It used to be that apprentice musicians and composers would have no choice but to labor through The Well-Tempered Clavier and attend stuffy conservatories. Well, that's still true, for the most part. But it's hard to keep new blood out of even the most ancient art forms, as contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly could attest.

In an recurring NPR Music feature dedicated to the topic of "music and kids," Muhly—who is only 29—attributes the experience of playing "video games at [his] friends' houses" as one of the most formative of his early musical education.

For me, living in the country, playing a video game was sort of like music minus one: The actions of my hands informed, in a strange way, the things I heard. Collect a coin, and a delighted glockenspiel sounds. Move from navigating a level above ground to one below ground, and the eager French chromaticism of the score changes to a spare, beat-driven minimal texture. Hit a star, and suddenly the score does a metric modulation. All of these things come to bear in a later musical education; I'm positive I understand how augmented chords change an emotional texture because of Nintendo music.


Muhly concludes the piece by stating his prescription for the journeyman composer: "Britten (20th-century composer of A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra), in combination with judicious and private video game playing, is the way forward."

Nico Muhly: Gaming One's Way Into Classical Music [NPR Music]

(Top photo: Shutterstock)

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