With Dr. Joseph Sowa,
Composer and Scholar
As trusted by
If you want to write music—
that will get performed again and again,
that will make you feel proud of what you’ve created,
that fully captures your musical vision,
that has the staying power of your favorite living composers,
that spellbinds and astonishes audiences—
Then this is the program for you.
Where Did the Magic Go?
It all began with magic. The piece that gave you goosebumps. The symphony that took your breath away. The song you sang or played for months on end.
The magic of music transported you to far away lands, captured the depth of your heartache, gave expression to your yearnings, filled you with energy and confidence, and made you believe in a world of possibility.
Utterly bewitched, you wanted to weave that magic, too. You pursued that skill deep into the night on your own and then, later, at music school or in private lessons.
Only to learn . . . mere glimmers of magic. Sparks rather than fireworks. Gimmicks rather than wonders. Musty old card tricks that are but the faintest shadows of what you know you experienced.
Whether in an undergraduate theory classroom, private lessons, or the common, online sources, you only ever found:
- Traditional music theory tools that no longer describe the reality of most music being written today.
- Jazz and pop music tools that capture modern idioms and are great for writing songs—but leave you guessing how to write film or concert music.
- Teachers from all camps who constantly imply—and sometimes outright say— “Musical magic is for the greats and masters, not for us mere mortals.”
And so, you were left with a dubious and fragmentary book of musical spells and an incomplete understanding of how to use them.
“Joseph opened a new world to me by being the first person in the musical world to believe in me as a composer. Ever since he has continued to illuminate that world for me and treated me as an equal and a colleague, an honor which I feel I will never merit.” — Nathan Thatcher
Nate went on to pursue a master’s degree at Michigan and to work with artists including Nico Muhly, Shara Nova, Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, Nadia Sirota, David Byrne, and others
This. Is. Why—
- When you sit down to a blank paper, you feel intimidated.
- You spend hours listening to the same fragment over and over wondering what to do next.
- You feel frustrated and overwhelmed tweaking details in your score but none of them have the effect you want.
- You avoid writing music because it makes you feel like a beginner.
- You are scared to share your music with others because you don’t know if it’s any good.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
You are not struggling because you lack talent. All the tools and spells you need exist. Though they take incremental training, none of them are hard. Anyone can use them.
These tools are not just for elite-level composers. You, too, can learn the secrets and tricks that power the music of John Williams, Rachel Portman, Eric Whitacre, Jacob Collier, David Maslanka, Jennifer Higdon, and others . . .
You are not consigned to write mediocre music that no one cares about. You can weave the same kind of magic for audiences that your favorite living composers created for you.
The tools and spells you need to make musical magic are not just for elite composers. You, too, can learn them.
Welcome to the World of Musical Magic
My name is Joseph Sowa, and I personally invite you to my Wizarding School for Composers.
I’ve created this four-month program for you, so you can:
- Experience what it feels like to compose with assurance and ease.
- See what it looks like to conjure up satisfying musical solutions fast.
- Explore and navigate whole musical worlds that were previously hidden to you.
- Go behind the curtain to understand the magic wielded by your favorite composers.
- Replicate that magic in your own music.
- Watch the wonder and joy it creates in others.
Stop dreaming about attaining such musical magic. You can have it.
How I Lost—and Re-Found—the Magic of Music
I’ve spent decades studying these questions so you don’t have to.
Despite getting accepted to elite institutions like Brandeis University and competitive summer programs like the Brevard Music Festival, I was deeply insecure about my music. I tried my best to capture the magic I had inside me, but it always came out in sparks and sputters. I devoured books, articles, and blog posts about music theory, history, and aesthetics trying to figure out what was missing—and I never could.
Until I went to Brandeis.
Since its founding in the 1950s, Brandeis has nurtured a tradition of creative musical analysis rooted in close readings of individual pieces of music. I didn’t learn just to spit back textbook Schenkerian or Forte descriptions but to examine each piece afresh: what it uniquely was doing and how.
This approach wasn’t just for analysis; it was also for composing. I learned that compositional magic doesn’t exist in theoretical answers. As my co-thesis advisor Yu-Hui Chang constantly told me until I learned what she meant, “You don’t need a system.”
Musical magic transcends music theory, because theory paints with too broad a brush. Early on, we may think that theory says, “This is how all music works.” Weaponized, it sometimes says, “This is how all music should work.” In reality, theory only claims, “Here’s how this body of songs/pieces works.”
But a body of songs/pieces is NOT a song or a piece. Theory can help you find patterns—but the magic is in the gaps. And understanding those gaps? That’s what analysis is for.
“Joseph’s music is beautiful and a little brainy—tight intersections of lyrical lines add up to a very pleasurable listening experience. His phrasing and his formal sense are first-rate, and you always know where you are—even when there’s the occasional surprise. The joy he feels in writing is palpable.”
— David Rakowski, my PhD dissertation co-advisor
“Unlike with other classes, Joseph managed to explain concepts in a way that was not only useful for a test, but meaningful for my entire music career. I still remember much of the specific materials because Joseph came up with creative and clear methods of teaching them.”
— Hannah Johnson McLaughlin
Hannah went on to pursue a doctoral degree in musicology at Princeton
What You Will Learn at Wizarding School
In the Wizarding School for Composers, you will learn how analysis is your magic wand.
That wand is far more powerful that you might think. It doesn’t just unleash torrents of mere intellectual comprehension.
Its real power is how it can open any creative door you can imagine to emotion, movement, expression, intermusical reference, extramusical association—and beyond.
As an “apprentice magician,” you will learn to use this wand to
- Recapture the fun of making music and stay in the flow of composing by identifying and honoring the differences between the creative and editorial aspects of composition.
- Compose faster and with less anxiety by zeroing in on the key variables in every passage you write.
- Navigate boldly through the world of tonal possibilities, including
- Writing memorable, catchy melodies.
- Going beyond the circle of fifths, chord symbols, and Roman numerals to discover the secrets of how harmony really works.
- Using harmony to groove, move, and transfix.
- Learning how—and when—to “escape the box” of meter.
- Astonish and delight your audiences by learning to perform musical sleights of hand, including
- Consciously controlling the three facets of form: structure, shape and state.
- Using repetition and variation to set and defy their expectations.
- Juggling your musical ideas to maintain their interest.
- Beguiling audiences with musical textures that capture their imagination.
Most of all, you will gain the confidence to judge the quality of your music yourself by replacing imposter syndrome with a sound discernment and understanding of potential musical choices.
How Wizarding School Works
When you arrive at Wizarding School for Composers, get ready to engage with composition and analysis in a more holistic way than you’ve ever experienced. Over the course of four months, you will
- See one or more original projects through to completion, including
- Digging into its artistic and technical details
- Securing its performance (if it hasn’t already been coordinated)
- Learn a comprehensive set of analytical and compositional tools that will help you write truly contemporary tonal music at a professional level
- Identify and document your best creative practices, to help you incorporate those tools into your personal process
The basic package for this transformative experience includes:
- 3 instruction sessions per month (2 hours each): I teach you all the analytical tools you need to know to create musical magic and give you assignments by which you can apply them.
- 3 group composition lessons/application sessions per month (3 hours each): We’ll analyze and discuss your works-in-progress together, review your assignments from the instruction sessions, and answer any questions you may have about composition, theory, and analysis.
- Monthly score study sessions (90 min): We’ll analyze the music that matters to you, so you can better understand how it works its magic on you.
- Facebook Support: You’ll become part of the private “Composers Wizarding School” community, in which you’ll have another forum to discuss issues with your classmates and receive feedback from me.
For those who want a more personalized experience, the VIP package adds:
- Monthly private lessons (1 hour each): We’ll examine your music together in-depth, giving you personalized assignments and feedback, as well as the space to dig deeper into your personal compositional roadblocks and aspirations.
- An comprehensive assessment of your music to date: After I study through your scores and recordings to identify trends and possibilities, we’ll have a conversation specifically focused on where you hope to grow from here and how you might get there.
- A 90-minute, top-to-bottom process inventory: Together we’ll go over every aspect of your creative process and identify personalized solutions to make composing easier, faster, and more fun.
And, if you sign up for either package before February 1, 2021, you’ll get these special bonuses:
- An additional hour-long private lesson to use before or after the program starts.
- Three live, hour-long training sessions on how the technical tools you’ll learn in Wizarding School fit into a larger artistic career.
Want to know more? Try on the Sorting Hat!
Want to learn more about how you can create magic for performers and audiences through your music? Book a free, 60-minute discovery call today. We’ll discuss your music and goals, identify what next steps you can take, and explore what the Wizarding School for Composers can empower you to accomplish.
“Joseph’s teaching allowed me to learn and practice the assigned technique through my own means of expression, and he gave constructive and experienced feedback on every piece. His class was one of the most significant and positive events in my undergraduate career.”
— Joachim Austin
Is Composers Wizarding School for you?
You’re no muggle. You know how deeply music lives in you, but how do you know you’re ready for the magic of the Wizarding School for Composers?
You know you can succeed at Wizarding School if you:
- Have good enough theory chops to participate in an undergrad theory course: If you received B’s in music theory or know what a “secondary dominant” is, your theory skills are probably enough for this course and likely better than you think they are.
- Have been working as a professional musician for at least a year. You don’t have to consider yourself “a composer,” but you at least need to show that—in addition to however else you engage in music professionally—you have an established habit of writing and arranging music.
- Are willing to let down your artistic defenses: Sharing your music, like using magic, is personal and can feel dangerous. You need to trust that I’ll have your back. My job is not to tell you “what you’re doing wrong.” No! My job is to be your advocate—for you and your music—against the poor or incomplete training you’ve received that’s preventing you from expressing the fullness of your musical potential.
If these attributes describe you, then you likely have what it takes to accept your invitation to Composers Wizarding School—and begin to live your dream of creating musical magic.
Board the Train to Composers Wizarding School!
So now you have your invitation in hand. Your previous education has provided all the supplies you need. The train to the wizarding school is about to board. The castle awaits. . . .
If you choose to wave the train on, you could spend the decades like I did slowly gathering up your magical abilities.
I don’t want that for you. You don’t have to struggle the way I did.
I want you to find the satisfaction, confidence, and success that comes from having the compositional, analytical, and process tools that allow you to conjure whatever musical magic your heart desires.
I want you to claim your musical magic swiftly and joyfully. If you choose to invest in yourself:
- In just four weeks, you’ll begin to see magic in music you had never noticed.
- In two months, you’ll begin to get the hang of how to capture your musical vision.
- Within just four months, you can begin to write music that will get performed again and again, that has the staying power of your favorite living composers, and that spellbinds and astonishes audiences.
As your headmaster and professor, I look forward to helping you take that journey.
Programs at a glance
- 3 trainings per month + assignments (2 hours each)
- 3 group office hours per month (3 hours each)
- Facebook support
- Monthly score study session
- Price: $1997
- VIP—everything in the Basic program, plus
- A top-to-bottom inventory of your creative process
- A comprehensive assessment of your music to date
- Monthly private lessons (1 hour each)
- Price: $3497
Are you ready to create magic for performers and audiences?
Email 1-2 scores and recordings to email@example.com and schedule a free, 60-minute discovery call today. We’ll discuss your music and goals, identify what next steps you can take, and explore what the Wizarding School for Composers can empower you to accomplish. I look forward to joining you on your creative journey.