Josh Wareham is a Teaching Artist and Music Technology Specialist at the Boston Music Project. He works with viola students and leads our new Digital Composition Partnership with area Boston Public Schools. One of Josh’s teaching goals is to show students alternative ways for creative expression beyond the traditional classical music route, and answer the question of "why do we truly study music?"
Josh talks about what has drawn him to this side of music composition, and how this culminated in his debut solo album, Chances.
As a kid, Josh was a fan of many different genres of music, his favorites being hip-hop and rock. He speaks about his first experiences with playing this kind of music after starting as a classical violist in his middle school orchestra program.
"I would often try learning the melodies from my favorite rock or hip-hop songs on viola by ear, but as time went on and I started going through a pretty traditional classical training in high school, college, and grad school, the music I played and the music I listened to remained relatively separate."
However, after finishing college and starting to work as a freelance classical violist and educator, Josh started to question whether the work he was doing was actually in line with his passions. He wanted to figure out how to make music that resonates with others on a meaningful level, regardless of their musical background, and incorporate the styles he likes. Already proficient in classical composition, Josh started experimenting with creating music in the genres he was passionate about.
“I started teaching myself music production and digital composition, which then led also to recording, mixing, and mastering. Since then, it’s become a huge part of what I do as a musician, and has provided a sense of personal investment and fulfillment that I often found lacking when focusing solely on classical music.”
Josh talks about the road that led him to the production of this new album.
“When I first started working with music production, it felt like a totally different world to what I had been conditioned for in classical music school. I think that because of that, I initially thought that the work I do in music production and digital composition was going to be pretty much separate from my work as a violist and educator.”
For example, a lot of his days were spent doing classical gigs, practicing for auditions, and teaching viola and violin, then coming home and making beats and learning mixing techniques.
“My time was really stretched between the two, and a lot of the time I struggled to figure out where to put my energy. However, after lockdown started in response to COVID-19, like so many people I was forced out of my previous routine and lifestyle. I decided to put all of my energy into combining everything that I love about viola and performance with the musical styles that I’m most passionate about.”
The result of this was releasing the Chances album this summer.
“It was an extremely rewarding project on a personal level because I felt really free and inspired to push and expand my creative boundaries in a way I hadn’t before. As a producer and composer, it allowed me to try many new ideas. I wasn’t concerned about whether or not the tracks I was making would fit another artist’s style, and as a violist it really helped me focus my playing and musical ideas beyond what I was used to thinking about in classical music.”
Finally, Josh offers some advice for young instrumentalists who may be interested in pursuing digital music composition similar to how he does it.
“My advice would be to ask yourself what kinds of music or what about music is most inspiring to you, and to really challenge yourself to imagine how you could use your skills and talents to create something that is a reflection of who you are, especially if this is something new beyond what you’ve heard or been taught before! For many years I found myself thinking a lot about “right and wrong” in music. Like, “this is the right way to play this instrument or this song,” or “that’s not the right way to do that rhythm,” when in reality the music that’s the most inspiring to me and that I have the most respect for is that which defies convention while remaining a totally genuine reflection of the artist. Ultimately, I’d love for more and more musicians to feel like they’re able to think creatively about how they can make music that’s genuine to who they are, and not to worry about if it fits in with what they’ve heard before, or what they might think they’re supposed to be making. I think this kind of imagination and creativity is hugely important in digital music composition, because the sonic and musical options really are limitless. In other words, be fearless and be yourself!”
Watch Josh talk about the process of creating a hip-hop viola track:
To learn more about Josh, we invite you to read his full biography on our Teaching Artists page.