An Expansive World Within

written by Steve Juliani
2018 GLFCAM Carleen Hutchins Fellow, Special Guest Auditor

I started writing music in 2016 at age 55 - after spending 25 years first as a professional horn player and then as a music copyist in the motion picture industry. In order to make the time to write, I also set aside a budding criminal defense law practice and changed how I managed my 15-year old music preparation business. But neither the added time nor the changed focus has made me a composer. I became a composer because I reached a point in my life where I better understood my feelings. I write music because it is the best way I know to describe the contours of my inner life. 

Like most, my life has had its ups and downs, traumas and triumphs. The mother I loved died when I was 19. In an emotional sense (what other sense matters), I was without her or my father for many years before she died. For at least a decade after her death I felt I lived in a fragile cocoon that protected me from grieving for her – a process I did not understand and had no help to traverse. I went forward weakened and unaware. I also lost some of my youthful affinity for musical expression. I stumbled on, willing myself to be stronger and more capable than I truly felt.

As time passed, I felt more whole and, with help, began to grieve for my mother and for the boy who lost her. In there I found my natural bond with music. In the midst of this, a wonderful horn player friend of mine died. His fiancée asked me to write some music in his memory. I don’t know why she did that, but I embraced the opportunity. I was not a trained composer, but I was a trained musician. I had learned that I could write compelling music without conforming to the rules of theory or voice leading they taught us at Curtis where I had trained. I had watched Michael Kamen compose a counter melody for the movie 101 Dalmatians simply by singing the tune he was hearing. I decided to trust my own ear and began by imagining music that suited my friend’s dark, noble sound. It was a tone that suited me, too.

The world I heard when I looked within was expansive. Everything I’d ever known was there and, if I listened carefully, I could hear it clearly enough to bring it into the conscious world. It is difficult to describe this process. I think of it as transforming feeling into sound without trying to completely understand the feeling. The feeling comes out in the music.

One of my first pieces is called “Bells.” I wrote it after a trip to Italy and France in 2016. Wherever I went in those countries I heard church bells ringing. Those bells triggered different feelings. I heard mourning bells, bells that sounded celebratory and bells that seemed to signal danger. I called the first movement of the piece “Toll,” as in the tolling of bells – something usually associated with death. But I also meant the toll that death takes on those left behind. While working on this movement, I took walks on the beach and listened to the sounds made by the rough northern California surf. I heard dissonance in the crash of the waves against each other, it reminded me of a number of bells ringing at once – chaotic and with jumbled meaning. The sound reminded me of my own grief.


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Steven Juliani is a composer, attorney, music copyist and horn player. He started composing music in 2016. Juliani studied horn with Mason Jones at the Curtis Institute of Music and Vincent DeRosa at the University of Southern California. Learn more on his bio page.

Gabriela Lena Frank