Editor’s note: As the Juno Awards 2013 prepare to celebrate the best of Canadian music this weekend, Western Journalism students help us celebrate the best in Western Music. Read the full Music Issue.
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Omar Daniel describes the pieces he composes as ‘like looking into an endless well.’ The 52-year-old Torontonian and Western professor says his work seems to capture something about his particular human condition. He refers to this ‘condition’ as a mystery, like the mystery of God or nature.
His pieces are simultaneously very direct and complex and that he strives to make them rich and profound. Daniel is a world-renowned composer and skilled pianist. Since 2000, he has been a professor at the Department of Music Research and Composition.
His inspiration for writing music stems from an idea —which can be a musical phrase, melody or series of chords.
“Often the best music that I’ve written has been based on some sort of purely musical thought instead of extraneous things. It’s really hard to explain what that is. It can be a tune or a rhythm,” he said.
His passion for music arose at the age of 7 when he started taking piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. In high school, he focused on math and science. He enjoyed playing sports but studied piano privately.
Daniel eventually joined a rock band with two of his friends, where he played bass guitar, keyboard and did some vocals. They called themselves Spectrum — like the spectrum of colours. That’s where he learned skills that enabled him to get into the music program at the University of Toronto.
He took a year off and went overseas to explore Europe. “For whatever reason I’m very attracted to Europe,” he said. “A lot of the classical music that we study has a basis in European culture, so that tradition I feel very strongly about.”
In 1983, Daniel returned to U of T to get his PhD in music. The time he had spent away from home and his rich education helped him realize he was interested in self-expression. Music seemed like the right way to go, he said.
He has composed music for various artists and organizations for about 30 years. Daniel has written around 40 works in different genres such as classical, opera and electroacoustic— a style that is based on combining electronic sounds, sometimes produced live, with musicians playing acoustic instruments.
His electroacoustic music inspired Andrzej Tereszkowski, who is two years away from receiving his PhD, to pursue the music program Daniel teaches. “I like the energy in his music. It has a real drive to it and seems pretty innovative, especially his electroacoustic works,” the student said.
It’s the idea of people interpreting his music in surprising ways that makes Daniel’s career memorable for him. But his favourite part about composing is trying to uncover the unknown and striving towards some sort of spiritual plane, he said.
“I think the best times composing music or doing any artistic endeavor are when you can reach that place where you think you have a little glimpse of something that is beyond the normal day to day life we all go through.”