Coffee with composer, John Greer

Article Written by Stephen Bell – Marketing/Development @coffeescreative

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At Coffeeshop Creative we are not only passionate about designing and developing a unique web presence for our clients, but also sharing their stories. We are super excited to share another story in our series of blogs – Grabbing Coffee. Today’s feature is Canadian/American composer, John Greer!  As we are designing the upcoming launch of his custom website, we recently caught up with John in Toronto’s east end (Leslieville area) at Te Aro Coffee.

Portrait Photography: Gene Wu Photography.


Composer, conductor, and performance artist, tell us a little about yourself?


I was born in Murdochville, QC, raised in Winnipeg, MB.  Both of my parents grew up on the Prairies and my mother’s parents were first generation immigrants from Scotland.  We grew up with a piano in the home and I took to it immediately.  Music was always my passion and the focus of my life, nurturing a love for all of the performing arts and fine art as well.  I didn’t realize how fine my undergraduate education was at the University School of Music until I passed all of my tough entrance exams at the University of Southern California with flying colours!  By the time I completed my Masters of Music studies there with pianists Gwendolyn Koldofsky and Brooks Smith it was clear that collaborating with singers was to be the focal point of my musical life, and so it has been.  I moved to Toronto to begin my career and after decades teaching and performing in the USA I am settling down to retire back in Toronto.



Photo credit- Gene Wu.


What inspires you with musical composition?


Since virtually all of my creative work is with singers (song cycles, chamber music, opera, choral music) my most potent inspiration is always text.  I spend a great deal of time searching for the ideal text for any project as no vocal work can succeed unless the text is suitable and ideal for the occasion.  I have been lucky to work with some great writers / librettists in my day (poet Marianne Bindig, librettist Jeremy James Taylor during his days with National Youth Music Theatre in the UK) and have set literary texts of all kinds from Shakespeare to the present).

I have worked very intimately with a vast amount of the world’s greatest vocal literature of every kind and this is also a great inspiration.   I have too many beloved vocal works in the vast and rich European canon, but my favourite vocal work written in North America is, hands down, no contest; Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.



Selected works featuring compositions of John Greer




Give us a little insight into how you compose? What methods do you use and themes do you look to incorporate?


Once I choose a text, the musical details of a work usually fall into place pretty naturally.  I have often been very fortunate to know those commissioning and performing my work very well and these great artists have been every bit as inspiring as any of my other artistic influences.  Everything I write has some kind of important autobiographical connection.  I love nature, especially birds and birdsong, so that has become a bit of a signature in many of my songs and chamber works.





What advice would you give today’s aspiring classical composers?


It is more important to service text with ideal music than to be original merely for originality’s sake.  Always give both your performers and your listener something idiomatic, enjoyable and beautiful to perform and listen to.  The content of a vocal work can be as challenging as you like if these criteria are met.  And unless they are met, it is unlikely the work will be performed much after its premier.



John Greer Conducting at the New England Conservatory



And most importantly, favourite style or type of coffee?


A nice, large mug of caffe latte.  No one understands coffee as well at the Italians!

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