Andre Van Haren – A Gentleman In Our Midst
We were browsing Drooble recently (big surprise right there) and we were amazed to suddenly go back in time again, to a past we’ve never been to before in this blog, as far as personal profiles go. Imagine our surprise when we found out there was not only a real live classical musician in our midst but he was a normal, breathing man who creates beautiful musical pieces that sound both transcending in a time-travelling manner and modern at the same time. Okay, we’re exaggerating our reaction a bit, maybe not a bit, but really, we were stunned by this random encounter. Andre Van Haren is a great and unique addition to our spicy mix of talented individuals. Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, he could teach you the magic and complexity of classical music, orchestrate your ideas perfectly and, as any self-sufficient music pro, could help you out with engraving your handwritten scores. He could even teach you to use the complicated software he uses if you’re up to the challenge. There is much that can be said about Andre, including the fact that he wrote a couple of children’s books, but we’ll just let him do the talking. Before you get on with the reading, however, we highly recommend listening to some of his beautiful creations.
Hello Andre! Could you introduce yourself for our readers?
Hi! My name is André van Haren. I was born in Zevenaar, The Netherlands and live since 2003 in Gothenburg, Sweden. I studied classical piano and composition at the music high school in Utrecht, The Netherlands between 1985 and 1995.
How does one cope as a classical musician these days? Is it a choice or a lack of options? I’m guessing it’s the first one.
I always felt attracted to classical music, never to popular music, from the first time I started playing the piano which was when I was 16 years old which seems to be very old as I heard later from other musicians. Most of the musicians I met during the years started before their 10th year. So many times my family told me I should write popular music instead of the traditional classical because that is where the money is, but it’s not that simple. I tried to write pop music, but it never clicked for me, I wasn’t passionate about it and forcing to write something I don’t like feels like work. So yes, it is a choice to be a “classical” musician (classical is actually music written between 1770 till 1820, and that’s not the musical style in which I write. Traditional would be a better word).
Since we usually talk to musicians of very different genres, I’m interested in the way you work – can you describe your creative process?
Before the computer days I worked with pencil and paper sitting behind a piano, but nowadays I write directly into Sibelius, a music notation program. I work on a Mac which is connected to a midi keyboard. So when working for example on an orchestral score, I score directly into Sibelius. I use however a notebook which always lies next to the computer to develop the musical ideas. I recently finished a short opera which has many different characters, all those characters I sketched musically out first on a piece of paper before entering the full ideas into Sibelius.
Where do you find inspiration?
Lot’s of times in stories and poems. I love to write for voice and are always searching for interesting text. A good example is my opera which is based on my 2nd children book, and a new opera I am thinking about for which I still have to write the story which will be a combination of 5 or 6 folk tales. I also wrote a 7 song cycle titled Indwellings which are based on poems by Richard Schletty, a good friend of mine. The 14 pieces in my piano solo bundle “Moments” are also all inspired by little stories, they describe daily events. So I believe you could say that story is the inspiration behind my music.
You wrote a children’s book! How does a musician transform into a writer? Was it harder or easier than you had expected?
I actually wrote two children’s books which were fun to write. The writing itself was easy, I didn’t enjoy the editing process after that though, things like spell checking, fixing grammar mistakes etc. That feels like work again, but of course it’s something that needs to be done otherwise the end product wouldn’t be worth while.
How’s composing music for a book different from any other kind of composing?
I assume you mean putting a book on music? First of all, I need to be very aware of what is going on in the story. I want to know each character as well as possible; what kind of mood swings do they have, how do they express themselves in the story which I have to reflect in the music and the choice of instruments. Are they shy? Are they impatient? Are they angry? It all has impact on the way I work out their musical material and the orchestration. When writing music that isn’t based on a book or story or poem, it’s more straightforward, and I work only on the development of the musical material. It’s working with one dimension less so to speak.
You’re also a teacher. What’s the most important thing you try to teach your students?
These days I don’t have students, It’s hard to find a position on a school or even to get private students. But still in my heart I am a teacher, that is why I studied to become a piano teacher. So instead I write music tutorials and hope that others will learn something from them.
What have you learned from your students?
Like I said, at the moment I don’t have students. I believe the last piano student I had was in 2003. One thing I learned was to slow down! I like to explain things fast and want the student to progress fast, but that’s not a very realistic approach. The need to process the information I give and work with it.
You don’t just teach piano – what can I learn from you as a student?
These days I would like to teach music theory and composition. Those two things have always fascinated me and was I very passionate about. Looking back at my piano study in the 80’s, I believe that I should have studied music theory professionally instead. The piano is a tool for me to get the music written. I was never very interested in playing other composer’s music which is actually strange for someone who studied the piano professionally. But that’s something I didn’t realize that time. Other things you could learn from me are creating stunning printed scores in Sibelius!
Name a few of your favorite classic composers – what do you love about them?
Chopin for his beautiful expressive melodies, Bach for his well crafted musical puzzles (he’s one of my most favorite composers and you can find his contrapuntal influence back in most of my music) and Beethoven for his raw power. He dared to be agressive in a time where Haydn and Mozart were trying to be elegant.
How about newer stuff? Any composers from the last 50 years you admire? Any living ones you enjoy?
Absolutely. I love the film music genre. There’s John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Bernard Herrmann, Alan Silvestri. All great composers from which I know lots of music. Again… ( I see it now) it’s connected to story!
Are young people interested in classical music? What can be done to stimulate that interest?
Yes, young people are interested in classical music. Walk into any conservatory and you will find them. The idea that elderly people are only interested in classical music and youngsters are more into pop music isn’t accurate in my opinion. Age doesn’t play that much a role when it comes to musical interests.
What’s your opinion on the music industry today? Is it helping musicians succeed or is it more of a limitation?
It’s very hard to break into the music industry. In all my composing years I was never able to find a publisher and therefor started to self publish. Finding musicians to get music performed is equally difficult. I have written to many conductors and musical directors to get for example my opera performed, but there is no budget for something that isn’t already in the standard repertoire. One of my friends in Holland who is a very successful composer told me last week that it has been 25 years since a large orchestra performed something from him and two of his operas where even never performed. Maybe there are just too many composers these day.
Did you enjoy this interview? There’s plenty more where that came from. Go to Drooble.com and meet thousands of inspiring musicians!