A Suite for Black Lives

I’m still sorting out my feelings about the state of my homeland. It’s easy to feel like no progress is ever made. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Can a nation built on the backs of slaves ever bridge that gap and heal that hurt? I have no idea. But I’m learning to come to terms with my feelings. I’m not a protester. It’s not in my heart to take to the streets crying out “Justice!” And for a long time, I felt guilty for that. After all, I am a black woman from the Southern United States. It’s my people, my brothers and sisters, being slaughtered because of the color of their skin. And I am angered. I am heartbroken. Even though I have a unique point of view from North of the Border, I fear what this tense relationship between Black Americans and the police means for my family. My parents. My brothers. My future children. 

I am not a protester, but I can write. 

In honor of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I have written a three piece piano suite. A Suite for Black Lives. Today, I am making that score available for purchase exclusively on my website. Sixty percent of proceeds from this music will be donated to BLM. You can also watch a video using my friend Zoey’s beautiful performance of the piece here. I cannot do much, but this is something I can do. 

The first piece is “In the Stillness”. I wrote this for Breonna Taylor. Her name is important. Her story is important. “In the Stillness” is full of ethereal dissonance; every chord in the piece has a B-flat somewhere in it, which creates this amazing pulse. It is sweet and gentle while also having a sense of power. 

Second in the suite is “We Cry”, written for Ahmaud Arbery. His name is important. His story is important. In the key of A minor, this piece has a sense of broadness and sorrow, which changes from a cry of despair into a cry of outrage, indicated by the quick moving repeated notes in the left hand. 

Finally, the suite ends with “Up-Rising”, a driving and forceful piece in ⅞ time. I wrote this for George Floyd. His name is important. His story is important. This piece has some complicated rhythms and a sense of continuous motion. In the second half of this piece, the rhythm of the music reflects the rhythm of the phrase “We cry uprising!” echoed in quick succession. 

These pieces are near and dear to my heart. I have largely been writing for choirs, and while I always have some choir music up my sleeve, the current pandemic has put a lot of my choral activity on hiatus. However, I believe these challenges force me to find creative ways to overcome them. And overcome I shall.

Hiatus Over!

I live! It certainly has been a while since I posted an update. But here I am.

It has been a whirlwind season. Over the last few months, I have been focusing on teaching, while my composing has been on the back burner. But I think it is time to change that.

This past week, I had the pleasure of having two of my pieces workshopped by the very impressive Vancouver Chamber Choir under the direction of Jon Washburn. It was an amazing and gratifying experience. Hearing my own compositions come to life was a success in and of itself, but the feedback I received was invaluable.

But I found myself in a predicament. For a moment, I doubted myself. I was listening to Be Still and The Lobster-Quadrille and pieces by three other composers at various stages in their own careers, and all I could think was “my pieces aren’t good enough!”

It was a moment of weakness. But I think it may have done me some good. I think, as an artist, I spend about eighty percent of my time doubting myself. Artists seem to be more susceptible to self-doubt than other professions. But it’s what we do with that self-doubt that matters. And I plan to use that to propel me forward in my budding career as a composer.

Getting Colder

Time is moving fast! I can’t believe it’s already the end of October and Canada is getting chilly!

Since my last post, I have been working. Actually working. Teaching piano and voice at two different companies. It’s exciting but also exhausting! But it’s the good kind of exhausting. The kind of exhausted you feel after being extremely productive. Unfortunately, getting used to a new schedule has made it difficult to write. But I am remedying that.

In the coming year, I will be making an effort to get more of my music performed, entering competitions and getting in touch with Ottawa choirs. It’s tough networking (especially as an introvert) but I have grown a lot this year. Next year I am looking forward to more growth as an artist.

That’s all for now!

Autumn Beginnings

With summer (and my unintentional hiatus) coming to a close, my life has suddenly gotten busy again. It should surprise no one that being in two community choirs creates a lot of work, particularly with the holiday season approaching. On top of two choirs, I am looking to start working again (Find my resume on the links page). Which is exciting and also terrifying! But the busyness is not going to keep me from writing. So here’s what’s in the works for the coming season:

  1. Mama’s Girl
    • Everyone who knows me well knows I’ve had a musical on the back burner for many years. I am (finally) planning to put pen to paper (text to computer screen?) and write the musical that has been playing in my head for about three years. I’m hopeful. But we will see how it goes.
  2. Choral Music
    • Lately, I’ve spent most of my creative energy writing choir music. That won’t stop. However, I am looking into ways to record actual singers instead of the MIDI realizations that my notation software generates. That’s a slow process, but it is in the works.
  3. Teaching
    • I am finally putting the steps into creating my own home studio for teaching piano and voice. Now I just have to find the students…

As you can see, things are moving forward for me. It’s amazing how often terror and excitement are intertwined. But more on that later.

Happy Spring!

So it’s March, which means we are well into 2018 now. Theoretically, I should be able to write the date without crossing out the year… Anyway, I have been a busy little creative bee ever since I put out my last blog post. Which is good!

So what have I been up to this month?

I wrote a new piece for unaccompanied SATB voices called Be Still. It is about hearing the voice of God in the silence. The text is my own, largely adapted from God’s speech to Moses in Exodus. (I watched the Prince of Egypt the week before….) I wrote this piece for my mother, who is unfailingly supportive.

I have also decided to (finally) enter the world of YouTube. It was time, after all. You can listen to Be Still and a few other pieces now! The current plan for the next few months is to update once a week. Right now, I’m using screen grabs, but one day, I will venture into more advanced movie making.

I finished another choir piece using Lewis Carroll’s wonderfully quirky poem, The Lobster-Quadrille. This is another unaccompanied piece and it is light-hearted and fun. The poem basically set itself to music. It will be coming to my YouTube channel soon.

All in all, it has been quite the productive month.

That’s all for now!

On Writer’s Block

Happy February! I can’t believe it’s already the end of February. I mean, I know it’s a short month, but still!

I wanted to talk about writer’s block and how I (attempt) to get myself out of it. As you may know, I moved to Canada a year (!!) ago. And while I am waiting for all of my immigration paperwork to be sorted out, I am unable to work. Which is fine. I find ways to keep myself busy. I sing in two choirs in the area and I spend a lot of time with new friends and family. So it is kind of a blessing and a curse because it is up to me (and only me) to motivate myself into writing.

Sometimes the music flows like a river and I can get two or three pages of notes down in an hour or so. And that’s great! Other days the river runs dry as a bone and I hate everything I put on the page. And that’s okay too. It’s all part of the process. What I’m finding, however, is that it becomes so easy to tie in my self-worth as a composer to my weekly productivity. And that’s not good. That is a recipe for disaster.

So this month, I have been experimenting with new ways of starting my own creative flow. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • I have to be nice to myself. I need to cut myself some slack on days when I feel like a musical failure. Because I’m not. I have to constantly remind myself that I have a degree in music composition and I have a personality that makes it easy to connect with other musicians. And even though I’m still learning, I have a voice and talent to offer to the musical community around me.
  • Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing my scenery. When I’m sitting in front of my piano and nothing is happening, I get up. I move. Sometimes it’s a walk to the closest shopping center. Sometimes, it’s as easy as moving to a different room in my house.
  • I can edit other scores. It is no secret that my least favorite part of composing is page layouts and score editing. It is the bane of my existence. But it is a necessary evil. And few things bother me more than a poorly edited score. So when a new piece isn’t coming together the way I want it to, sometimes I will take a break and edit the layout of other pieces to get them ready for publication. This was a suggestion from my composition teacher at Campbell. And it does work for me. It’s a sort of productive procrastination.
  • Always, always, always listen. I listen to music while I do almost everything. Cleaning my house, knitting, reading. I always have music going. And when I’m not listening (or sleeping) I work on choir music. As I said, I am a member of two choirs in Ottawa and I work on choral music particularly when I feel I can’t write.

I am not saying this is a foolproof method of curing writer’s block. But these are things I have found work for me (7/10 times).

In other news, my newest choral piece, A Lullaby, will be available for purchase soon!

Happy 2018!

Greetings!

I can’t believe it but here we are in 2018! I am excited to share with you what is going on in my life as a composer!

My choral piece O Come! debuted last month in spectacular fashion! The Bytown Voices did an amazing job! I am truly humbled that they were willing to and enthusiastic about singing my piece.

I am currently working on an SATB choral setting of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Bells. It’s coming along (mostly) swimmingly. I am also working on a SSA setting of a lullaby, text by myself.

I have also (roughly) recorded my piano solo Festival Dance, which you can watch on my Facebook page.

Well, that’s all for now!

-L

Exciting Things

So I have been living in Canada for about seven (seven?!) months. And in that time, I have not been allowed to work. Which has given me a lot of time to write. And I have completed three pieces: a piano solo and two choral pieces.

Festival Dance

This is a fun, light-hearted piano solo in 7/8 time. I wrote it for my kid brother who loves weird time signatures. As its name implies, it is a fast dance with heavy chords in the left hand and light flourishes in the right. And it is so much fun to play!

Wade in the Water

I think I have already mentioned this piece several times. But it is a choral arrangement of the African spiritual for unaccompanied SATB and body percussion. I wanted to set the spiritual but because it is such a famous and oft-performed one, I needed something different. A schtick. And thus, the body percussion section was born. Because the choir needs their hands (and feet) to perform this piece, it is best performed memorized.

O Come! 

O Come! is a choral arrangement of five traditional Christmas hymns set to an original piano accompaniment. What a joy this was to write! The hymns used are as follows:

  • O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Sing We Now of Christmas
  • What Child is This
  • Carol of the Bells

I have wanted to write this piece for many, many years because Christmas is such an important holiday in my family. And this came together quite nicely. The biggest (and most exciting) news from all of this is that the Bytown Voices, a community choir I joined in Ottawa, is going to read this piece in the upcoming season!

This amazing feeling is how I know I’m a composer. For information on purchasing these (or other) scores, please see the Scores page on this website!

That’s all for now!

 

 

Backing Up Files

If you know me well, you know that I do a good chunk of my writing directly on the computer. If you know me well, you also know that I don’t always take the best care of my computers. I have been working from a laptop/tablet combo for the last few years and it seems to be working out okay. I did have one crash which meant I lost the first draft of Wade in the Water (luckily I had a hard copy) and a few other pieces I was working on (Say goodbye to The Lullaby of the Duchess…).

I’m the type who works on a piece almost nonstop and then laments when my computer fails me. But luckily, I am also the type to print out and revise from a hard copy (shout out to Dr. C for that habit). That being said, I nearly lost Wade in the Water a second time because my computer malfunctioned this weekend. Yes, I had a hard copy but I discovered errors in the piano reduction that needed to be fixed. Plus, I hate putting files back into Finale from scratch. It’s the bane of my existence.

Anywho, this morning when I finally got my computer booted up, I immediately saved everything I have been working on to my trusty flash drive. This flash drive is magic and somehow in three years, I’ve never lost it. Thought I did. Especially when I was stressing through my recitals and everything I had ever written for my recital was saved on that flash drive. I have been lucky with it though. Left it in the computer lab at Campbell once while working on my electronic music final project. I went home and forgot it and all night I panicked because my final project was on the drive and I had no idea where it was. Got to school early the next day (in case I had to start over) and there it was. My beautiful (lucky) flash drive.

So worry not, dear friends. My files are safe and backed up and my computer looks like it shall live to write another day.

Writing in 7/8

It is a well-known fact among my close friends and family that I like weird time signatures. Partly because my kid brother (who played euphoium in high school) loves music with weird time signatures and partly because it’s just something different. I don’t hide it. It’s who I am. I try not to write in weird time signatures too often because I know its complicated and people don’t like complicated. (Ha!) But I had to with Jabberwocky. Because Lewis Carroll was a weird guy and Jabberwocky is a weird poem. So too, should the music be. For those who don’t know, smack dab in the middle of my choral setting of Jabberwocky is a section in 10/8 for a rhythmic chant. And it worked out beautifully.

So I wanted to write more stuff in weird time signatures. That is how Festival Dance, my newest piano solo came about. Sometimes, when I’m writing music, it just flows from my brain onto the paper (or computer) without interruption. These are the pieces I know I will write fast and well. It happened with Jabberwocky. It happened with Inferno. And it’s happened again with Festival dance. It is a light and jovial piece into which I tried to capture euphoria and joy. I set it in 7/8 with a few measures in 4/8 for good measure (ha!). As soon as I put the finishing touches (dynamics and page editing, ugh!) I will put it up on here for all to witness. I think it’s safe to say I have made my kid brother proud!