Finding Recognition for Classical Instruments in Today’s Music Culture

 Zac Erstad  discusses his views on music and his future music career goals in an interview with HFA in a practice room in the Lotte Lehman Hall. 

Zac Erstad  discusses his views on music and his future music career goals in an interview with HFA in a practice room in the Lotte Lehman Hall. 

By Bijan Rezvani

At a time when Hip Hop and Electronic Dance Music dominate the music industry, it can be hard for those playing classical and acoustic instruments to get the recognition they deserve.  That hasn’t stopped UC Santa Barbara student  Zac Erstad,  a composer who hopes to fulfill his dream in the music industry by becoming a song producer for either films or video games.

Erstad played with the UCSB Percussion Ensemble in February in a performance for mallet instruments called “Old and New,” transcriptions and compositions for mallet instruments. He will also take part in the College of Creative Studies’ musical in early April when he will perform three songs that he wrote, along with the show’s overture.

Erstad is a 2nd-year student in the College of Creative Studies’ major in Music Composition. The primary instruments that he plays are percussion and drums, brass and bassoon. In a recent interview, Erstad discussed his desire to stay the course with the music program and how the direction of today’s marketplace has affected his approach to reaching his goals. 

Q. Do you feel that mainstream music’s use of technology has meant fewer musicians are interested in playing classical instruments?

A. Yes. It’s scary for people in the musical performing arts to deal with the rising desire for electronic music. But as a composer, I'm in a weird position where I don't dislike the trend entirely. Music is music, and there is an element of humanity that goes with live music that I think will never fully die out, even if only as a novelty.

Q. Music expresses a lot of different emotions and languages. Why did you decide to learn how to play so many instruments instead of focusing on just one?

A. As a child, I was always fascinated by the fact that what I heard on the radio were songs that my dad liked that are actually performed by real people. So I thought if real people performed them, then, by all means, I would be capable of playing them if I had the diligence to learn. 

I started with instruments like percussion because they look fun and easy to play. Same with the trombone, except my skills for it is not the same as the percussion, but I spent a lot of time playing percussion, bassoon, and drums and having fun with it along with other instruments.

 Zac Erstad plays one of his pieces from an earlier performance on the Timpani, in a practice room in the Lotte Lehman Hall.

Zac Erstad plays one of his pieces from an earlier performance on the Timpani, in a practice room in the Lotte Lehman Hall.

Q. At UCSB what made you want to join the College of Creative Studies’ Music Composition department?

A. Before I came to UC Santa Barbara, my parents had told me that this major exists at Santa Barbara. So when we toured the campus we saw that, as opposed to a bigger course, this program is more focused on what I feel like I will enjoy and get a lot out of for my future career.

There are only 20 people so it’s great getting the attention you need from the department. 

Q. What would it mean to you to receive the Corwin Award for music composition from UCSB? Is that the main reason you are in this major?

A. Well, it comes with a cash prize, which is a great incentive. It’s such a prestigious award and your name starts to be all over the place once your name is attached to it.

That would be a great award for me to win, but I don’t really do these things for the awards. I do it because it’s fun seeing people listening to my music and enjoying themselves from it.

Q. Once you get your degree from UCSB what do you plan to do afterwards? Is there a particular career path you are trying to follow in music?

A. My plan is to hopefully get into grad school at either NYU or USC for their film and media scoring programs. What I want to do for my music career is either compose original music or write for Hollywood films or video game soundtracks. Those are my future career goals once I finish getting my degrees in music.

Bijan Rezvani is a Junior at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Film and Media Studies. 

 Zac Erstad practices the Marimba for the Percussion Ensemble show "Old and New," in a practice room in the Lotte Lehman Hall..

Zac Erstad practices the Marimba for the Percussion Ensemble show "Old and New," in a practice room in the Lotte Lehman Hall..