This post is the first in the series of mini interviews I will be doing with all of the composers and performers featured on my upcoming CD. Find out more information about that project and how YOU can help me make it happen here: http://bit.ly/2negR1Z
There are also some clips from a live performance in this video so please have a listen
Jessica Rudman: Elegy Nicole Piunno: Monterey Letters
Both of these composers were the first ones who I reached out to in regards to this project and I recorded their pieces last week at the first recording session for their CD. They were also both gracious enough to link to other interviews that they had done in the past so check those out as well.
How did you get into music and composition?
Jessica: Meg Wilhoite included a profile of me in her New Music Blog, which goes into details about this: https://megsnewmusicblog.wordpress.com.
Nicole: I usually say that composition found me instead of saying I chose composition. I say this because I had strong aspirations of being an orchestral trumpet player until 2007 when I suffered a severe lip injury that ended my career. Looking back now I can see signs of becoming a composer all the way back to childhood. It has always interested me and I did take composition lessons during my undergraduate years even while pursuing my performance goals.
What was your inspiration for the piece?
Jessica: I did some of my graduate studies at Hartt, and there were four other MM student composers who started at the same time as me. We did a couple group pieces where each composer would write a movement that was 2 minutes or less for a given instrument and they would be performed as a suite on one of the student composer concerts. “Elegy” was originally written for one of these projects, a suite intended for euphonium. I later adapted the piece for trumpet, and that version has been performed more frequently.
Nicole: My inspiration for Monterey Letters is a bit different from the majority of my other work. The piece was born in Monterey California when I took a trip to work with the Principal Brass Quintet of the NY Phil for a couple weeks in the summer. The first movement portrays the energy I felt exploring a new place, mixed with peaceful moments of gratitude for being there. The second movement was inspired by a work I encountered at a museum in Monterey by Salvador Dali. The third movement received it’s title from my favorite street and intersection. I am a fitness enthusiast and I searched for the street with the largest hill I could find to run up on my first morning in Monterey. I later rented a bike and visited this same street to challenge my climbing abilities on the bike. Without fail, every time I felt the urge to quit while climbing up the hill on Prescott Avenue I would look to my left and see Grace St. The name of that street inspired me to keep going and finish my climb.
What is new /exciting/ upcoming for you / currently working on?
Jessica: I am about to start writing a chamber opera about Marie Curie. The libretto is by musicologist and poet Kendra Leonard, and uses dialogue between Marie and her daughter as well as Marie’s recollections to paint an intimate portrait of the scientist. It delves into the struggles she faced as a woman working in a male-dominated field as well as a Polish immigrant living in France. So even though this year is the 150th anniversary of Marie Curie’s birth, her story remains very relevant today.
Nicole: I am currently finishing another set of unaccompanied trumpet pieces (I have fallen in love with writing unaccompanied works!) as well as a Euphonium solo. Then I need to put all my focus on writing a high school marching band show.
Who are your inspiring women heroes? Musical or not, and why?
Jessica: Musically, I look up to composers like Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Libby Larsen, Joan Tower, and my teachers Tania Leon and Gilda Lyons. They all create wonderful music and have built great careers. Their artistry, professionalism, and dedication to their craft has been very inspiring to me. I also have looked up to other women who have been pioneers in their fields. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was an early hero of mine. I remember as a child we had to dress up as a famous person for school, and I chose to go as her.
Nicole: I would have to say Elisabeth Elliot. She was a strong woman of character. The way she spoke was very direct and to the point. I love and admire that. She seemed very certain of her calling in life and devoted herself to wholly that. She lived with a deep sense purpose and also served others graciously.
What do you think we can do to change the music culture to be more inclusive of women and other less visibly prominent composers and performers?
Jessica: Despite the progress that has been made so far, I think there is still a lot of room for improvement in that area, and there is no simple solution. Rather, there are many different steps that need to be taken by different groups of people. For one thing, people who are curating concerts, recordings, textbooks, anthologies, etc. need to make the choice to seek out and include women and people of color. Opportunities that highlight such groups should be viewed as necessary and celebratory. There’s a misconception that those types of activities – where people are included based on gender, race, etc. – are ghettoizing and support music that is not of the same quality as that found in activities open to anyone. Having been involved in programming the Women Composers Festival of Hartford (www.womencomposersfestivalhartford.com) for over 10 years, I can say there is an abundance of fantastic music by these underrepresented groups. It just takes more effort to find it, and performers, educators, and audiences need to make a commitment to doing so. There are also a lot of subtle, systemic obstacles to overcome. Many women composers are only exposed to – or at the very least have most of their interactions with – male composers and colleagues. For that reason, people don’t necessarily realize something is wrong when a concert or entire season includes only music by white men. We need to call attention to the lack of women and people of color, and we need to keep doing so until people notice it on their own. We also need to build supportive communities of women composers so that students can see that women do compose and are able to have viable careers. Personally, I also think it is important as a woman composer to make myself as visible in my community as possible – participating in outreach events, being available to talk to students about being a composer (in general and being a woman composer), and being active as an event organizer. We need to look at how we are promoting our field and opportunities within it. I teach programs for pre-college composers at the Hartt School Community Division in CT, and every time we make publicity materials, I have to work to find pictures that include girls and students who are not white. I think small things like that are important though, because they can give students the subconscious message that people like them do (or do not) do a certain activity. I’m sure there are lots of other steps we can take, both small and large and both individually and together. At the very least, continuing to talk about the issue is a vital piece of the solution.
Nicole: For women composers the answer is simply to write good music. Keep going and keep communication open with conductors and performers as much as it is in your power to do so.For performers and conductors, I would say to be mindful of your programs. Are you ever including less prominent composers on a program? If you find the answer is no, then I would encourage you to seek out a work by someone less known.
There seem to be few prominent female conductors. I think I’d like to see that changed before anything else.