It is good to meet different, unique, creative artists, musicians. Johnny Hachem is one of them. The award-winning composer, pianist shares his thoughts and experiences on music creation in the 21st century, the contemporary and old time classical music and how he combines the modern technology with his compositions. Be brave and read on!
And while you are at it, listen to Johnny Hachem‘s Jacob & Rachel, The Love Story, great treat for the ears!
Music Authentic: Welcome to Music Authentic! Let’s begin with our site-traditional question: How did you sleep last night?
Johnny Hachem: Very well, Thank you!
Music Authentic: How does it feel these days living in Ukraine, a tinderbox in the world, a multi-ethnic country, one famous for art and creativity?
Johnny Hachem: I love Ukraine so much, it is my second country by all meanings. First, this country is very beautiful and so are its people. I got to know my wife Tetiania (Ukrainian) when I was giving a concert here nine years ago and I fell in love with the Ukrainian culture. The people of this country love music and art and they are pioneers in all artistic fields.
Music Authentic: That’s for sure! And what a nice love story! Actually, you were born in Beirut, Lebanon, a place way too familiar with hardships and inconsolable opposing hearts and thoughts. When did you turn towards music? Was it your parents guiding you towards to it?
Johnny Hachem: True, I was born into a musical family. My dad, who passed away 10 months ago, used to play violin and my mom the piano. I remember very well how beautiful it was to listen to them playing music together at home and in church. And I was influenced by them a lot. But when I was a child, we had war in Lebanon and it was difficult to attend the music school, so I put a lot of time into piano improvising and trying to make my own music. My mom started to help me and after that, when the war stopped, I started studying music officialy.
Music Authentic: Classical music these days more of a sub-niche with rigid frames and for many it is boring and full with repetitions. It is true, even Verdi became quite “pop” in some of his works, not to mention Chopin or Donizetti. Ok, maybe Bartok was a different league and an exception; however, there is a trend to “lighten up” the classical pieces to make it more acceptable for the masses. As a composer and performer, how do you see this, what are your experiences?
Johnny Hachem: I will divide my answer into two parts: First, I believe that people listen to classical music more than ever, but that is through movies and video games, however, most of them don’t like listening to it in a concert hall and that’s because of the strict etiquette rules there; you can’t clap between the movements of the musical piece even if you were very excited, you can’t cough now, you can’t move… in other words, you can’t express your emotions as you do in pop or rock concerts… To tell you the truth, it wasn’t like that before. Joseph Horowitz, in his wonderful new book, Moral Fire, describes audiences “screaming” and “standing on chairs” during classical concerts in the 1890s. The New York Times records an audience that “wept and shouted, strung banners across the orchestra pit over the heads of the audience and flapped unrestrainedly” when listening to their favorite opera singer at the Met in the 1920s. And the strict rules started in 1960.
Second, the contemporary music compositions have become quite difficult for the majority of the people to enjoy. Very few would like to attend such concerts and even most of the professional musicians themselves always prefer to perform a beautiful music where you can hear a clear and beautiful theme, harmony and orchestration. That’s why, I believe, every music that doesn’t contain a beautiful theme will be directly forgotten and less appreciated.
Music Authentic: Some of your works are artistic storytelling of war drama, like “The Battle of Siddim” or biblical themes, like “The Fall of Jericho” or your award-winning “Jacob & Rachel, The Love Story” others are more of standalone pieces like “Dawn”. How do you choose your themes? Is there a constant composing process like Haydn had or you go with improvisations to hone your pieces?
Johnny Hachem: My musical compositions often talk about specific events that happened in the past or about certain circumstances that I lived or I dream of living. But when I am playing my own compositions in a piano recital, I always like to have a space to improvise according to how I feel at the time. Improvisation is an essential part of composition. The great composer Rachmaninov did this at several concerts when he was performing his own compositions.
Music Authentic: There are two schools: one is to repeat accurately and punctually all the previously written compositions, the other is to improvise and feel free to find the inner connection to them. Which one do you favour more?
Johnny Hachem:Honestly, both. That’s why most of my solo piano concerts are under the title of “Composition and improvisation recital”.
Music Authentic: The 21st century brought tremendous amount of digital music making tools, lately even softwares, AIs started to do the work of composing, mixing and truth to be told, the streaming services encourages everyone to release new songs every month or even more frequently. Obviously, there is the question of quality and originality, too. What about you? Can you see yourself as an everyday new song writing artist or integrity and authenticity must meet uniqueness and genuine originality?
Johnny Hachem: I love that everything I do is to be original and unique and not only to follow the music market. At the same time I profit from the technology and the new softwares to the maximum. For example, a few years ago, I composed the orchestral music for a documentary film using only the VST instruments. I believe that I must gain from anything that can make the composition process smoother and faster but it must always meet uniqueness and genuine originality.
Music Authentic: Simplicity. In some cases less is more and silence can be the loudest instrument. Yet, it feels many can’t bear the idea of multi-layered compositions where there is a dialogue and sometimes unisound other times cacophonic togetherness. Instead, blunt overspeaking and emphasizes rule both contemporary pop/rock and easy listening compositions. Where and how can we find the true resonance in a musical piece?
Johnny Hachem: This is a very interesting question and can’t be answered shortly but what I want to say, for me, it always depends on the beauty of the music. You can listen to a very complicated musical composition which can easily enter into the ears of the audience due to its beauty. I will also talk about Rachmaninov here who composed the most difficult piano concertos in history, but everyone loves those concertos because they are amazingly beautiful. As for myself, every piece must be unique and must reflect a certain story – and it can be very simple but beautiful and deep at the same time. Jacob & Rachel is not a complicated orchestral piece and you can always hear the beautiful love melodies inside. Also, it has won an international award because I could make the combination between the simplicity and uniqueness at the same time.
Music Authentic: As music theory, can you explain for other artists why it is advantageous to discover classical chord progressions and harmonies and apply them into any genre?
Johnny Hachem: Of course, it’s advantageous to discover classical chord progressions and harmonies because they are the basic of almost all the music genres or let’s say they will enrich their musical thoughts even if they won’t be used the classical school way they can affect them unconsciously. It’s well needed to study all these things but at the end, when you compose, you must not to be making just a harmony exercise: you should really have the talent to add your own thoughts…
Music Authentic: Let’s have some fun: Douglas Adams said Bach invented blues. I tend to agree with him. What about you?
Johnny Hachem: I definitely agree! For example, the American Jazz composer and pianist, the founder of the “Modern Jazz Quartet” was heavily influenced by Bach. He did a Jazz album of Bach compositions “Blues on Bach” and The American Jazz saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter & composer Ornette Coleman did many solos on Bach’s Prelude in C major. For me, Bach is the father of all music genres.
Music Authentic: What musical instruments would you take with you on a travel to Mars?
Johnny Hachem: Harmonica! It’s my second instrument after the piano.
Music Authentic: Back to Earth: what is the role of a composer, songwriter, perfomer these days? Is it only to be a jester or a bard? Or is there more to it, for example using the stage to stand for others?
Johnny Hachem: I believe the role of music is much greater than entertaining people. In my opinion, different messages should be spread through music to defend specific causes or to help society. So, I always say that talent alone is not enough; a musician – and artist as well- should have a certain vision that gives sense and value to his music.
Music Authentic: Oftentimes musicals and mainstream songs “borrow” from classical pieces, even without mentioning the actual origins. The reasoning is that “every note has already been used”, so, why not. Has it ever happened to you that your compositions welcomed you in someone other’s gown?
Johnny Hachem: I think no, at least not until now, haha. Or maybe it’s happened and I’m just unaware of it? It can be!
Music Authentic: Why do you think modern compositions lack of the beautiful and elegant complexity of notes, chords; the ornaments such as turns, mordents, trills, acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas; the complete lack of meaningful structures and so on? And this goes both for each and every genre. Can it be because of the untrained ears will not buy into something they feel alien and untranslatable, “too much” or because majority of the songs are written by a handful of craftsmen in the background and the “indies” in any genres are just, well, simply not enough good?
Johnny Hachem: If you ask any modern composer, the answer will be simple: because most people have untrained ears. But as for me, there is a different simple answer: most people doesn’t like the contemporary music and art at all. Even the majority of musicians don’t like it! You know, it’s great to have modernistic elements in music and art, but going to the extreme and producing only bizarre things under the title of “contemporary” that most of people can’t digest, is not something I can agree with!
Music Authentic: How can one make ends meet from composing in this era?
Johnny Hachem: To keep the beauty in anything modern he/she composes. And the biggest proof for me is “Jacob & Rachel, The Love Story” it has won the 3rd prize among hundreds of contemporary compositions…
Music Authentic: Is it important as a classical musician to “be out there” and “sell yourself”?
Johnny Hachem: Not at all!
Music Authentic: Have you ever thought of writing a piece with bel canto vocals in it?
Johnny Hachem: Sure I did that before…
Music Authentic: Who are you listening to these days?
Johnny Hachem: Brahms, Wagner & Sibelius.
Music Authentic: This is a brand new year. What hopes and plans do you have?
Johnny Hachem: I am composing 3 new pieces for symphony orchestra, Wind Quintet & String Quartet, I hope they will be performed during this year and loved by the audience!
Music Authentic: Before we go, could you say a few encouraging words for your fans and readers?
Johnny Hachem: First, I want to thank you for those deep and interesting questions and for interviewing me! I want to thank all my friends and fans who believed in my talent and encouraged me throughout the years and tell them to believe always in their own taste and never work against their belief!
Music Authentic: Thank you for taking your time! Looking forward to hear your upcoming musical pieces!
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