Caroline Leisegang is one South Africa’s youngest classical composers and if you’re still rushing for a last minute Christmas present for anybody, young or old, in your family…you’d do well to consider her newest album. I spoke to her about being a classical composer and appealing to a broader audience in the current times and how the genre is still alive and well.
Richard Chemaly (RC): Congratulations on the new album. Firstly, born in 1990 and into classical music. You’re a rare breed. What aspects of your upbringing pushed you away from the punk rock and hip-hop that most of us ended up following and more importantly, what was the attraction towards classical?
Caroline Leisegang (CL): Thank you! To be honest, I really wanted to be in an indie band but I couldn’t write a song to save my life, so I stuck with classical because that’s all I knew how to do and I guess it’s worked out alright.
RC: I took musical theory up to grade 4 when I gave up because it was so tediously boring for me. A buddy of mine, however, went all the way and is now rocking out at Berklee doing all the cool things. When we chat he tells me about learning how to score films and conducting and all the cool stuff associated with music to the extent that I regret dropping out. Have you got a message of inspiration to the kids of the generations below us to keep them going through stuff they may find dull, just so they don’t miss out on the cool bits?
CL: I’m not so sure if I do, I stuck with it for so many reasons, one of them being that I though theory was so incredibly cool and relaxing and I just loved it. I think you stick with what you love the most and it flows from there. But classical is pretty cool, if you think about it, it’s pretty far out being able to write dots on a piece of paper that someone can read and make it sound like something. It’s like physics.
RC: We’re loving the new album. It’s pretty weighted in favour of the piano (which I’m a fan of personally) though I’m told you actually a cellist? I used to date a cellist until she found out that I play the sax. Turns out string and wind musos just aren’t compatible. Something about saying that sax is better must have put her off. Anyway, have you any instrumental preference? Anything you’re keen on still learning to play?
CL: Yah, the sax isn’t all that cool! Just kidding! I’m actually both a pianist and a cellist, so they both feel like second nature to me. I think my preference is definitely piano. You can do so much when writing because it uses both clefs. I still want to learn to play the accordion, that’s for sure.
RC: Do you find that you hold more respect as a classical musician than a rocker/rapper might hold? Does it depend on which circles you roll in?
CL: They’re all such different genres but they’re based on the concept of theory almost. The thing is, I hold so much respect for a rocker because I couldn’t even imagine how to even go about writing a rock song. So I really don’t think one is more than another, but that’s just me personally.
RC: Given that this is now your second album, what was the reception to the first one? We assume that our generation wouldn’t have taken to classical music as much as older generations (though we’ve been put in our place with assumptions like this before) but have you changed anything from the first album to this one to get more millennial appeal? Is classical music lost on us?
CL: Surprisingly enough, the reception to the first one was pretty amazing…across all generations. Somehow it managed to captivate a younger “more hip” audience while still keeping with the more classical following audience. I don’t think I’ve really changed much, I supposed the only way to get millennial appeal is by the fact that I’m young, trendy (at least I hope I am) and relatable.
RC: Finally, two albums in and one of the few doing it, do you feel there’s a responsibility on you to reinvent classical music for us plebby ones?
CL: Haha! Plebby… I don’t feel a responsibility, but I do feel as though I’d like to inspire more composers to get writing and do something with their music.