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  • Writer's pictureKate Amrine

CD Interview 3: Ledah and Louna

This post is the third 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:

There are also some clips from a live performance in this video so please have a listen

So far I have introduced two composers who wrote unaccompanied pieces and two composers who wrote pieces with electronics. Today I am very excited to introduce Ledah Finck and Louna Dekker-Vargas. Ledah composed Hill and Holler and both Ledah and Louna make up a duo called The Witches.

How did you first get into music/composition?

Louna: Music was always playing in my home growing up. My parents would play everything from Ali Farka Touré to Toto la Momposina, to Mozart to pop music and I loved it all. When I started to play flute in elementary  school it was incredibly fun and challenging both physically and creatively. Because of its intellectual and emotional challenges music to me is a space of growth and exploration for the interpreter as well as the listener, and I am passionate about sharing this with as many as I can.

Ledah: I started playing violin when I was 4. Shortly after that I was introduced to fiddle music, and growing up in the Appalachian mountains, my musical growth always included the community-oriented, highly expressive, world of fiddle playing. This sense of the joy of playing music with, for, and as a community has always kept me captivated by what it means to be a musician.

I’ve been writing fiddle tunes since middle school, but never thought of this as “composition”; it wasn’t till I was about 17 that I started writing more in a classical style, and when I went to a summer festival where some of the students were composers, it occurred to me that composing was something that alive people did, and indeed studied as youths. This kind of blew my mind and gave me the confidence to start writing in earnest, and showing it to people.

What was your inspiration for this piece?

Ledah: My grandmother. I recently began exploring her poetry and found that it encapsulated the many things which I have always treasured about her, in particular her connection with nature. This piece celebrates that connection, inspired by my memories both real and imagined of her wandering her property in rural West Virginia.

What is new /exciting/ upcoming for you / currently working on?

Louna: I am currently in two chamber groups, a duo called The Witches and a trio called Trio Jinx. We have concerts and performances planned in El Paso, Texas in April. The Witches are currently working on a CD of new music for our duo called “Behind the Curtain”, each piece honoring a woman and her story in the world. I am so excited to share this music! Both groups have unusual instrumentations (flute/violin – The Witches, and flute/viola/bass in the trio) so we are constantly having to reinvent pre-existing music and create new music for our groups to play.

Ledah: I’m finishing up a piece right now for flute, viola, and double bass, which is the instrumentation of my trio, Trio Jinx. We’re hard at work on a program of new works and our own arrangements, which we’ll be touring in March and April 2017. Next I’ll start working on a string quartet that was commissioned with the intent of building appropriate but exciting repertoire for intermediate students, a project that I’m really excited about, and on expanding a solo viola piece I wrote recently. I’m also working on new sounds for my experimental duo The Witches.

Who are your inspiring women heroes? Musical or not, and why?

 Louna: Some of my all-time inspirations that also happen to be women are Erykah Badu, Assia Djebar, Malala Yousafz, Wangari Maathai,  and Claire Chase. These women have all crossed boundaries fearlessly in their art whether it be in music, social activism, environmental protection and literature. Coming into contact with their voices and visions has undoubtedly shaped me into who I am today.

Ledah: Some women musicians I continually go back to are Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Caroline Shaw, Rhiannon Giddens; all women whose artistry spans an incredible breadth of poeticism and expression that speaks to me deeply, and who have cultivated powerful communities around the music they create which are far greater than just the sound and performance. Non-musical, I right away find myself thinking of (of course) my grandmother Paula, and of Maude from the movie Harold and Maude; the latter is fictional, but I very much believe in her and think we have an incredible amount to gain from listening to our matriarchs. 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? Louna: I think that inclusivity organically comes about from healthy artistic communities where the production of art is not tied up with hierarchies of power and prestige, which are predominantly spheres dominated by men, but rather in the quality of the artistic work. If systems of artistic support truly rooted themselves in the development and support of excellent work, resources would more consistently be allocated to female and other, more marginalized groups, such as people of color. I do not mean to confuse excellence, however, with the narrow precepts of  of the Western tradition, which is inherently biased to white male forms of expression and experience, but refer instead to excellence in the rigor of expression, the authenticity of the work and the palpable vibration of a truly transformative artistic voice. These traits should be the focus and priority. I think if that were the case, women’s voices and other marginalized voices would naturally take their place front and center by virtue of their intrinsic quality.

Ledah: This is definitely something I am still pondering. I think that the culture is set up to self-perpetuate male-centricness, given that Western music curriculum idolizes those “dead white guys” as gods and has little to no room for anyone else. Like most histories, classical music’s was written by those who had the power. Therefore, it’s necessary to make a conscious effort to seek out music-makers of all types. The pool to be drawn from is made up largely of white males, so unless you’re very conscious of this, the people you choose work with are likely going to represent that demographic.  (The “you” I address here is people like me, who are marginalized only because of their gender). This does not have to mean highlighting an artist “only” because they are female, a person of color, etc: those artists are entirely as likely as white males to be wonderful artists, but there are fewer who have been encouraged and given resources to practice their art. “Classical music” is beginning to have an increasingly broad definition, but we can continue to look and listen actively within and outside of our communities, rather than relying on institutions that by default perpetuate exclusion.

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