My Top 10 Composers

*Disclaimer: This list tends to fluctuate on an almost a weekly basis as there are numerous composers that I admire and respect. The composers that have made this current list are the ones that end up on this list most often when someone asks me this question and are in no particular order of ranking .  When you reach the bottom, I encourage you to comment on some of your favorite composers and add to the discussion. That being said, lets get on with it.

#10: Gustav Holst

Who are they: An English composer responsible for the first original concert band piece  (Suite in Eb)and composer of The Planets among other fantastic works.

Why is he/she a favorite: He wrote some of the first band music, my favorite large scale orchestral piece (The Planets) and was also a trombone player. His story of how hard he worked in his lifetime by teaching himself to compose, deal with  having a weak constitution, and teaching many, I find inspiring. Also,I love his sense of melody and use of folk tunes in his works.

#9 Joe Hisaishi

Who are they: The composer behind much of the wonderful music in Hayao Miyazaki’s films. For Example: My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke.

Why is he/she a favorite: Many of his melodies are breathtakingly beautiful. I was first exposed to his music when watching anime such as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited away, and Howls Moving Castle. When I saw him playing the piano AND conducting his own pieces simultaneously thanks to you tube, he instantly became one of my favorite living composers. He not only writes notes, but knows how to make music as well.

#8 Igor Stravinsky

Who are they: The composer responsible for the alleged May 29th, 1913 riot. It was all his fault for composing The Rite of Spring.

Why is he/she a favorite: I am a sucker for rhythm and rhythmic gestures. That being said, Stravinsky’s music captures my attention in a way that most music evades. I can also appreciate how he as a composer evolved from his early Firebird Suite days and developed a distinct voice that is heard in his ballets Petrushka and The Rite of Spring and in  Histoire du soldat . Incidentally, he was also one of Frank Zappa’s favorites as well.

#7 Koji Kondo/ Junko Tamiya/Hirokazu Tanaka

Who are they: Composers behind the music for various Nintendo and Capcom Titles. To name a few: Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda (Kondo), Bionic Commando, Little Nemo, The Dream Master (Tamiya), Metroid and Super Mario Land (Tanaka).

Why is he/she a favorite:  Having grown up in the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System, I was exposed to the 8 bit music of these games on a regular basis . Composers for these games had to be extra creative because they had a much more limited sound palate and range  to work with and had to create music that looped indefinitely. Although the  midi “instruments” sounded like beeps and boops (which probably helped earn  its passe reputation with more “serious” music critics) some of these melodies are surprisingly harmonically complex.  Kondo and Tamiya and Tanaka   are grouped together because it was their music that I was first inspired to pluck out on the piano  Many of my earlier compositions (and some recent) echo their influence.

#6 John Mackey

Who are they: Self made composer known for writing lively pieces with lots of percussion and ostinatos.

Why is he/she a favorite:  Did I mention I love Rhythm?  Also, his blog is a bowl of fun to read and he has an adorable cat. Musically speaking, I remember playing “Strange Humors” for the first time in All College Band and thinking “Woah!,  You can use Djembe in a band piece? And, I’m really allowed to gliss on my trombone? So this is what modern  band music sounds like.” Besides the fact that I enjoy his compositions, I admire him for the fact that he has literally made composing music his day job and does both the creative and business sides of music himself.

#5 Claude Debussy

Who are they: French composer labeled as an impressionist, although he probably would have disagreed with that label, according to a music history professor of mine. he Wrote the infamous Clair De Lune and  Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.

Why is he/she a favorite:Because he dared to be different and not follow the conventions of Western music that he grew up with and still made beautiful music. The colors and scales he uses in his music are what draw me to it.

#4 Frank Zappa

Who are they:Composer known for his sensational stage antics, complex rock, Jazz, Classical and everything in between, and knowing everybody.

Why is he/she a favorite: Yes, I know that many people look at Frank Zappa the person and are instantly turned off by the absurdities or look at some of the vulgarities in his lyric content and are too disgusted to consider listening to the music. Just as many are probably intrigued. Personally, I try to ignore this when applicable and try to focus on the music only. That being said, he was very eclectic and resourceful, drawing on several influences, sound palates and styles. This is  a strategy I try to emulate with my own music but in my own way. Many are also unaware that he wrote classical music as well. The  style transitions in his music are also genius.Fun fact: Although he is no doubt eccentric, he did not support drug use and was relatively clean, aside from liking his Smoke and drink.

#3 George Gershwin

Who are they: A composer who successfully fused American Jazz, Tin Pan Alley and Classical and is known for Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess and An American in Paris.

Why is he/she a favorite: This man’s music is Fun to listen to. I’ve Got Rhythm, Swanee, and the tune from Rhapsody in Blue all got stuck in my head at one time or another and, unlike most ear worms, I was OK with it. Also, although I did not list any more jazz composers on this particular list, Jazz  is a genre that I enjoy listening to and it is interesting to hear the obvious influence in his music.

#2 Ralph Vaughn Williams

Who are they: An English composer who was a friend to Gustav Holst and wrote some gorgeous orchestral music in my humble opinion.

Why is he/she a favorite:  Three words: The Lark Ascending.

#1 Me…….Just Kidding

The actual # 1 is Bela Bartok

Who are they:Hungarian Composer who gathered Folk melodies, wrote pieces for students and professionals alike.

Why is he/she a favorite: As an avid lover of Folk influence in music, he is a composer up my ally. Plus, in theory classes, I sincerely enjoyed analyzing his music. It was fun to see how much thought was put into his music and it still sounds musical to me. Unlike many other pieces that I have studied, his have always been like putting a rewarding  jigsaw puzzle together. After doing the academic work to find the visual pattern on the page, the resulting sound “picture” was not torture to the ear, even with the amount of sophistication in the pieces studied. Also as a teacher, he knew how to write music that was geared towards teaching students that was also not corny (like many tunes in student level books) to listen to when playing through it. On top of that, his last name is just plain cool;cool enough for the white bat in Anastasia to share the same name.