photo courtesy of Jonathan Hannau
“I really love absurdity and tend to find humor in life and mundane activities,” Jonathan Hannau said. “People who know me know that I look at memes way too much and that I enjoy exploring the internet for the most absurd and nonsensical images.”
“Dadaism was big for me in high school… and my sense of humor developed with that as I got older. So I think those two things just intertwined and now I laugh at ridiculous shit. So when I was asked for the first time to compose a piece for 2 performers and harp and given the instructions to make it light and funny, that opportunity opened me up to explore the medium more.”
The final product was one of the most fun experiences I have had in a classical music concert when Dal Niente brought the piece with them to Spectrum NYC in early 2018. The crowd expected a very staunch performance, while Hannau’s foreboding title of “Beyond the Looking Glass” and lack of program notes promised a heady, cerebral piece. He transcended all expectations and might be considered one of the first composers to actually put the creative strategies of Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp to effective use in music.
“So at one point I think my thought process is, ‘ok: wire brushes on the strings, what’s next? Oh how about a tooth brush, that’s close to a wire brush… you know you should floss after you brush, how about we put the cloth through the harp now and ‘floss…’ ok, give the other person $5 for the good job they did, ok say ‘Thanks for the Five,’” Hannau said . “So it’s a lot of stream of consciousness and letting my mind wander to what I thought would be silly, senseless humor.”
In addition to composing, Hannau keeps one foot in the performance world, both as a solo pianist and as an active ensemble member in Chicago’s Ursa Ensemble, as well as Trade Winds Ensemble, a performance group who fosters young musicians in precarious environments and employs teaching techniques that reject colonialist tendencies.
“I’ve been with the group for a few years now and we’ve done workshops here in Chicago, in Haiti, as well as in Detroit at the Ruth Ellis Center with foster LGBTQ youth,” Hannau said. “We focus a lot on constant discussion and critique of our teaching methods and seek ways to really allow a student to express themselves in a very unique and personal way, be it through music, writing, or movement.”
“Although we’re all classically trained, our workshops and methods always focus on a few things: Where are our students coming from? What do they need right now from us and with music? We change curricula and strategies to make sure we meet our students where they are at and that they have a positive and inspiring time to continue becoming their best selves. It’s not about becoming the best violinist/pianist/composer: it’s about becoming a leader and member of a larger global community.”
Even with his packed schedule, Hannau continues to push forward with new projects, including the release of a new album of his music looming on the horizon.
“The album is inspired by my meditation music improvisation series called ‘Music, Stillness, Solidarity,’”Hannau said. “I improvise minimalist piano music - often with other musicians - for an hour and it’s a very therapeutic experience that has helped listeners center themselves and be at peace for a little in their hectic lives.”
“My favorite image I’ve gotten from listeners who have heard some of the pieces is how it reminds them of snowfall,” Hannau continued. “I never really had images in mind as I wrote the pieces, but the more I thought about it and talked about it with colleagues, I’ve decided the album will contain a title at least exploring snowfall. Since quarantine started, I’ve gotten the whole album into my computer. The next step is to learn the rest of the pieces! Hopefully I will drop this on a record label soon enough.”
“[A] big question I asked myself was ‘how do I make audiences experience the same joy and awe I have in weird sounds?’” Hannau said.
“I think that’s how it all started. Now I’m just all over the place musically and I couldn’t be happier existing in this world with a huge variety of sounds, thoughts, and expressions.”
You can find Jonathan's music and news on his website, as well as his soundcloud and instagram
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Erich is a musician and writer living between Montreal and New York whose work appears on Best Life, Eat This, Not That!, MSN, and more and has represented artists for years as a PR rep. He likes weird music. If you want to find his music, it's over here.