Stephany Tiernan Composer, pianist, author, teacher, educational leader and Steinway Artist, has been active in the presentation of new music since the ‘70s. She is Chair Emerita of the Piano Department and a Professor at Berklee College of Music. She has been teaching composition, analysis and piano for over 40 years and has influenced many of the successful composers and pianists of today. She is the author of a book/video on Contemporary Piano Technique, published by Berklee Press/Hal Leonard called Contemporary Technique : Coordinating Breathe, Movement and Sound, developed by Stephany as a continuation of the groundbreaking work of Mme. Margaret Chaloff. This approach to piano technique has been used by thousands of pianists worldwide.
She has performed much of the world’s greatest contemporary piano literature in many of its’ prestigious halls. Performances have included music by Charles Ives, John Cage, Henry Cowell and many others. She has performed and recorded much of her own piano music and her works are often inspired by her interest and studies in Irish culture and language. She has used visual imagery, poetry, ancient sean-nós singing, celtic symbols, festivals, holy places, etc. for her inspiration and has created pieces that connect her to her Irish roots. Her piano compositions, including a piano quintet, are featured on her CD, 'Hauntings:Scream of Consciousness'.
Dedicated to the art of improvisation, her collaborations with internationally acclaimed jazz pianist, JoAnne Brackeen, resulted in their widely acclaimed piano duet recording called 'Which is Which', which eliminates the boundaries between classical and jazz piano playing.
Background and inspiration
I grew up in the Boston suburbs in a very musical and artistic family with 4 siblings, all close in age. Everyone either sang, played an instrument, painted, sketched, sculpted or danced. There was an excess of passion and volatility that often comes with creativity, but, nevertheless, we had an ordered and ideal childhood in many ways, including a disciplined catholic education that was administered by the notoriously strict Sisters of Notre Dame. My father had the most significant musical influence on my life and he was a serious piano lover. Although he played popular tunes on the piano and sang harmony parts with my mother while they played in the evenings, his true passion was listening to me play and encouraging my musical development. I adored him and first enjoyed piano playing because it gave him so much pleasure and it came easily. I really had wanted to be a dancer. I performed in all the local community shows from age 3-7. I loved dancing, ballet, tap, acrobatics, with a passion, but a childhood illness forced me to sit at the piano and limit my dancing to the keys.
So my father took me to Constance Sylvester, my childhood piano teacher, and I happily practiced piano for the next 7 years until my father passed away and I lost my incentive to practice. At 12 years old, I was hired by Virginia Williams, the legendary founder and director of the Boston Ballet, to play for the classes in her school. Since I had a lot of dancing experience and could read anything she put in front of me, I had quite a bit of work for a few years. Later, I found more work in vocal accompanying. I was hired by the famous vocal coach, David McClosky, in downtown Boston where I worked for a while with many well known opera stars. Although, eventually, I lost interest in all the dance and vocal accompanying and took a few years vacation from playing piano to figure out how music would fit into my life!
And I did! I discovered Berklee and jazz and began my studies there in 1970, the year after my son was born. I loved jazz and was very influenced by the teachers I studied with while I was there, particularly Herb Pomeroy. But the teacher that influenced me the most was the beloved Madame Chaloff who was an independent piano teacher in Boston, mother and teacher of the legendary baritone saxophone player, Serge Chaloff and teacher of many of the legendary pianists of today! She helped rekindle my passion for music and taught me an amazing piano technique that has served as the foundation for what I teach today and for the book/video I wrote that was published by Berklee/Hal Leonard called 'Contemporary Piano Technique: coordinating breath, movement and sound'.
Musical elements: Playing the piano, versus playing on piano
The piano needs to be an extension of yourself. It must become your voice in order for you to make it sing. It should feel like the music comes from deep inside you. Not just from your head and your heart, but from your toes to the top of your head. In order to connect to the intuitive, artistic, spiritual side of your musical nature, you must learn to breathe out the music as naturally as when you speak. Every sound, inflection, dynamic, articulation, etc. is a musical manifestation of what you feel and anything that gets in the way of that, needs to be eliminated. All extra physical motions and affectations only detract from that musical expression. The only reason we need to talk about piano technique is because the music is not coming out the way we hear it and feel it. By focusing our awareness on the breath, we become more aware of what a rich and vital source of energy is always available to us and how to channel that energy through the physical movements that are necessary to make the sounds we hear. It also gets you in touch with how you feel. Then you can make the piano sing!
About your compositions Ostara and Dryadic Harmony
Much of my music has been influenced by my study of Irish language and culture. Some of the pieces have literal musical references to Gaelic songs or instrumental music, while other’s are more influenced by Celtic symbols, festivals or places. Other pieces have been influenced by certain timbrel aspects of Irish music such as the drone, while others are written to celebrate certain festivals of the ancient Celtic calendar. My piano piece called Ostara was written in 1996 to celebrate the vernal equinox, the first day of Spring. Ostara is a Celtic word for this day and this piece is one of 8 pieces written to celebrate each of the festivals of the ancient Celtic calendar.
Ostara is from these 'sun cycles' and is a musical representation of Spring. It takes countless musical, melodic fragments and spins them into a fluid fabric of pianism. The effect is of a steady stream of spiraling, energetic impressions. The piece is very pianistic, with a steady pulse and a great harmonic richness. It is a lot of fun to play, although is a bit difficult. In Ostara, I chose the simplest idea to be the seed for all of the melodic and harmonic fragments, much like a tiny side ready to sprout and burst out into a complex plant, bush, flower or tree. All the ideas are inside this seed just waiting to burst out and awaken to the warmth and light of Spring. It is just a half step and a minor third that creates everything.
Dryadic Harmony, a piano peace that is part of the 'Sun Cycles', was also written in 1996 and is a celebration of the ancient Celtic New year of Samhain (pronounced Sowen) on October 31st. It is also known as Ancestor Night or Feast of the Dead. On Samhain the veil between the worlds of spirit and matter is lifted and it is possible to hear or see a particular type of Celtic spirit, the fairies. Dryads are tree spirits or tree ladies. The are enchanting wisps of pure light, sometimes gently colored and are capricious and open to human contact. They make beautiful music with their voices, sounds which are very compelling to humans. Their songs and appearance subtly alter as they flit from tree to tree. This piece is dedicated to my sister, June Black, who was born on Halloween and is definitely a witch! A good one, of course, and a great astrologist and psychic.
There are little snippets of Irish tunes that represent the tree spirits as they flit from branch to branch and colors and textures that allow the spirits to appear and disappear at will. The sostenuto pedal is very important in this piece and is like the veil that can be lifted to hear the sound of the spirits.
Your vision on Education
It is my belief that if one is lucky enough to have the resources and time to commit to the study of music, whether it be at a school or with a private mentor or instructor, they should plummet the depths of all that is known about the subject. Dig deep and question everything. Don’t be satisfied with just learning the materials of music such as harmony, counterpoint, analysis, ear-training or history. Explore everything you have learned until all the pieces come together from having been absorbed in every pore of your body, until the subjects themselves disappear and become one thing.. music that is directly connected to your body and soul. I know that sounds lofty, but for me, music has always had a deep spiritual connection to my life and moves me in ways that language, images or other art forms do not. It has an immediacy and directness that places me in the present, the best place to be! It is also my belief that if one is lucky enough to find work as a teacher of music, they have been given an extraordinary responsibility in the shaping of a student’s relationship with music in their life. They can have a huge impact on how a student develops their gifts and must reflect carefully on every word, assignment or attitude about the world and music’s place in it.
It is a learning experience that never stops as we try new ways to inspire, encourage and deliver concrete techniques and advice with every assignment. But most importantly, we need to teach the student to teach themselves, to question the purpose of everything and to trust the beauty and gift that they have so that they are able to pursue their goal with a strong sense of purpose and determination to learn their craft the best that they can in order to serve the higher goal of musical expression.
Spiritual implication on teaching and composing music
The teacher learns from the student as each student bring new challenges. One needs to be in love with music and have a fierce desire to share that passion with a student, otherwise, teaching is too taxing and exhausting! But, even more, one has to really care about the student and their progress and be thoughtful and often courageous in telling them what they need to know about that progress and how to overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from doing their best. In other words, one has to have conviction born of serious reflection about what is right for the student. This is what brings it into the spiritual dimension.
Love of music and learning and sharing and guiding the student to experience the same dedication and passion you have for music.
Current and future projects
I am presently writing additional piano etudes (There are 9 right now) for my collection of etudes called Dynamic Etudes. They are sort of like sound choreography’s written to draw out the performer’s ability to use the piano in the most pianist and expressive way using a contemporary music language. Chopin has had a lot of influence on me, both musically and pianistically, and I am writing music that, although a little technically challenging, is a pleasure to play. Something that uses all the built in expressive devices to play music that connects to the soul, to the heart and to the mind. I am also working on an opera, but not ready to talk much about it. I am hoping that the Met performs it someday and I think it is quite unique. Maybe a secret, even. Don’t want to give away to much about it yet!
Sheree Clement studied at the Peabody Conservatory Preparatory Department, The University of Michigan, and Columbia University. She holds B.M. and M.M. from Michigan, and a DMA in music composition from Columbia. At Peabody she studied piano with Barbara Maris and musicianship and composition with David Hogan. Her principal composition teachers at Michigan were William Albright and George Balch Wilson; at Columbia she studied with Mario Davidovsky, Jack Beeson and Pril Smiley. For Sheree, composing analog ‘tape’ music opened up new ways to consider timbre, envelope and spatialization of sound in writing for live instruments. She studied with Pril Smiley at the University of Michigan and continued at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center with Mario, where she wrote a 4 channel work, Glinda Returns. During a summer course at MIT she wrote a short work in Music11.
Sheree Clement’s music is intricately overlaid with timbral color and organized around a line or two. While the surface traces ample twists and turns and rhythmic complexity, the forms of her music frequently include ‘drive-by’ references to the shapes of various classical forms in miniature. Trios, Variations, and Ritornellos all have their place in her works along the way to revisiting familiar sounds in new contexts.
Aesthetic and musical elements
I’m fascinated with using perspective and structure, timbre and orchestration to build musical narrative from reimagined fragments of tunes. I want my audiences to hear a musical idea and then to rediscover it, whole- ly or fragmented, from a new perspective. I want the listener to come to understand the idea’s true contents and implications by hearing it in fractured perspectives, compressed time, and fractalized orchestration. I think of music as a portal into one’s pre-verbal interior, a language for sharing that experience with other people. The tools for that communication start with tunes and harmonies, pacing and rhythm, probably almost all based in some way on speech. When I think about music that way, it gives me permission to sketch freely and organize those thoughts in sharable form.
About your Piano Preludes
These thirteen pieces, between one and eight minutes long, speak with a personal, often private and poetic voice, querying, asserting and exploring. They range from epigrams to torrid essays.
Prelude No. 13: Moderato. 2014. 4′ 30″. Caught in a gradually closing aperture, slippery tunes, punctuated by pauses and chords, migrate up in tessitura, and are squeezed into precise and slightly harsh and hesitant phrases.
For the last twenty years I’ve worked as a consultant programmer/analyst contracted to the City of New York working with software that supports our social ‘safety net’. Around the year 2005 I cut my hours back to three days per week, to have more time to write music. I split my work time between software that supports a social good, composing and participating in the New York new music scene. It is a relatively decent work-life arrangement, as these things go, in the U.S., these days. I say this with a set of assumptions near at hand – that everyone should get to have a balanced life, to be connected to their neighbors and local community, to have time to reflect, make art, and share it. Being a software developer was at the end of a circuitous ‘plan B’; Plan A was to compose music and teach composition in a University, but like so many other people in my age cohort, with a doctorate in fine arts, I ended up not obtaining one of those sought after academic jobs.
I think my personal situation fits into a bigger, systemic picture. Here is the U.S., taking on the role of ‘artist’ in our society requires significant economic resources, substantial personal sacrifices and passing admission hurdles set by gatekeepers - elders in the field. It’s a structural feature of our version of classism. The selection process for this ‘artist’ role is as odd and oppressive as in any prior society. One must choose isolation from the rest of society – either as an outsider or as a person in an ‘ivory tower’; one’s work is typically not accessible to ‘regular people’; one is not FROM ‘regular people’; one often has some deep personal hurt that propelled one into the role, etc. One must accept having drastically lower and deeply uncertain wages. One creates at the mercy of the latest aesthetic trend, aging into and out of popularity quickly. Conversely, art made by ‘non-artists’ (who typically don’t have access to the best training) is treated as lesser work, almost never preserved or valued. Like every oppression, this one has its enforcing institutions, some direct and identifiable, others less visibly so – think of the lack of arts programs in public schools. For sure the big visible villains are those offering advanced degrees for artists. As usual in the U.S., It all comes down to money, and getting a job, and higher education institutions are set up to filter the field of candidates.
My experience at the last institution I attended demonstrates this well although the same could be said about many other prominent institutions from that time. In the early 1980s Columbia University was famously difficult as a place to complete a dissertation – people created support groups just for that purpose. As I finished my DMA in the School of the Arts, with a nice clutch of national and one international award in hand, I could see that not only would I not get help with the dissertation, I would also not get help with getting an academic job – the very reason I had enrolled there - despite my ‘top awards.’ For me there was no ‘job pipeline’ when I completed my DMA, just a copy-editing job at a publisher and a few music-copying jobs that I scrounged for myself. I could find no one on the faculty willing to consider helping me to prepare for an academic career, find job openings or prepare a job talk. Maybe they were too busy fighting turf wars with each other? Independently I found the sad little office on campus with academic job offerings on index cards and the College Music Society’s newsletter, and learned the obvious thing, that these listings were almost all posted after the hire was decided on and that the packet the office would send off, containing my CV and confidential recommendations, was useless. Whoever had the inner track – some phone calls made to friends at the hiring institution perhaps? - it was plain to me that I didn’t, and my School had no interest in providing it, or at least, in providing it to me. And yes, I was the female in my cohort, and yes, those classmates of mine who are now tenured Professors, retired Professors, Department Chairs and Deans in Universities across the United States are all white men. The rest of us, including most of the few women enrolled and some white men, many working-class types, went over the cliff to non-academic, non-artist jobs. Some continued to compose in some form or another, others disappeared. Why did it feel Darwinian? As if the lack of employment in academe meant that one was less talented or worthy. Truthfully though, many Master’s Degrees in the arts at that time were lucrative ‘cooling off’ pools or doctoral audition pools, in which people are admitted with no real prospect of employment at the end of the degree. In many cases Doctoral programs provide the same function – ample tuition paid in while the institution really just stalls people out so that they hate the field enough to leave. I have no idea how much this happens in graduate programs currently, but it was a widespread practice in many fields in the 1980s when I was in school. I’ve heard that it’s cropping up recently in community colleges.
My first reaction was classic ‘rebound’: I headed far, far, away from music and enrolled in Business School, at NYU, majoring in Finance, particularly Municipal Finance. This led instantly to a job as Associate in the Tax-Exempt Securities Division at Morgan Stanley - the less lucrative end of Investment Banking - for all of 15 months. Within months of starting there, the stock market crashed, the economy shuddered and the market for municipal bonds collapsed. Morgan Stanley fired anything that moved and merged the Tax-Exempt Securities Division into its then-booming Fixed-Income Securities Division. Laid off, I paid off my student loans with my bonus and moved on to a more ‘normal’ job with the NYC Board of Education, working on their survey of school buildings and capital planning. Note that Business School and Investment Banking – both notoriously competitive and sexist - seemed easy to me compared to the personal torture of being a ‘female composer’. Thus began a series of very-full-time ‘day-jobs’ in which my employers thought of me as ‘an MBA / Finance person’ and had no idea I wrote music. I suspect that when they saw the DMA on my resume they mostly shook their heads and occluded it immediately, because it made no sense to them. I worked these good jobs by day, and returned home at night to face the demon of lost musical voice or to try to studiously deny the loss. Sometimes I could take a break and write music and at these times I worked on piano pieces. For about a decade I lived 15 minutes or less from Lincoln Center and never went there. I could not explain my choices to my music community friends and acquaintances. One night as I returned home from work on the subway around 10 PM, I ran into one of my former Professors from Columbia. After exchanging pleasantries, he looked at me (I was in full business-drag) and sneered, “I always knew you weren’t one of us.” At which point I decided to complete the piano piece I had been neglecting… Certainly all of this would have been easier if I lived in a culture in which it is ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ to have a big creative life inside and outside one’s employment, something you don’t have to hide.
I composed intermittently and gradually built a life. As I made more friends and family outside music, there was enough safety for me to re-integrate my musical self. As I composed more, I found myself interested in employment that required less role-playing and personal commitment – less management - and more interested in ‘introverted’ work, like writing computer code. I took some non-matric courses at Hunter, Columbia & NYU, ‘switched careers’ again and migrated toward jobs that were just about writing code, so I could fill my days with the balm of quiet, focused work and have more room for considering music after work. Two decades later I would say that patience and a pointed decision to be kind to myself-the-composer were the crucial items for making decisions to make more time to write, to use that time well, to create connections with people about the music I write, and generally, to be my own full creative self. During this time period, I was inspired by the battles, the resistance and the supremely intelligent campaigns by liberation movements, such as by the LGBTQ community in New York City, and more recently Black Lives Matter, and the wildfire of #metoo and #timesup. Their fights and successes have given me hope to continue with my fight to compose music, and to be known everywhere I go as a composer - a fight to be my true self, a fight for my very core identity. Likely it would not have been any such fight if I were not female.
Considerations on sexism
There’s tons more for all of us to do on becoming fully aware of sexism’s pervasiveness. The battle is barely begun, with some obvious obstacles that have been visible for decades still firmly in place: most of us still find the idea of being lead by a woman unappealing. The ease with which even the blandest female political candidate is black-balled is astounding. When we don’t vilify women, we evaluate women solely in terms set by men and molded on men’s values. We evaluate women’s music (and other art) by comparing it to that created by men. Anything that sounds or looks ‘female’ is suspect. I’ve watched juries reflexively toss out anonymous entries because they sounded too ‘girly’ or used a ‘girly’ text. In one instance of this snap judgment that I observed (and argued against), the composer of the ‘girly’ work turned out to indeed, be a woman. Later I read a essay by her in which she denied that she’d ever been the target of sexism. If she only knew! I still regret not managing to persuade the jury of the strength of her work. They just couldn’t hear it. They were mostly men, but also some women.
We have a lot of work to do unearthing all the ways in which we’ve grown accustomed to hate women. It is my opinion that many of us don’t have our own minds about this: all of us have childhoods that include lots of experiences of seeing people hate, denigrate and abuse women and girls, and learning to survive by imitating and participating in that behavior. Pasted on top of that is the adult behaviors of ‘niceness’ and denial, political correctness and distance. The emotional morass underneath leaves us unwilling to connect with women in a ‘whole person’ way, and vulnerable to insinuations to mistrust, ignore and separate from women. Sadly, I would say that this applies to everyone regardless of gender, sex or orientation. It is as pervasive as racism.
Current and future projects
I’m currently composing Swimming Upstream, a chamber opera in 4 scenes with video. Imagine a water goddess discovering the current state of her favorite river – its fish, its people and the water itself. This work explores the condition of a few particular waters, and invites the audience to consider their emotional connection to water from the tap and in rivers and streams. Sixteen minutes long, it is scored for soprano, flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, audio and video. Commissioned by the Association for the Promotion of New Music, for a premiere in Queens County in October 2018 with additional performances to follow. This work is made possible in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.
In the future, I’m interested in creating multi-media works, with other musicians and videographers or animators. I’m also composing a work for prepared piano and another work for chorus is lurking in the wings.
Giulia Tagliavia was born in Palermo, Sicily, Italy. She obtained her B.M. in Piano and Composition at the Conservatorio V. Bellini in Palermo, and further studied Film Scoring with Oscar winner Luis Bacalov at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. Since 2008, she collaborates with Italian writer Stefano Benni for his theatrical readings, and in 2016 they premiered the opera ‘La Gilda Furiosa’, published by Casa Musicale Sonzogno. She has been awarded by the Italian copyright society with the Premio Siae 'Libera il Jazz' and she won the contest ‘In Clausura’, launched in Rome by the cellist Giovanni Sollima, with chairman Oscar winner Nicola Piovani. Since 2017, she works as pianist with the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble, which will be opening the 2018 edition of Venice Biennale Musica with 'The Yellow Shark' by Frank Zappa. As a film composer, she has written the soundtrack for films that have been awarded and screened at renowned festivals, such as Locarno film Festival, Rome film Festival and the 50° Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, where the film ‘Samouni Road’ by Stefano Savona won L’Œil d’Or Documentary Award. She has been selected by composer Bruno Coulais to attend the French atelier for emerging composers ‘Emergence Cinema’. In June-July 2018 she will be composer in residence at the Italian Culture Institute in Paris.
About you: background and education
I was born in Palermo, Sicily. Since my early years, I collected almost a whole orchestra of toy-instruments, and I used to spend my Sundays listening to my grandma - who in her youth was a soprano singer - accompanying herself on the piano and singing beautiful arias from operas, or Italian songs. At the age of 8 I felt in love with the piano. I had a classical training at the Conservatory of Palermo, where I got my B.M. in Classical Piano Performance and Composition. I also started developing an interest in improvisation, when my parents gave me a cd of Thelonious Monk trio, playing Duke Ellington’s music. My favorite track was ‘Caravan’. I then started attending master classes in improvisation lead by Uri Caine, Phil Markowitz, Dave Burrell, Antony Coleman and the exposure to different genres and musical styles have deeply influenced my further way. Cinema is also a passion I’ve nurtured since my childhood. I remember watching even 3 times per day (so it is in my memory) the ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ and listening to the songs over and over again. Since then my interest in film music grew bigger and bigger. I’m honored to have studied with Luis Bacalov at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy. I will never forget when, after showing him one of my scores with a trivial mistake, he whispered in my ear “Remember, it’s a world of wolves.”
Musical and non-musical inspiration
I think that one’s own musical background leads to new intuitions, as it happens in my big band score ‘Fiume d’acqua Dolci’, a composition inspired by the Italian social activist Danilo Dolci, in which I’ve ran a dodecaphonic double-canon. In addition to music, I get my inspiration from other artistic fields, including illustration and graphic novels. I treat drawing as a musical element: the rhythm of the drawing on a page, the smoothness or sharpness of the lines, the development of the story and its characters, and even the use of colors or the black and white effect. I like to translate those into musical elements. Aside from music and art, my musical inspiration often comes from non-musical experiences. In fact, I get often inspired by places, such as the city of Naples and its colorful people, or the gorgeous Guerfa caves dated 2500 B.C. and located in Sicily, where a sound has a natural reverb of almost 8 seconds and you feel like plunged in the underwater..
'Polyopia', is a collaboration project involving new music that I’ve composed, and features choreographer Julie Schmidt Andreasen, dancer Signe Bach Errboe and videomaker Tamara Erde. The piece explores several physical states and the video illustrates the interrelation between inner and outer world. The music score is based on one sound interacting with its feedback, like an echo, trying to recreate the border between inner and outer space. The term Polyopia indicates a non-convergent view of an object that becomes multiple objects, almost a hallucination. I translated that into a non-convergent sound source, like polyphony, a sort of hallucinated polyphony that acts on a single sound, breaking down into harmonic vibrations, and on multiple sounds, overlapping different sources. In this score, I used both electronic and acoustic instruments, including prepared piano and flute, along with field recording and processed bugs sounds. The score begins with a very high-pitched melodic phrase, like a music-box reminiscence to which another track overlaps with a sound shadow. Like in a fugue, I held on the idea of different voices chasing and imitating each other.
Your experience as composer and film composer. Your life between Italy and France. Current and future projects.
After completing my musical studies in my hometown, I moved to Rome where I tried to get as many experiences and opportunities as I could. While in Rome, I had the chance to compose the music for two movies, which have been screened at the Rome Film Festival and the Locarno Film Festival. After winning a composition contest, I met my current music publisher Casa Musicale Sonzogno that published my first opera, titled 'La Gilda Furiosa'.
One year and a half ago I moved to France, where recently the film ‘Samouni Road’ by Stefano Savona won L’Œil d’Or Documentary Award at the Cannes Film Festival 2018. The film is a coproduction between France and Italy and I’ve scored the animated sequences featured in the movie, drawn by Simone Massi and his team. The main idea for the music is found on the technique of the drawings themselves: very dense black and white lines, scratched in negative. My idea was to give back the ‘visual noise’ of the image, without overlooking the rhythm of action, pointing out the drawing details. A painstaking work, that I’ve really enjoyed; half way between music and sound design with a strict compositional approach. I’m currently working on a new composition for Trio featuring clarinet, electric guitar and percussion, a quite unusual combination. This piece will be premiered at the Italian Cultural Institute, in Paris where I will be Artist in Residence in Spring 2019. During my time at the ICI, I will also work on a project for piano and electronics. I will spend the upcoming Summer in Italy, playing concerts with Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble. We will be at the Ravenna Festival, performing ‘2x5’ by Steve Reich and premiering a new composition by Christopher Trapani, who is the current Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome. Then in September, Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble will open the Biennale Musica of Venice, playing the integral version of ‘The Yellow Shark’ by Frank Zappa, which makes me very excited! Finally, I continue my collaboration with Italian writer Stefano Benni, started ten years ago. We are currently working on a theatrical reading that features the work by J. L. Borges.
Andrea Clearfield is an award-winning composer of music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensemble, dance, and multimedia collaborations. Clearfield creates deep, emotive musical languages that build cultural and artistic bridges. She has been praised by the New York Times for her “graceful tracery and lively, rhythmically vital writing”, the Philadelphia Inquirer for her “compositional wizardry” and “mastery with large choral and instrumental forces”, the L.A. Times for her “fluid and glistening orchestration” and by Opera News for her “vivid and galvanizing” music of “timeless beauty”. Her works are performed widely in the U.S. and abroad. Among her 150 works are ten cantatas including one commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra. She is a recipient of a 2016 Pew Fellowship and a 2017 Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts and has also held fellowships at the American Academy in Rome, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and the Copland House among others. Her music is published by Boosey & Hawkes, G. Schirmer, Hal Leonard, Seeadot and International Opus. Passionate about building community around the arts, she is the founder and host of her renowned Salon, featuring contemporary, classical, jazz, electronic, dance, and world music now celebrating its 32nd year and winner of Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philadelphia” award.
About you: Background and education
My father, Harris Clearfield, is a retired physician and my mother, Louise Clearfield, an artist. Both are living in Bala-Cynwyd, the suburb of Philadelphia where I was raised. Beginning with early studies on piano at the age of 6, discovery of synesthesia in grade school (seeing colors when hearing musical pitches—and vice versa), and a deep curiosity about all things musical…I was led to play chamber music, rock, folk, improvisation, music for dance, contemporary and world music, and pursue degrees in Piano (Muhlenberg College, BA as a student of Margaret Garwood, The University of the Arts, MM as a student of Susan Starr) and Composition (Temple University, DMA, as a pupil of Maurice Wright). I started arranging and composing in my teens but it wasn’t until I met my mentor in my first year of college, composer Margaret Garwood, that I began to change my focus to the creation of new work.
My eclectic background has shaped my musical language. As a collaborative pianist performing chamber music, I learned the instruments, their repertoire and valuable lessons in orchestration. Since the late 1980's I have enjoyed performed music by living composers as the pianist for the Relâche Ensemble (Relache celebrates 40 Years at the end of June). Although trained classically, in my late 20’s I learned to improvise by playing for modern and contact dance. My work draws on these experiences, and also has been influenced by composers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Brahms and Stravinsky. I feel a particular aesthetic connection with Béla Bartók, who made field recordings and synthesized what he heard and notated into his own work. The evocative sound worlds of Debussy, Takemitsu, Crumb, Scelsi and Saariaho impacted my approach to musical timbre, an essential element in my work. As with composers Messiaen and Scriabin, the synesthetic extra-sensory information also informs what and how I write. I owe a great deal to my two mentors, composers Margaret Garwood and Jonathan Kramer. Garwood’s idiomatic and beautiful writing for the voice in choral, vocal and operatic works as well as her attention to musical “color” were major inspirations for my own vocal writing. She was an important role model as a female composer and she encouraged me to “listen” and “follow my own voice”. Jonathan Kramer taught me how to refine my writing for orchestra, and to better understand an orchestra’s “psychology.” Some of my recent works were inspired by my fieldwork and horseback treks in 2008 and 2010 documenting Tibetan music in Lo Monthang, Nepal. Lo Monthang is in a remote Himalayan region of northern Nepal (just over the border from Tibet) and is one of the world’s last remaining enclaves of old Tibetan culture. With funding from the Rubin Foundation, anthropologist and ethnomusicologist Katey Blumenthal and I recorded the previously-undocumented repertoire of the last remaining court song singer, Tashi Tsering, whose gar-glu (court songs) were passed down aurally for generations. Aging and with no heirs to learn his music, these songs were in danger of being lost. My exposure to Tibetan folk and ritual music, along with the landscape, the people, and my experiences on the Himalayan treks, had a significant impact on me as an artist and led to a new body of work beginning in 2008. This work explores an expanded tonality and more complex rhythms, informed by what I had heard and documented. I have engaged in much artistic experimentation over the past ten years. The Tibetan inspired body of work led me to treat my field recordings within the context of chamber works. This exploration led to new ways of thinking about sound. I became interested in longer development of one idea, allowing it to unfold organically, and integrating field recordings and indigenous Tibetan instruments as well as original amplified instruments that I have commissioned from an instrument builder.
About your music and interest in Ethnomusicology
The earliest of this new body of work is Lung-Ta (The Windhorse) (2009). In 2008, in preparation for a commission by Network for New Music in collaboration with visual artist and Fulbright Scholar Maureen Drdak, I trekked to Lo Monthang for the first time. I went to research the indigenous music and art. Working with Maureen Drdak and Group Motion Dance Company of Philadelphia, we created a fusion of music, art, and dance, inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist folk and ritual music, iconography, and cham dance that we experienced on our journey. The music, commissioned and premiered by Network for New Music, is scored for chamber ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and percussion), and incorporates field recordings from the trek. It is a 25-minute work celebrating the common themes of eastern and western philosophy. Lung-Ta was premiered in Philadelphia in 2009. The work has been performed around the country as a prayer for peace. It was presented as a gift to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as an initiative for world peace in 2009. Following the premiere of Lung-Ta, the community in Lo Monthang became interested in having all of Tashi Tsering's songs documented. This repertoire had been passed down from father to son for hundreds of years, telling the story of the culture. Formerly many Emeda musicians played the gar-glu repertoire. Now, old ways were being replaced and only Tashi Tsering remained. Aging, and with no heirs to learn the music, the songs would have been lost if he were to pass. With a grant from the Rubin Foundation, I returned with anthropologist Katey Blumenthal to record Tashi Tsering's complete repertoire. Our work is now included in the University of Cambridge World Oral Literature Project, a global initiative to document endangered languages before they disappear without record. I was commissioned in 2010 by the Mendelssohn Club and Pennsylvania Girlchoir to create a cantata as a way to bring some of these songs to the U.S and received a grant from the American Composers Forum to involve the Tibetan community of Philadelphia in the premiere; they also taught traditional Tibetan song and dance to the young girls in the choir. The cantata, Tse Go La (At the threshold of this life) (2012, rev. 2013) explores a deeper emotive music language than Lung-Ta and employs a more distinct use of colors and textures, including elements of Tibetan ritual and folk music and integrated electronics. The central movements incorporate songs from the gar-glu (court) and tro-glu (common) folk traditions, sung in the Mustangi dialect of Tibetan, translated and transliterated by Katey Blumenthal. The outer movements, “Birth” and “Death” are set to poetry by distinguished anthropologist and writer, Dr. Sienna Craig, and sung in English. Based on rites of passage, the theme is illustrated by seven movements that journey from birth to death with particular attention to musical transitions that relate to these thresholds/transitions in our lives. The music that emerged from these more liminal “transition moments” fascinated me, and I continued to pursue this thread in my next piece, Rabsong Shar (2016).
When I was invited as McIlroy Composer in Residence at the University of Arkansas in 2016, I was commissioned to write a piece for the New Music Ensemble, Jamal Duncan, Director, on the theme of "music as story". I chose to write a work inspired by the song “Rabsong Shar” (The Eastern Room of the Palace), a favorite of the last King of Lo Monthang, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, whom I was honored to meet. Part of a lineage dating from 1380, the King died in 2016 symbolizing an end to an era. When I recorded Tashi Tsering singing this song he accompanied himself with a pair of skin drums called nha. Fragments of the traditional Loba words, melody, vocal ornaments and drum rhythms are incorporated into this work, which deals with memory, loss and change. It is also a celebration of song as a way to convey the story of a people and to honor, respect and preserve a culture and its language. Additionally it is a response to the region's change that I witnessed during the Tibetan music fieldwork.
Your Salon series
As a child, my parents and I played music in the home. My mother played piano, my father clarinet and I joined on piano and flute. We played all kinds of trio arrangements. I created my own versions of classical and popular tunes and invited friends over to play them and improvise. As an outgrowth of these early living-room music experiences, and my longtime interest in the Salons of Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I started a Salon in Philadelphia in 1986 as a way to continue the European tradition of music in the home, to foster collaboration amongst artists and to help create and build a vital community around music and the arts. Although harkening back to the Salons of Europe, this Salon was conceived with a contemporary spin; by integrating different music genres as well as other arts, the diverse programming draws a diverse audience –intergenerational and intercultural, and many are exposed to styles of music that they may not have heard before. I'm a strong advocate for creating hubs for the arts, bringing people together to celebrate the human spirit and creating a platform for contemporary music. In the thirty-two years since, there have been more than 7000 performers and 17,000 audience members at the Salon. The Salon’s longtime home was put on the market in Spring 2014. Investors and contributors from around the country came forward to purchase the property. Since the Salon celebrated its 25-year anniversary, patrons and organizations around the country have hired me to help them start their own Salons.
Current and future projects
I am currently completing my first opera, MILA, Great Sorcerer to libretto by Jean-Claude van Itallie and Lois Walden, commissioned by Gene Kaufman and Terry Eder, Kevin Newbury, director. The opera is based on the story of the venerated 11th Century yogi, Milarepa, who lived in the Tibetan plateau, not far from where I was recording music. His murders, sorcery, travails, and ultimate enlightenment translate into a wide-canvas dramatic opera. When Mila’s vengeful mother commands him to destroy their entire village, he obeys. Then he desperately regrets his deeds. Mila’s transformation is hard earned. MILA tells the story of a young soldier returning home from America’s wars spiritually destroyed. After you’ve killed, how do you redeem your soul?” – Jean-Claude van Itallie and Lois Walden.
In addition to the opera, I’m also working on a new piece for the Music from Angelfire festival in northern New Mexico, where I am composer in residence this August and a commission for the renowned classical guitarist, William Kanengiser (LA Guitar Quartet) as a re-imaging of the traditional Tibetan dramyin for classical guitar. This piece will reflect on my perspective on issues of musical and cultural identity as part of a larger project on “Diasporas”, or scattered musical cultures. I was recently named Composer in Residence with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and will be composing new works for their 2018-19 'Migrations' series including an electric guitar concerto.
The story of Francisca (more known as ‘Chiquinha’) Gonzaga is extremely fascinating. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1847, this Brazilian pianist/composer had a prolific musical career, creating a vast repertoire of compositions for small and large ensembles in different musical genres (including popular styles and theater pieces). Through her music we are given a glimpse into the atmosphere of late 19th century Brazil, a transitional period of great social and cultural change. At this time Brazil was a Portuguese colony, influenced by European culture, lifestyle and art. Styles of European music found their way into society through the importing of traditional dances such as the polka, mazurka and gavotte. The process of colonization also included the importation of slaves, who brought their own culture and music to Brazil, enriching the European musical forms with African Rhythms called Batuque. The mixing of these two distinct worlds and styles helped define Brazil's newly emerging identity and culture. To an extent Chiquinha’s repertoire is a direct expression of this union. She in fact had this very dichotomy in her blood, being the daughter of Jose’ Basileu Gonzaga, a wealthy white man holding an important military position in Rio de Janeiro, and Rosa Maria Neves de Lima, a mulatto woman and daughter of a slave. The relationship between Chiquinha’s parents was very complex, as mixed marriages represented a serious taboo in Brazilian society. Nevertheless, Francisca was the first child to be recognized by Jose’ Basileu, who provided her with the finest education, the goal of which being an arranged marriage that would introduce her to Rio de Janeiro high society. This education included the study of the classics of piano literature, an influence we can find traces of in many of Chiquinha's compositions. Yet despite Jose’ Basileu efforts, Chiquinha’s strong personality did not fit solely into her father’s expectations. Instead, she was drawn to the more vital side of Brazilian culture, captured by the African rhythms in dances like the maxixe and lundu, considered to be scandalous and vulgar at the time. Along with other important musicians of her generation (including her lifelong friend Joaquim Antonio da Silva Callado), she began to mix European forms with African rhythms, creating the first expressions of the style that would later come to be known as ‘choro’. The term choro comes from the verb chorar, which means ‘to cry’. The style of choro was initially associated with several already existing dances in Brazil, including tango-brasileiro, tango-choro, choro-polka, polka-brasileira, among others. Only later through the pioneering efforts of composers like Chiquinha did this style develop into a more specific musical form and genre of its own.
Chiquinha was the first pianist to be part of a choro ensemble, pursuing a musical career at a time when women were not even allowed to work. After divorcing her husband —and being excommunicated by church and family as a result— she made a living as a musician. She performed in cafes and choro sessions, taught, composed and sold her music, and also became the first female conductor in Brazil. She contributed to the foundation of the Brazilian Society of Theater Authors, a copyright society for composers and writers, and being an avid supporter of social equality, joined the abolitionist movement that lead to the end of slavery in Brazil in 1888. Throughout all her accomplishments and pioneering changes, music always served as a cathartic release for Chiquinha’s fearless soul. Indeed, the legacy she left behind reflects the spirit of a courageous woman who dared to challenge the conventions of her time.
Alexandre Dias is a classical pianist, researcher and collector of Brazilian Popular music, and co-founder of Arcevo, the digital archive of Chiquinha Gonzaga’s work.
MLB: How did you discover Chiquinha’s music?
AD: In 1999, thanks to a TV series that made her work very popular in Brazil. Suddenly, many pianists recorded Chiquinha’s music, including Maria Teresa Madeira, who also recorded Ernesto Nazareth’s work. Ernesto Nazareth and Chiquinha Gonzaga have a lot in common. They both composed the same musical forms including polka, quadrilha, tango and they both used the same publishing company in Rio de Janeiro (Arthur Napoleão). As researcher of Brazilian Popular Music and recording collector, I also have an interest in ‘choro’ music and Chiquinha’s name is very much connected to that style.
MLB: I know Chiquinha is considered the mother of choro. Can you please explain why?
AD: Chiquinha was born in 1847, one year before Antonio da Silva Callado, a flutist considered the father of choro, born in 1848. Antonio and Chiquinha were friends and they played together a lot. Callado is credited as having the first Choro group in history, which was called ‘O Choro do Callado’. Back then choro wasn’t a genre but a group of musicians or a way to play music. At that time we didn’t have ‘Brazilian music’ as it is known nowadays. We had European music and Brazilian composers were writing in that style. Eventually the ‘Batuque’ meaning the African rhythms imported by the African slaves, enriched Brazilian music enormously. Brazilian composers started introducing these rhythms in their compositions, mixing syncopations with European musical forms. Chiquinha played piano in a choro group for the first time in history. Choro groups usually don’t have piano and the ensemble is composed by a soloist (either a flute, mandolin or clarinet), a bass and usually two guitars (6 and 7 strings). Before introducing the 7 strings guitar, the ‘bombardino’ (the euphonium) was playing the bass line. In 1900 century the choro group was mostly a Trio, including guitar, ‘cavaquinho’ (the ukulele) and flute.
MLB: In addition of being an amazing composer and pianist, Chiquinha was also a very strong woman, impacting Brazilian society and culture. Let’s talk about the connection between her personal life and music.
AD: Chiquinha was born in a rich family and her father had an important status, he was a military. Her grandmother (from mother’s side) was a slave, and at that time in Brazil, the descendents of slaves were considered ‘bastards.’ Chiquinha instead was lucky enough to have the father recognizing her as his daughter and she received the best education in Rio de Janiero, learning French, Latin, Geography, Mathematic and Music. She wrote her first composition (called the ‘Cansao dos Pastores’) when she was 11 years old. When she was 16 the father arranged her to marry Jacinto do Amaral, who was a military as well. Jacinto prohibited Chiquinha to study piano and she divorced him. Chiquinha was the first woman in Brazil to get a divorce, exactly 100 years before the divorce became legal. Chiquinha was excommunicated and shortly after the divorce, she started publishing some of her compositions, including ‘Atraente’, the famous polka. Legend says that this piece was born in a choro session at Henrique Alves de Mesquita’s house, another important Brazilian composer. In 1880’s she also started writing music for theater, becoming the most prolific composer for theater in Brazil. Writing music for theater was a good source of income and to make a living she also taught Music, French, Geography, etc. She lived up to 85 years old, covering an important span of Brazilian history from the Empire till Vargas dictatorship. She was an abolitionist and a republican as well. Throughout all her life Chiquinha wrote about 300 compositions and after being repeatedly victim of copyright infringements, she contributed to the creation of 'Sociedade Brasileira de Autores Teatrais' (the Brazilian Copyright Society of Authors), serving as a board of directors. Last year, a 78 LP that features Chiquinha Gonzaga on piano was discovered. It is dated 1920 and you can hear her voice announcing the recording. This makes her the oldest musician who have had recorded in Brazil.
MLB: Understanding the influence of Folk and popular music* in the Classical tradition is an important part of my musical research. F. Chopin and B. Bartok are only few examples and your career as classical pianist as well as researcher of Brazilian Popular music also shows how much these two fields are often complementary and inseparable. Can you talk more about the connection between folk, popular and classical music in Brazil?
AD: Villa-Lobos who is considered the most important classical composer started playing guitar in choro groups, having his roots in folk and popular music. The difference between Villa-Lobos and Chopin or Bartok is very subtle and important at the same time. Even though the European composers were interested in folk or popular music they were not popular musicians.
In Brazil, classical composers are also popular musicians, there is a continuum between the two styles and the distinction of genres is found in the social contextualization. For instance, Henrique Alves de Mesquita is an important Brazilian composer who studied at the conservatory in France, mastering the classical composition forms like symphonies, operas and such, but he would also write Popular musical forms. He was the first composer of Brazilian Tangos, mixing European forms with the African syncopated rhythms. His composition 'Ali Baba' is the first Brazilian Tango in history. Camargo Guarnieri who is considered the most important composer after Villa-Lobos, composed many symphonies, sonatas, and other classical forms, but he started as cinema musician, playing for silent movies, same as Francisco Mignone who was also playing flute in ‘serestas’ (serenades). Composer and violin player Cesar Guerra-Peixe wrote violin concertos and piano sonatas but he has also arranged a lot of popular music. As composers, their classical works were performed in theaters, but as folk and popular musicians they were playing in choro groups as well. The dichotomy between folk and classical was inherited from Europe and it developed due to the lack of philosophy of music (studies) that could have helped articulating these concepts and terms, avoiding such a defined distinction between the two genres.
*A distinction between folk and popular music needs to be made.
Folk music is anonymous and collective music, based on folkloric traditions. Folk melodies were transmitted orally, consolidated with time and becoming well known and recognizable. Popular music instead, is associated to specific composers and is based on specific forms, rhythms and musical idioms. Often it is notated on traditional scores used as musical reference.
MLB: Let’s talk about Chiquinha’s music. Her work is very vast and diverse.
AD: The music of Chiquinha always involves the piano to some extend. Sometimes is piano solo, piano with lyrics, or piano as part of a small orchestra. Waltzes, Brazilian Tangos and Polkas are the most explored forms but she also wrote few sacred works (a total of 6) and a lot of theater music. She wrote 48 Waltzes, some more popular oriented, some with a more classical taste. For instance, the composition ‘Yara’ has a lot of embellishments and grace notes that refer to the European classical tradition, specifically to the romantic pianistic idioms. ‘Plangente’ instead, is a valsa sentimentale. The melody is very recognizable, easy enough to be sang and it has the ‘belle époque music’ taste, (meaning the music played in cafes’ and social gatherings.) Chiquinha is a great melodist, leaving the harmonic aspect of the music very simple and rooted in tonality. Therefore, the left hand is generally playing basic rhythmical patterns and voicings to support the melody. She shared the interest in melody development with the classical romantic tradition, re-conductible to the Bel canto style. Chiquinha was the first female conductor in Brazil. Till then, there was no name indicating a female conductor and the term ‘Maestra’ or ‘Maestrina’ was created specifically for her. Up till now female conductors are referred as ‘maestrinas’. Chiquinha would conduct small orchestras, (including guitar orchestras) and perform her orchestral works in theaters, which was pretty unique for a woman. The orchestral piece ‘Uma pagina triste’, was totally unknown before we rescued it. It is very classical oriented, with a lyrical melody in D minor and no Brazilian rhythmical references. The piece ‘Estrella’ is also very much influenced by the classical European tradition, same as ‘Nao sonhes’, a romance for harp, piano and soprano. We just started collecting and studying Chiquinha’s theatrical pieces. Sometimes she would write the music for the whole opera (called ‘teatro de rivista’ which is basically a musical), other times only a few songs or even just one. In that case, several composers would collaborate in the creation of the music and Chiquinha’s name would be paired to others. The ‘comical’ aspect is very much connected to this list of works, in which she also explored the popularesco style (different from popular), indicating a more ‘low class’ taste. The theatrical works include also fantastical pieces based on magical realism, operettas, burlettas and dances. She wrote Polkas, Brazilian tangos, Brazilian Cancones, Fados, Romances and Abanheras (abanheras, polkas, lundu’ and batuques are considered the foundation of Brazilian music.) She also wrote a lot of Maxixes and the most famous is 'Gaucho Corta Jaca' in D minor. We include the name 'Corta Jaca' because the dancers would drag their feet on the floor, as if they were cutting a fruit, called jaca. Maxixe is a popular dance similar to Brazilian Tango, with a very vivid rhythm, The dance is very sensual way and for this reason it is considered not appropriate..
MLB: Can you explain the differences between Brazilian Tango and Maxixe?
AD: It’s hard to define the differences between Brazilian tango and maxixe. They both come from the same musical source, however tangos can be just heard and appreciated as performance music, maxixe needs to be danced. The rhythmic patterns are different, the tangos have 2/4 subdivided as sixteenth/eight/ sixteenth, eight, eight. Maxixe instead dotted eight/dotted eight, eight (3,3,2 feel, called the tresillo, which is an important pattern in Brazilian Popular music.) Maxixe sometimes has lyrics, Tango is more instrumental. Generally, she would write a maxixe at the end of a theatrical piece. The maxixe would conclude the musical with a lively upbeat and a sensual connotation. Nowadays, nobody composes maxixas or tangos anymore. These genres were assimilated by ‘choro’. We can consider tangos and maxixac as ancestor’s species evolved into choro, the musical style that absorbed these rhythms, fusing European musical forms with African Rhythms.