My name is José Guillermo Puello. I grew up in the Dominican Republic where I went to a French school. When I finished school I came to the UK to study music at university. I recently graduated with a PhD in Composition from the University of Manchester. My research focused on the integration of Dominican music and culture with European contemporary concert music. My thesis consisted of seven original pieces of music, including works for orchestra, for small chamber ensemble, duets and trios. I decided to pursue this area because I wanted my music to reflect my background. As the research progressed, I became interested in how the audience perceived the music and how I could integrate extra-musical elements into my music.
When I started my undergraduate degree, I never thought I was going to do a Master’s degree, let alone a PhD. It was towards the end of my second year that I started to integrate Dominican dance music (i.e. merengue) into my compositions. I continued to develop this throughout my third year and my Master’s. As a result, my style became clearer and my Masters supervisor suggested that I do the doctorate. These past four years doing the PhD provided the opportunity to better define what I want my music to be.
My doctoral research focused on integrating Dominican cultural elements into my music, building strong musical structures and developing my rhythmic language. To this effect, I researched the music of other Latin American composers, such as Astor Piazzolla, Amadeo Roldán, Tania León, Julio Alberto Hernandez, Alberto Ginastera and Leo Brouwer, to evaluate how they incorporated Latin American elements into their music. I also researched the music of other composers, such as Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Debussy, Bartók, Berio and Ligeti, to understand how other composers dealt with rhythm, folk music and the articulation of musical structures.
The act of composing is not just writing notes on the page but also of listening, studying and problem-solving. I don’t think I know of any composer that just sits down to write the music in their head. I always compare composing to an architect designing a building. It very often starts with a concept/idea that the composer/architect tries to realise using the techniques they have developed and borrowing/adapting the ideas and techniques of others.
During my PhD, my research into Dominican culture mainly influenced the concept of the piece that I was composing. For example, I wrote an orchestral piece based on a religious ritual and another based on a Dominican poem. As I read about the Dominican Republic and its history I realised that the fusion I was creating in my music could be compared to the melting pot of cultures that shaped Dominican history. The music, whilst taking inspiration in Dominican music, is closer in style to the music of European composers (i.e. contemporary classical music) than to merengue or salsa songs.
One of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer is writing for and collaborating with other talented musicians. I have been fortunate enough to have my music performed by a number of professional and amateur ensembles, including Manchester Camerata, Psappha, The Fourth Wall Ensemble and Quatuor Danel, in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA and the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, each new piece brings its own challenges, which provides the opportunity to keep learning and to keep imagining new musical possibilities.
If you would like to know more about the University of Manchester Music Department and the very active Manchester University Music Society, you can visit the following websites:
Below are some links to pieces that I have listened to and studied as part of my PhD.
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
The video has a five-minute introduction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq1q6u3mLSM
Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino
Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, French Horn and Piano
Juan Luis Guerra Todo tiene su hora (merengue song)
Berio’s Sequenza III (for voice)
Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment
Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
Debussy’s La mer
Brouwer’s El decameron negro