I began composing in 1990. At that point I was a ten-year-old boy soprano who had just started taking violin and piano lessons. My favorite music at that time was Sam and Dave, The Beatles, and Mozart. About a year later I was introduced to the music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Kevin Volans.
To my ears this music made more sense to me than a lot of the Romantic music I was starting to get acquainted with. It may have had something to do with being a kid in the eighties and primarily listening to rock n’ roll while growing up. Either way, this experience had a profound influence on the music that I would later write.
Like a lot of young composers, I experimented with a number of different styles and techniques. It only made sense, since I was doing everything from singing in church choirs to playing in punk bands. Unlike previous generations, my generation had the advantage of having tons of recordings available to us at our fingertips. I didn’t have to go to Pakistan to hear Qawwali music; I just went to my public library. This has had a huge impact on both the way we listen to music and the music industry itself. For me, it meant that everything out there was worth listening to -- and to not listen to everything would be a disservice to myself as a composer and musician.
Of course this doesn’t mean that my music sounds like everything I’ve ever listened to. As a composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist, I have a few different avenues for my creativity. One is composing for various ensembles and my band, itsnotyouitsme. On the other side of things I get to improvise and perform, or cover other people’s music, which is very dear to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a ton of my favorite composers and I find that there’s nothing more rewarding than working with the person who can tell you first hand why they did what they did. Because I get to play and sing so many different styles of music, I find that when it comes time to write, I can generally clear my mind and write in my own voice.
Sometimes there’s room for the performer in me to come through in my compositions. Since I was a kid, I’ve found myself quoting various pieces and songs, often for sentimental or nostalgic reasons. Rather than sampling other’s music like a DJ, I find a way to fold it into the fabric of my own music.
It goes without saying that for me, composing is very personal and in its own way, a form of therapy. I’m not really sure what I’d do without it. It might seem somewhat selfish, but if what I write doesn’t completely resonate with me, then why should I expect an audience to care? Hopefully (if I’ve done my job) I’ve made and will continue to make something that resonates with you.
Starting Monday, January 25, listen to Caleb Burhans's music on Q2 as part of our Composer Introduction series. Sample his piece In Time of Desperation from pianist Danny Holt's Innova recording, and if you enjoy, download it for free during this exclusive, week-long Q2 spotlight.