Tod Machover, how would you describe the way children react to your music? And have you previously composed specifically for young listeners – or developed projects specially tailored to them?
My mother was a truly creative music teacher, and I was her first student (after she graduated from Juilliard and decided to teach piano rather than to tour). After each lesson, she had us rummage through the house to find objects that made interesting sounds, which she had us share, compare, describe, and turn into “musical stories” of which she had us draw pictures so we could remember and re-perform them the following week. Through this exercise I learned that music wasn’t just written by dead people and published in stuffy volumes, that musical systems come from nature and are created by people to serve expressive needs, that anyone can create an original composition, and that “notation” is just a way of drawing a picture to remember what you made so you can play it again. Through this experience I learned to love music and to value creativity as the epicenter of life, and I am deeply passionate about sharing this vision with others.
I really got interested in working with young people when my own daughters – now 21 and 18 – were young, and I wanted to recreate the kinds of experiences for them that my mother had for me. I developed a project called Toy Symphony which brought young people together with symphony orchestras to perform, using specially designed “Music Toys” like Music Shapers and Beatbugs, and create, using our Hyperscore software which translates a notation of lines and colors into traditional notation that orchestras – or rock bands – can play.
Since launching Toy Symphony in 2002, we have created numerous projects, pieces, and technologies for young people around the world, and I am deeply devoted to continuing to develop this work. What inspires me most is the idea of using music as a medium to inspire creativity and learning, and also as one of the best tools we have to promote communication and collaboration. This can happen through the fully immersive participation in one of our collaborative city symphonies, or in the pure pleasure of listening and watching some of the world’s most exciting young performers make every note and nuance in Fensadense come alive to tell a story and to draw one in.