Deal W. Hudson
May 23, 2008
Eric Genuis is a composer, performer, and conductor on a mission to save the culture from the destructive effects of bad music. Like the philosophers of ancient Greece, Genius believes music shapes our character and worries that “young people are damaged by popular music before they become adults.” His solution is to make good music and to get people into concert halls to hear him perform it live.
Genius, now 41, was raised in Toronto, but his parents are from Malta, having immigrated to Canada after World War II. He studied music, along with physics and math, at the Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto, where in addition to composing and music history, he paid particular attention to the effect of music on modern culture.
He relocated to the United States in 1997, met his wife Leslie, and for ten years wrote the background music for an Ohio TV station. His move to Denver, where he presently resides, was spurred in part by the birth of his Down Syndrome child. (Denver offers a good climate and excellent health care.)
When I asked Eric how many children he has, he answered, “Well, five were lost through miscarriages, and we now have three children at home. One is being adopted.” Much of Genuis’s music, such as the album “Never Alone,” is inspired by his family’s experience with their children.
Genius is becoming well-known as a Catholic composer, but he would not call his composing and performing an apostolate:
I am simply a musician seeking to give people an experience of the kind of music that may lead them to God. I can perform before an audience of complete unbelievers and know that my music has stirred them deeply.
The more I talked to Genius, the more I admired his old-world, almost mythic, confidence in the power of music to move the soul upward. Hearing him speak about music made me hearken back to the myth of Orpheus whose music could calm wild beasts and Plato who considered the right music necessary for moral development.
Although Genius has recorded much of his music (it’s found on iTunes), part of his mission is to get people into concert halls to hear it performed live. “I believe that music should be live. To hear the violin, you have to see the violinist play. When I am conducting, I can feel the stage shake – it reverberates my whole body. The same thing happens to the audience, and it can’t happen while listening to a recording.”
In recent years, he has been giving concerts of his music with twelve-string orchestras. Many of his venues, thus far, have been pro-life and Catholic organizations (he often plays for Catholic fundraisers). The basic cost of booking one of his concerts is between $7,000 and $10,000. After hearing three CDs of his music, I predict that within a year his fees will be going up. It was at the concert sponsored by Arizona Right to Life that he met one of his biggest fans, former president of the organization, John Jakubczyk.
Jakubczyk told me,
Eric’s music reflects an appreciation of the good, the true, and the beautiful. His composition and style enthrall the listener as he captures something special about the human spirit. Knowing both the joy and pain that Eric and his wife have lived with over the years provides the listener with an even greater appreciation for the gift with which God has entrusted him. Eric wants to share the love that God has for all His creation through his music.
Genius does not consider himself a Catholic musician in the sense that he’s trying to send a “message” to his audience. The beauty of well-crafted and inspired music is all that Genius cares about. He composes, he explains, in the tradition of Mozart and Beethoven, but in a manner that will “appeal to today’s concertgoers.”
When I heard his music for the first time, I thought much of it had the quality of good film music, of the kind that a large and diverse audience might enjoy. I consider this a compliment since I believe film composers were some of the best of the last 50 years (Korngold, Morricone, Hermann, Rozsa). Genius, in fact, has made some first steps in finding work scoring films. “It’s a very crowded and competitive field,” he told me. Genius possesses the one quality missing from most contemporary composers – he’s not afraid to write a good tune.
When it comes to sacred music, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t care for popular music in the liturgy. “A sung Mass should reflect God and not sound like a beer jingle. The Mass is about an eternal matter and to set those words to low music is almost sacrilegious. It’s kind of like wearing jeans and a junky tee shirt on your wedding day.” I asked him if he has been accused of being a musical snob, and he replied, “Being a snob has nothing to do with it – you don’t take the Eucharist and put it in a Tupperware container.”
Who is Eric Genuis? Maybe the best way to describe him is a musician who is trying to reverse what the late professor Allan Bloom called The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom’s 1987 best-seller identified the steady diet of rock music consumed by teenagers and young adults as a key factor in the dulling of their intelligence and capacity for education. Bloom was castigated publicly, but his thesis continues to be discussed with appreciation.
Genuis takes Bloom’s critique as a rallying cry for his work, which he promotes with all the zeal of an evangelist. He has no public relations firm, no marketing department. He runs his business out of his home, hoping that the demand for his live concerts will increase. I have no doubt they will as his music, and the composer himself, become better known.