Deep within halls of the School of Music, surrounded by a cacophony of notes from practicing musicians, Dr Jes Grixti is tapping his foot along to his own African beat.
“It’s hard to teach someone to be a composer because it’s very subjective,” says Grixti, who joined the School of Music to teach composition in May. “I can’t teach students how to create – that creativity comes from inside. But I can teach them how to assemble, to mould things into order.”
“I was 12 when I started learning an instrument but I knew my strength was with pen and paper. Being ‘handicapped’ in that respect has benefitted my imagination, I have the harmonic sound in my head. It is the tyranny of the fingers, as Berlioz said – if you have agility as a performer you might never get it.”
Grixti thinks the key to being a successful composer is to stay true to what drives you inside, even in the face of negativity. “It’s like being a politician – you aren’t going to please everybody, but you need to promote what you believe in.”
Proud of his Maltese heritage and having worked and studied through Australia, Europe, the UK and Africa, Grixti’s global perspective is reflected in his work.
“Music is the universal language, but it still comes from the territory you are in. It’s geographical. An Englishman can’t write like a German and vice versa, because you are looking at it through your culture and the environment that surrounds you.”
One of his recent pieces, a collaboration with bassoonist Daris Hale from the University of Texas, expresses his reflections of his time in Africa.
“Pictures from Kenya brings to the surface the reality of Kenya as a society, where you are either very rich or you are struggling with life. When I was composing that’s what I had in my mind, along with the scenery. It has been performed in Texas and at the Oklahoma Arts Centre and at the US Ambassador’s residence in Tanzania.”
In addition to reaching people with his music in concert halls, Grixti hopes to reach a massive modern audience on the silver screen.
“I would like to specialise in cinematic music, because I think my music fits the bill – it’s descriptive and I can capture and encapsulate that essence,” he says.
“I love the epics, because of the historical aspect. Troy would be great, The Count of Monte Cristo, something along those lines.”
With the modern infatuation with pop music, movies are one of the few places where compositions like Grixti’s still reach a large audience.
“Now we think symphonies and operas are for the elite but it shouldn’t be like that – it is for everybody. If music touches your soul, that’s the music for you.”