Donivan Johnson Talks Modern Classical Music at Feb. 2 Think & Drink
Donivan Johnson hears something new every time he listens to Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. While most people wouldn’t describe these classical composers as modern, Johnson knows key elements of their works can be found in all kinds of music today. As a member of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, this classical composer, musician and teacher gets to share his love and knowledge of music throughout the state. His presentation – Listen Up! What is Modern Music? – aims to help attendees learn to listen with open ears and open minds.
His lively lecture is informed by his many musical roles. As a composer, Johnson says he tries to elicit a sense of brightness and movement. “My works are usually brief in duration with strident melodic and harmonic elements.” He draws his inspiration from many sources, including nature, literature and scripture.
Johnson is also the only music teacher in the Selkirk School District, a position that sees him working with children from kindergarten through grade twelve. When asked about teaching, Johnson says, “my favorite moments are when the light comes on in a child’s musical mind, no matter what age, and they get it!”
With his Listen Up! presentation, Johnson expands his teaching to musical minds of all ages. His interactive lecture provides the tools and vocabulary listeners need to describe and appreciate many genres of music. His next talk is part of Humanities Washington’s Think & Drink series, and takes place at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Northern Lights Brewery Company in Spokane [directions].
Humanities Washington contacted Johnson via e-mail to discuss the roots of modern music, what attracts people to different genres and the tools needed to evaluate music.
Humanities Washington: What does the term “modern music” mean to you?
Donivan Johnson: Nothing is really “modern” in the accepted sense of this overused and tired word. This is the entire point of my lecture.
HW: What do you think attracts people to specific genres of music: Is it mainly related to what decade they grew up in?
DJ: Music is an individual choice and there are as many reasons why people are attracted to it as there are listeners. The decade may have some influence in terms of popular song, but really has no bearing, in my opinion, about what people choose to listen to.
HW: Why do you think music has become so diverse in the last century?
DJ: Music has become diverse due to audio technology and the capability of hearing music one never could before without physically traveling to some distant locale.
HW: How does classical music compare to modern rock or pop music?
DJ: There are many examples of “crossover” between classical and popular music, including jazz. Composers and performers are always trying new ideas that “mix” the musical genres. If the question is one of economics then, of course, pop music takes the prize.
HW: What are the key skills needed to properly evaluate music?
DJ: The key skills for me are: an open mind; an open pair of ears; and a great store of knowledge about the history, style and technique of musical composition and performance practices.