Daniel Perttu and The Inside Story: Writing Music and Becoming a Dad

Composer Daniel Perttu returns on Navona Records as a featured artist on the orchestral compilation album TOMORROW’S AIR, which is now available for purchase and streaming. Perttu’s neo-romantic music has been praised for “blending mystery, action, and excitement.” His works have been performed at numerous festivals, concerts, and conferences on four continents and in more than thirty states across America. He is currently Associate Professor at Westminster College. Perttu’s music has appeared on five Navona Records albums, most recently on PINNACLE. Today, Perttu is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to see how becoming a dad has shaped his writing.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/composer/creator?

I started writing music when I was very young.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was; probably a few years older than 5.  I started piano at age 5, and I quickly discovered that I liked making up my own music more than practicing the music of others.  However, I soon discovered that I did not enjoy listening to much contemporary music in the 1980s and 90s. I struggled with this and actually didn’t pursue composition for a while because I thought that I would have to write music I hated.  So, I pursued other studies, and even considered a career in law, but kept returning to music.  I finally decided in college and graduate school that I needed to pursue my passion for composing and that I needed to write authentic music that I loved, regardless of the trends in composition.  I happily found that other people still liked what I love in music.  And now, I just keep writing music that is authentic to me, and I hope that it speaks to others too.  Whether the music makes a profound statement is less important than if it is an authentic representation of emotional experience.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I watch lighthearted TV when I have time—things from America’s Funniest Home Videos to snarky sitcoms such as Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory.  I need to do things like this that do not require much intellect since so much of my work is so cerebral.  Make no mistake; I do not write music that listeners would say sounds overly “cerebral.”  I write music that seeks to capture the emotional experience and attempts to inspire big feelings in the listener, but doing so still, requires a lot of mental energy.  Composing is a very brainy activity.  So, I need to do brainless things to decompress.  No offense to people who create or love TV shows – these shows can actually be quite clever and hilarious, but what they do not require the same kind of intellectual load that composing does.

If I could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be?  And why?

The Alps.  I want to go where Mahler and Brahms went on their retreats to compose.  And back to the UK.  I’ve been to the UK a number of times, and always draw inspiration from Yorkshire and Scotland, and I would love to see Cornwall.  I need to go to Ireland—still haven’t been there yet.  And Norway, and Alaska.  The American West always remains a source of inspiration.  So, I need to be in beautiful places.  My music is often inspired by a beautiful landscape, and whenever I go to one, I find that I write more new music.  I don’t need to go to a city to compose.  I love cities for what they offer, but I need natural beauty to feed my creativity.

Tomorrow's Air

What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?

I love working with performers, and I particularly love it when they use their creative talents to interpret the music.  I want to know what inspires them about my music, and I ask them to use their creativity to augment their performance of my music when they play it for me.  If they completely misunderstand the essence of the music, then I might clarify what I was after, but 99 percent of the time, the performers I work with really get my music, and enhance it with brilliant and moving interpretations.  So, in short, I say: “allow your creativity to sing through when you perform my music!”

What does this album mean to you personally?

In answering this, I am speaking to my piece, To Spring – An Overture, since that is my share of the album.  My program notes for this piece are already quite personal.  I will add to them that this piece was inspired by my little girls and that becoming their Daddy has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.  To Spring captures the essence of rebirth and, for me, the experience of becoming a dad.  The piece is mostly celebratory, but there are some darker moments in it, which represent my worries about my little girls’ welfare in a global sense.  They are innocent and know nothing of the horrendous things that can happen in life, and, of course, I desperately wish to shield them from those realities as long as I can, but I am acutely aware of the limitations of my power to do so.  Although this is not a dominant theme in my piece, it is there as an undercurrent.

Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?

I don’t presume to want listeners to react to my music in any way since people’s reactions to music are very personal.  However, I hope that my music might inspire a sense of beauty and awe.  If others are moved by it in any way similar to how it moves me, I will be happy.  I write music to inspire emotional responses in listeners; for me, the whole point of listening to music is to go on an emotional journey.  I want to take my listeners through a narrative of emotion, in this case, inspired by the essence of spring and by whatever listeners may associate with spring.

TOMORROW’S AIR, which features Daniel Perrtu’s To Spring – An Overture, is now available to stream and purchase on Amazon, iTunes, ArkivMusic, and Spotify

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