Charles Ives used the clashing sounds of two marching bands in his 1912 Decoration Day (A sample of the movement can be heard HERE). Leonard Bernstein used rock music in his 1971 Mass, written for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Yet those pieces are rarely performed, and new classical music still avoids such "gimmicky" styles.
Composer Jack W. Stamps wants to narrow the gap between classical music and rock or pop.
"There are certain qualities inherent to my generation of composers," Stamps said. "We came out of rock 'n' roll, started messing around with computers, got degrees and are trying to get better."
Stamps has rounded up a small herd of contemporaries and students - Franklin Gross, Marcus Rubio, Ian Dicke, Molly Emerman, Steve Snowden, Pierce Gradone, Luke Gullickson and Zack Wilson - to stage a program called San Antonio Combustion Chamber: An Amplified Hybrid of Chamber Music and Pop It's happening from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday in the old church at San Antone Café & Concerts, 1150 S. Alamo St. Cover charge is $5.
"It's chamber music but with an edge," Stamps said. "There's volume and heavy beats and other elements you'd find in clubs or on concert stages. This is not congealing into a trend yet, but it's not unheard of."
Stamps, 41, came out of East Central High School. With a band called the Robertsons, Stamps worked local clubs including Los Padrinos, Alfred's and Wacky's. He went on to the University of Texas at San Antonio for a degree in composition and recently earned a doctorate in composition from UT Austin. Stamps teaches at UT Austin and at Northwest Vista College.
"In my first semester at UTSA, I was composing very abstract chamber music, but that whole Alfred's/Los Padrinos/Wacky's thing was nipping at my heels," he said. "I began feeling it pulling at me. I wanted to figure out a method of composition that was going to keep me interested."
Encouraged by composition instructors with strong, traditional classical-music backgrounds, Stamps has incorporated his rock knowledge into his contemporary classical compositions.
"The legitimate classical hold on the East Coast is more profound. The West Coast is very avant-garde," Stamps said. "At UT, the students have a broad tolerance for each other. Everybody on the Combustion Chamber list has a foot in both worlds."
Ian Dicke's work, Get Rich Quick, for piano and electronics, deals with pyramid schemes. Zack Wilson's Insert Coin Here, for piano and electronics, is inspired by '80s-era video games. Marcus Rubio is slated to perform Sonata for Musical Saw and Electronics Stamps insists all involved strive to make accessible music.
"I'm trying to avoid the situation that can happen where you have a festival that no one but the participants knows about. People pat themselves on the back and then rip each other apart," he said. "This is to break down the barriers. The real danger, to me, is staying insulated and not letting the music breathe."
It won't hurt for the audience to bring along open minds.
"I don't know what the audience will bring, but I want to warm up the relationship between the composers and the audience," Stamps said. "A lot of the work is inherently fun and funny. What intrigues me about working with this group of people is we're all aware of the effect modern culture has on the music.
"I'm hoping for a balanced mix of people; people who are interested in classical music and people interested in the music from the pop and rock world."
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