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Interview: Rob Mosher on the 31 Chorales Project, Creative Challenges and the Beauty of Discovery

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Canadian composer and performer Rob Mosher is never one to shy away from a challenge. In creating (and successfully completing) the 31 Chorales Project, the recipient of the 2009 ASCAP Young Composer Award shows his stuff through the creation of, yes, 31 Bach-style chorales in 31 days.

The 31 chorales have just been recorded by Mosher after what amounted to three months of “logistics and rehearsals.” The album is expected to be released in another month or two and the project will be finished.

I recently had a chance to talk to Mosher about the project and the exhilarating process behind creating 31 chorales in 31 days.

You’ve just completed the creation of 31 chorales in 31 days. Talk about what led you to this project and the reasons behind it.

For many years I’ve wanted to combine my musical and technological abilities. After being introduced to in the summer of 2010, their crowd-sourced fundraising model and open-minded approach to creative projects grabbed my attention, but I didn’t have anything at the time that fit. Months later, as a study I composed a Bach-style chorale and, after sharing it with a friend, he suggested I write a few more and record a CD. Kickstarter came to mind immediately and the project was formed.

As for the total of 31 chorales, I wanted to give myself a goal that I knew I could obtain, but that would still be challenging.

As you describe on your website, the 31 chorales are Bach-inspired. You discuss “discovering new harmonic approaches within yourself while deepening your connection to Bach’s form,” too. How does this sense of harmonic exploration influence your overall creative process?

Exploration and discovery are integral to every piece I compose. It’s not that I’m deliberately trying to create new sounds, rather I’m uncovering what sounds acceptable to me while at the same time stretching past what I’ve been comfortable with in the past.

What did you learn about yourself through the creation of these chorales?

Mainly that sleep, organization and a balanced lifestyle are critical to my health and long-term success. While not originally intended, I’ve undergone a huge transformation in how I prioritize my time and project myself. While the chorales themselves took a huge amount of time and energy to create, they’re almost an afterthought in the big picture.

Did the notion of creating an album out of these chorales change your approach in terms of composition?

Absolutely. Given I’m constantly seeking to expand myself, every one of my pieces (including these chorales) changes the way I approach composition. However, the intensity of this project has increased my compositional speed and matured my decision-making skills. My endurance and focus has also improved.

On your November 19 blog entry, you mention the idea of “embracing your jazz roots” and the “enigma around being a jazz-classical/third-stream/chamber-jazz musician.” Do you think this project effectively challenges that enigma and proves that the organic nature of music defies genres and territories?

I’ve never sought to intentionally challenge or defy any enigma, be it jazz, classical, or whatever it happens to be labeled. However, I acknowledge and agree that labels are needed in order to facilitate discussion. But at the end of the day music is music, and I don’t feel a difference. In the words of the great Miles Davis, “Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is.”

To more directly answer your question though, I acknowledge that this project will likely be perceived as chamber-jazz/classical-jazz/third stream. I hope that – if viewed with those glasses – it’s seen as a continuation of the rich lineage of this tradition. George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (1935) is a fine example of combining jazz and opera; Gil Evan’s “Sketches of Spain” (1959–1960) combining jazz and classical instrumentation. While I haven’t aimed at their scale with my 31 Chorales project, the intention is the same.

Just to build on that: as a young composer and musician, how have you grown outside of your comfort zone with respect to your jazz chops?

When I was a teenager I disliked most classical music, and in college I couldn’t stand opera. I had this uninformed notion that jazz was free and classical was tight and rigid. Thankfully, after having a opportunity to hang with an amazing classical pianist for some time, I had my eyes opened up to classical’s subtle art of interpretation, and all of those assumptions quickly disappeared. I’ve been listening to classical music heavily since then.

About Jordan Richardson

  • Donald Gibson

    If it’s a good interview, the reader doesn’t have to be familiar with the subject to appreciate it (and certainly learn from it as well). And this is a really good interview. Great work, Jordan.

  • Boeke

    Good interview, both informative and fun. It sheds a little light on something that might not come to a persons attention ordinarily.