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Musical logician

  • November 1, 2011

By Stephanie Wang

Artists across disciplines often claim that the inspiration to create works simply struck them, as suddenly and powerfully as a bolt of lighter.

Giancarlo Aquilanti Ph.D. ’96 is one artist who begs to differ. In fact, he insists that one must work hard at his or her craft to receive any measure of creative success.

Aquilanti, a faculty member of 20 years in Stanford’s Department of Music, has the experience to comment on the nature of musical inspiration. In addition to being a fixture in the Stanford music scene as the conductor of the Stanford Wind Ensemble, Aquilanti has decades of experience in performing and conducting music across the globe.

Aquilanti, who was born in Italy, became interested in music at a very early age.

“Music is the only thing I can remember,” he said. “It goes back to when I was a child…that’s the only thing I always wanted to do, and this is what I’m doing.”

Aquilanti entered the Conservatory of Music in Pesaro, Italy at the age of 15 and was classically trained in piano, trumpet and composition. After completing his studies there, he moved to the United States and received a master’s degree in composition cum laude from the California State University East Bay. In 1996, Aquilanti received his doctorate in composition from Stanford, where he is now a senior lecturer in music theory and composition.

According to Aquilanti, there is a surprisingly large amount of hard work and logic behind creating music, despite the popular belief that the arts are produced through emotion and creativity.

“There is the misconception that the arts are up in the air,” Aquilanti said. “Creativity needs to have a foundation, a very logical one. If you don’t have that foundation, creativity on its own does nothing. Sure there are examples of the naïve painter, but those are exceptions. Most of us come from a very hard-trained system.”

Aquilanti’s own music, in a way, provides no exception to his belief in strong compositional foundations. He adapts traditional music to modern forms, modifying it to fit his needs as a composer. His musical range is diverse; his compositions include music for orchestra, string quartets, choirs and solo musicians.

As the director of the Stanford Wind Ensemble, Aquilanti must use both logic and adaptability to best harness the talents of his students.

He suggested that the challenge with conducting the Wind Ensemble is that the majority of its members are not music majors. He stressed that there must be a level of commitment for the ensemble to perform well, often at the same level as professional musical groups.

“There has to be some commitment…so that there’s no shame to take them outside the Stanford wall and around the world,” Aquilanti said.

“[Aquilanti] treats us with a large amount of equality and keeps classes fun,” said Lauren Sweet ’14, a student participating in the Wind Ensemble this quarter. “He’s very into the music and very expressive. It helps the ensemble play better, because we mirror the [intensity] that he sets out on the podium.”

Aquilanti asserts that this “intensity” stems from his commitment to his craft as well as the efforts from his students and colleagues at Stanford.


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