The chief classical music critic for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, featured sophomore Mohammed Rahman in his article, “Top Ten Classical Composers: Help Write the List,” published on Friday, January 7.
Rahman had interviewed Tommasini at the end of the 2010 spring term as part of the research process for his Freshman Composition I-Search paper. The I-Search question he decided to answer was, “Why do people have different tastes in music?”
Tommasini wrote in his article, “My thinking about [having personal favorites in music as opposed to naming all-time greats] was shaken last spring, when Mohammed e-mailed me.”
Interviewing a professional is a requirement for the I-Search paper. After a failed attempt to contact a music critic whom Rahman had read about in the AM New York, Rahman came across Tommasini’s name while reading The New York Times.
“I thought my chances were pretty slim. I guess I just got lucky,” Rahman said of his decision to e-mail Tommasini with a list of questions relevant to his I-Search.
“Mohammed had very interesting and serious questions. He was taking on big issues in his school essay, by wondering why certain kinds of music appeal to certain people,” Tommasini wrote in an e-mail interview. “So I agreed to meet him for an interview.”
Tommasini suggested that they meet at a café to delve into Rahman’s I-Search question together.
“I asked him what he liked personally and what’s his opinion of music nowadays like with Justin Bieber and Ke$ha,” Rahman said.
Rahman chose his I-Search topic to satisfy his curiosity. “My friends used to criticize me for listening to rock music. I decided to run some tests of my own. I went on Youtube and listened to different types of music, but I was always biased on my responses,” Rahman said. “I wanted to know why this was.”
Regarding his experience interviewing Tommasini, Rahman said, “I wasn’t really nervous interviewing him. He helped me clear my head on my question. […] He said that all music had a specific guideline, and for music to be tasteful to anybody it’d have to be like a hallway. It’d have to guide you through.”
However, Rahman was not the only one to benefit from the interview.
“In exploring my tastes and perceptions Mohammed was really trying to get at a larger question: how are tastes and perceptions formed?” Tommasini said. “Even though he did not specifically ask me to rank the top composers in classical music, talking with him led me to think seriously about that issue.”
Inspired by the interview with Rahman, Tommasini decided to develop his Top Ten Composers series, with the article featuring Rahman as the first in a series of installments. In this first article, he attempts to explain the numerous ways a composer can be judged and attempts to create a list of the top 10 composers of all time. So far, the series involves two weeks of articles and five online videos. Though the series remains unfinished, it has proved extremely popular.
“I’ve had, so far, about 1,100 comments from the readers, which is an amazing response,” Tommasini said.
Rahman was unaware that Tommasini had published an article addressing their interview. “I didn’t know he’d write about it,” he said. “I guess I feel a bit swell-headed to be honest with you but it feels pretty good.”