a creative problem, as I love working with practically all combinations of instruments and voices.

What for you are the special challenges or pleasures of working with particular musicians?

As either composer and pianist, I have worked with many conductors, singers, choirs, jazz musicians, Brazilian musicians, tango musicians, klezmer musicians, folk dance musicians and lyricists over the years,  and all my experiences have been positive; many friendships have resulted from these collaborations as well. If there have been any special challenges, they have mostly been in learning to play the piano better and better, having learned constructively from so many musical interactions.

Of which works are you most proud?

That’s a hard question to answer. In the realm of choral music: My
masses – I have written six pieces entitled “Missa Universalis” (“Universal Mass”) to date, and am working on the seventh. In the area of orchestral music: Rhapsody for Trumpet,
Strings and Percussion. Otherwise, many songs as well as jazz, Brazilian, Argentine tango, klezmer and folk dance tunes.

How would you describe your compositional language?

Basically, my compositional language consists of paying attention to the natural forward motion of the music, regardless of style – and the inner coherence of melody, harmony and rhythm. Beyond that I cannot necessarily be specific as my musical output spans many areas.

How do you work?

When writing music, it depends on the length and type of piece. For a choral piece, I start with the text and allow the music to be inspired from the words and their natural rhythm as well as their meaning. For a long orchestral or choral/orchestral piece, I usually draw a map with the general proportions, the shape of the story or the drama, and the names and general lengths of each movement or section – essentially creating the overall arc of the piece; then I start writing the music. For any form of jazz or folk dance music, they are written as lead sheets, and I usually try to keep each one to one page, for ease of reading as well as publication; otherwise, I decide on the form and map out the A and B sections as I write the music – since often the form is suggested by how I hear the music wanting to proceed.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My basic definition of success is the response of audiences, both live and from recordings – and the enthusiastic reviews that I have had the good fortune to receive. I also appreciate it when other musicians play (or sing) my tunes, whether they be conductors who ask to perform my choral or orchestral pieces, or singers and instrumentalists who wish to include my music in their repertoires.

What are the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

1) Whether you are a composer or performer or both, you are responsible for the quality of energy you put into your music. This means that you have to be aware of currents of energy within yourself, in nature, and throughout life in general. Of equal importance is to connect with the Divine whenever possible.

2) Focus on the integrity and form of melody, pay attention to the cohesiveness of harmony and how it can best support melody, know the importance of rhythm and how it is expressed in your music so that it underpins the pulse of your music, and be aware
of the importance of the breath and of silence – whether you are writing for singers or instrumentalists.

3) Know that you are a part of a large mosaic of musicians throughout the world; our collective mission, I believe, is to create gifts of beauty, expressiveness and positive energy to our audiences. Consider it an honour to be given the gift you have; use
it for the benefit of all.

What needs to be done to grow classical music audiences and listeners?

As far as I can see, a lot has already been done – and continues to be done – to help create more audiences and inspire more listeners in this regard. This involves the informed and enthusiastic participation of radio and television hosts, the continuing production of fine recordings, and the perpetuation of live concerts throughout the world. This has often involved young audiences as well as young orchestras and choirs, and this should certainly continue as children are always the future of society and of the world in general. If there is anything I could add, it might be to encourage musicians of any age or experience to make a point of learning more and more about music every day – not only about the vast repertoire of music from the distant past, but about the works and careers of our contemporaries, whether well known or not. After all, no musician ever exists in a
vacuum; we are all connected to each other and, together, essentially form a global community of artists.

Composer and pianist Roger Davidson was born in Paris to a French mother and an American father, and moved with his family to New York City a year later.  Originally a self-taught musician, Davidson earned his Master’s degree in composition from Boston University, where he studied with David Del Tredici and Theodore Antoniu.

Although Davidson is perhaps best known for his work as a jazz pianist influenced by a wide variety of styles including tango, Brazilian music, and klezmer, Davidson gives choral music a special place in his life as a composer.  In his online biography, he explains, “I realized early on that any choral music I’d write had to have a message of unity and aspiration that included all humanity. This was not about one faith. This was about celebrating what we all have in common, not what separates us.”  This led him to found the Society for Universal Sacred Music (SUSM), “with the mission of creating a repertoire of music to express the unity of God and especially His unconditional love for all humanity.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s