Dr Erica Ball
US classical music composer, violinist, pianist and educator
Dr Erica Ball is a contemporary classical music composer, violinist, pianist and educator from Portland Maine, USA and a mother of 2 boys.
Erica received her PhD in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania where she studied with Anna Weesner, Jim Primosch, and Jay Reise.
Translating everyday life into music is at the heart of Erica whimsical and playful works. Inspired by the natural world, a childhood spent dreaming of becoming a ballerina, and studies of 20th-century American avant-garde music,
Erica is equally at home writing lyrical melodies that sweep across an orchestra and collaborating with animators and circus dancers. With an affinity for layered complexity, Erica’s music portrays clouds building up on the horizon as a summer thunderstorm approaches or the busy sounds of passengers in a subway station.
Erica's music has been performed by numerous ensembles including the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Daedalus Quartet, pianist Blair McMillen, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Network for New Music, and the American Symphony Orchestra. Her works have been heard across the country in Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and internationally in Germany and New Zealand. Recent commissions include Riding the EL and The Spotted Lanternfly for Relâche, and a thread run through which was commissioned by a consortium of advanced youth orchestras to be premiered in spring 2020, and now postponed to 2022. In addition to her work as a composer,
Erica remains active as a violinist, pianist, and educator with a special interest in bringing contemporary music to new audiences.
Today we chat about the lack of representation of women in the classical music canon, the way that arts are undervalued in our culture and how amazing it is to have an artist mother who gets what you do.
Erica's music used throughout the episode with permission:
Let's Be Spoken mentorship
When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for guests' inaccuracies.
Podcast transcript at the bottom of the page
Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Art of Being A Mum Podcast. I'm beyond honoured that you're here and would be grateful if you could take 2 minutes to leave me a 5-star review in iTunes or wherever you are listening. It really helps! This way together we can inspire, connect and bring in to the light even more stories from creative mums. Want to connect? Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on Instagram tagging me in with @art_of_being_a_mum_podcast
I can't wait to connect. And remember if you or somebody you know would like to be a guest on the podcast, get in touch! I love meeting and chatting to mammas from all creative backgrounds, from all around the world!
Alison acknowledges this Land of the Berrin (Mount Gambier) Region as the Traditional Lands of the Bungandidj People and acknowledge these First Nations people as the custodians of the Region.
Welcome to the Art of Being a mum, the podcast where we hear from mothers who are artists and creators sharing their joys and issues around trying to be a mother and continue to make art. Regular topics include mum guilt, identity, the day to day juggle mental health, and how children manifest in their art. My name is Alison Newman. I'm a singer songwriter, and a mum of two boys from regional South Australia. I have a passion for mental wellness, and a background in early childhood education. You can find links to my guests and topics they discuss in the show notes, along with music played a link to follow the podcast on Instagram, and how to get in touch. All music used on the podcast is done so with permission. The art of being a mom acknowledges the bone tech people as the traditional custodians of the land and water which this podcast is recorded on and pays respects to the relationship the traditional owners have with the land and water as well as acknowledging past present and emerging elders. Welcome to today's episode. Thanks for joining us. My guest today is Dr. Erica ball. Erica is a classical music composer, violinist pianist and educator from Portland, Maine in the USA, and a mother of two boys. Erica received her PhD in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied with Anna Wizner Jim pre mush and J res. Translating everyday life into music is at the heart of Eric is whimsical and playful works. Inspired by the natural world, a childhood spent dreaming of becoming a ballerina, and studies of 20th century American avant garde music. Erica is equally at home writing lyrical melodies that sweep across an orchestra and collaborating with animators and circumstances. With an affinity for layered complexity. Eric is music portrays clouds building up on the horizon as a summer thunderstorm approaches or the busy sounds of passengers on a subway station. Eric is music has been performed by numerous ensembles including the capo Chamber Players, pianos, Blair McMillan, the International Contemporary ensemble, and the American Symphony Orchestra. Her works have been heard across the country in Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and around the world in Germany and New Zealand. Today, we chat about the lack of representation of women in the classical music canon, the way that the arts are undervalued and underfunded in our culture, and how amazing it is to have an artist mother who just gets what you're doing. I hope you enjoyed today's episode.
Hello, Oh, yay. Good. It's nice to meet you,
Alison. Lovely to meet you, too. Eric. It's lovely to have you on. Yeah.
It's been it's been really interesting to listen to like past episodes. And like, there's definitely like common threads no matter where, like artists, moms are in the world. We're all kind of dealing with these same things. It's been really, it's been reassuring to know.
Yeah, yeah. And yeah, you're not the first person to say that that reassurance it's Yeah, certainly something that people gain from it. Sorry. That is really good. I'm really pleased that it's helpful and makes people feel like they're doing okay. You know, like, what they're going through is completely normal and they're not alone. So yeah, it's a good feeling. But yeah, so you're in Portland in my set right?
It's Portland mean not Portland, Oregon. Yeah.
I mean, there's another Portland Okay. I've got a Portland an hour down the road from us here and
It's not very big though. It's not like hardly anyone lives there. But so what's the weather been like over there at the moment?
We just got a big snowstorm. We got like six or seven inches on Friday. So this morning I was out cross country skiing with my kids in the woods and just got back from from a run on our icy roads. That's why I'm a little flush still. Yeah, definitely the middle of winter here.
Yeah, cool. Oh, that's awesome. We don't get anywhere near that here. We don't get we don't get cold. It's just Yeah, that's what I love. I love asking people from around the world what the weather's like, because? Like you, you're a composer. Erica, how did you get into music when you first started out,
I started playing instruments. And then I didn't get into composing until kind of late in the game. So in high school, I went to a wonderful program called the Walden school for young musicians. And it's a five week long program in New Hampshire, and it's specifically for young composers. So they were teaching a variety of things, musicianship music theory, but ultimately composing, and I had never really written a piece before. And I wanted to try it out. So one school gave me this opportunity. And then at the end of the five week program, your music is performed by like, some of the best musicians in from New York City often, and what a thrill to like, have written something as like a 16 year old and then to hear these like hot shots, play it on stage. It's like wow. And, and that's kind of what hooked me. And I, I kind of already had the realization that I was not going to have a career as like a performing musician, that just wasn't a thing for me. But I loved music so much, and composition seemed like, well, this is something that I can do that I also really love that I don't have to spend, you know, those like agonizing hours in the practice rooms, and like the audition circuit, and all that. Yeah. And then I went to college, and I was really fortunate that I studied with Joan tower, who's probably at least in the stage, she's one of the leading women composers. She's in her 80s. Now. So she's been doing it a long time, certainly one of the trailblazers for, for women in the classical music industry. And I was very fortunate, she kind of took me under her wing, and I was the only woman in the department writing music when I was there. So so that was really special. And then, after undergrad, I kind of decided that I was going to take one chance. And I said, I'll apply to one graduate school for composition. And then I applied to like, law schools as well. A totally different career path. And, and I got in, and I was like, well, the worst thing that happens is I waste four years of my life, doing something that I love, right? And then I can always still decide to go to law school. And I was very fortunate that the program that I got into at the University of Pennsylvania was a free ride. So like you, you do have to work you be a TA and all that jazz, but it wouldn't put me into debt to go to grad school. So So I went and then I've been composing ever since. So that's kind of my route into it. Yeah,
yeah. It's funny how things work out. Isn't it? Like you had that law thing? I bet you would have been disappointed if you had to do law though. Like you would have been? Yeah, probably. So What
instruments do you play? So I play piano, as you can see here with my giant baby grand that takes up half the room. So I play piano and violin. I started piano when I was like, two or three years old and violin shortly thereafter. And I still am very active playing I don't really love to perform. But I do a lot of studio teaching. So besides composing, teach a lot of kids and adults piano and violin as well.
Yeah. So you're very busy. Music is your is your whole life, basically. Yeah. That's so good. I love it was looking on your website and all the different sort of styles of music that you've composed for. Which is really cool. I used to be in I used to do a vocal group. So I'm used to like SSA and SSAA because I was with with females, and every now and then we'd get to do an essay T Baker's, we'd join up with a with a men's group and it was so exciting. So I was looking at you like you do vocal, which is really cool. And chamber music and orchestral music and also Are for individual instruments as well. So you basically do everything really.
Yeah, as I mean, a lot of composers, you know, kind of write for all different types of instrumentations. There's, there's some that have managed to kind of find their niche and like just write vocal music or just write opera or the rare composer these days that can kind of make a living just reading orchestral pieces. But for most of us, it's kind of you just got to write for whoever's willing to play your music, and sometimes it's an orchestra, and sometimes it's a solo performer. So really doing everything.
Yeah. Do you have a favorite like a preference that you like to write for?
It's a good question. I love writing for strings. As a violinist, myself, so strings is probably one of my favorites. piano is even the less the other instrument that I play is very intimidating. Because there's, there's so many possibilities with it. And there's so much repertoire, right. So there's, there's so much history of the instrument. But I did just finish up a suite of piano preludes. And I got, I got pretty excited once I was into them, and writing them. And then right now, I'm going to be getting started on a piece for string quartet and piano. So piano quintet. So that'll that'll be an interesting challenge. I love writing for strings. I've written a couple of string quartets before, but now I'm going to have that challenge of integrating the piano into the ensemble.
So do you get your work from people that commissioned you to do work? Is that part of what you do?
Yeah, so right now, I've been able to sort of cobbled together a bunch of consortium Commission's. So I kind of asked people I know, friends, colleagues, friends of friends, would you be interested in joining this consortium, and basically, it's a way of sort of having these performers pool their resources to pay me to write for them. So it's not so much of a big ask for them, but I still get paid fairly for my work. So the first time I did this was with three different youth orchestras in the Philadelphia area, which is where I was originally from and up until a year ago. And we had three years of youth orchestras to in Philadelphia when Houston, Texas, just sort of people that I knew, and they pooled their resources together, I wrote a piece for them. And so since then, I've sort of developed this consortium model. And I did that with the piano preludes that I just finished up writing and the piano quintet that I'm about to get started on is also a consortium commission.
Yeah, cool. That's a great idea. I love that idea. Yeah. Is that something that you sort of came up with yourself? Or is that something that sort of is fairly recognized that goes on?
I think it's it's becoming more of a thing. There are definitely some other composers who are doing it and certainly, like at the orchestral level, you know, if an orchestra is going to commission a composer, oftentimes they do consortiums, so that way that composer gets like an East Coast premiere and a West Coast premiere so you try to make sure that your players are not all in New York City and kind of stepping on each other's toes when they premiere the piece. But I think it's becoming a more common model which is great because otherwise the only way you get your music played is if you win these competitions and they're they're really hard to get and you know, there's lots of problems with the competitions themselves way they're organized, are they equitable? Are they are they discriminatory against certain groups of people so yes model is really working for me the concessions
Yeah good. Listening to the art of being a mom with my mom, Alison Newman.
I wanted to ask about the protect some of the titles of your pieces. There's a couple that have sort of got like two meanings or hidden meanings in them. We're example this one. It's called the resilient sound but then through the use of brackets says the silence sound is that if I got that, right, I interpreted that right.
Yeah, so I love word games. I love anagrams and Scrabble and all that kind of stuff and um, I've always been really interested in the poetry of E. Cummings and the interesting things that he does like with the shapes of the words on the page, and just the way that you can can play with words and like you said, create sort of double meanings using parentheses or brackets. So, yeah, I have played around with some interesting titles of my own. And that one was sort of like playing around with the word resilient, but yet there's the word silent in it. And those two can kind of go against each other in terms of their meaning. So playing around with the dualities contained within those words.
Yeah. So it's like you can send your own sort of message through the music, but then also through that title, you sort of get people thinking about the deeper meaning behind things. I suppose it's not just, you know, it's not just maybe as they expect it is. There's more going on. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, and
with, with contemporary classical music, you know, most people if they're, if they're going to a chamber music concert, and they see like, a composer on the piece that they don't composer on the program, they don't recognize, like, Oh, what is this is it going to be weird sounds that I don't understand. And so anything that I as a composer can give them to sort of latch on to to help them derive meaning from the piece, I find helps with the overall reception of the work. So if it's if it's an intriguing title, if it's a title that has some scene depicted in it, or has some emotional content it gives, it sort of sets the stage for them when they're listening. And I also I don't know, if you saw some of the artwork that's on my website, like the colors of my pieces. My My mother is an artist, and she is always graciously donated her art or some sometimes I've been fortunate enough to be able to, to pay her for her artwork. But it graces the covers of my scores. And I think that that visual element is really important for the performers as well, because they're playing it for the first time. Yep. And to have like a visual representation of the piece as a way into the interpretation of IQ be really helpful.
Yeah, helps just to sort of set the mood for them of where this is, where this is coming from, and how it's to be sort of interpreted and presented, I guess. Yeah, I love that. And also, I think it's cool that it's sort of like you've got your own sort of niche in that way that people will remember. Like you said, people that might not know you, or they'll go oh, that's that. That's that lady that makes the call, like titles and like, you know what I mean? Like people connect to that with you and remember will remember you for that. I don't know I just thought that as you were saying.
Yeah, I love on your website, your sort of motto, like translating everyday life into music. I think it's just such a I know it sounds simplistic, but it's such a it's a huge way of describing music, isn't it? It's like, it's, it's just that normal everyday things that happened to us, but they can be turned into this incredible piece or incredible painting or incredible body of work. It's just, I really love that analogy. Yeah,
thanks. It took me a long time to figure that out that that's what a lot of my music is about. Because in when you think of like the Canon, and like Bach and Beethoven and all these, like great composers that we hold up as like genius, white European men, and we put them on a pedestal. And like, that's, that's not what my music is about. And, you know, it's me going on a run and hearing the sound of water as it hits like ice in a stream and makes this like really interesting tinkly kind of sound that's not quite pitched, but has some pitch to it and has an irregularity and then going to the piano and seeing if I can recreate that like that. That's what the music is about to me. Or it's about. I have a string quartet that's kind of about different episodes and a cat's life. Yeah, and yeah, and one of them. A couple of the movements are about napping because cats nap all the time. And, and they all are derived from children's lullaby eyes. So there's one that centers on Twinkle, twinkle, and there's a different napping movement that centers on taps. And you know, they don't, they're not going to hear them that way. But those are like the bits of material that I pulled from them. Because I was, you know, getting ready to have my own kids and thinking a lot about what it would mean to be a mom, and you know, what songs I was going to sing to my children. And, and that's where the music came from. It wasn't some like grand idea about what it means to be a sleeping cat. It was just sort of banal kind of inspiration.
Yeah. Yeah. I think at some level, I think. I don't know. It's like that. I don't know how to word it now. People like because I write my rap music, just like as a song singer, songwriter, and people like, how did you get that idea? What did you do? And most of my stuff comes like, similarly, like, I'd be out for a walk. And I just, I don't know, just get a tune in my head or, you know, it's, it's, it's a lot simpler than what people think. I think, like, I don't want to make it seem that it's super easy. But inspiration comes from everywhere. Like it's all around us all the time. And it's just, it is part of, like, life just comes into you what you're creating. I know that sounds like I really dumbed it down and really simplified it, but
I don't know that's exactly what it is. Yeah, it's just
always there for us if we can be open to it, I suppose. And look at things through different eyes and for years and, you know, interpret things differently.
I loved how you just said genius, white European men. It's I feel like there's there's there's more of a conversation to be had. Yes. Is it? I'm not in the I'm not in the classical world is that is that still what people want is that what they're drawn to? Is that what people are still sort of holding us that? I don't know, the marker of
unfortunately, the classical music industry is decades, if not hundreds of years behind the rest of the world. And, and it's, it's in recent years, probably within like the last in the last two years, especially with the pandemic but also within like the last five to 10 years, there has been a real awakening and a real beginning to reckon with the past of the history of classical music and how you know, history is always written written by the winners, but people who have the power by the people who are in charge and so we have Bach, we have Beethoven, we have Debussy, we have Revell, we are missing all the women, not to mention all the musics from different cultures, or the musics that, you know, were were popular but weren't part of like the religious order. Because a lot of classical music comes out of the church music and comes from that patronage model. And so it's a real problem within the classical music industry. And thankfully, the industry is starting to recognize it as a problem and starting to change. But there's, we're kind of straddling, at least I'm finding straddling these generations of, you know, there's some older musicians who don't want to change and don't want the industry to change. And then there's a really strong cohort of younger musicians who want to be the solution and want to make real fundamental changes, to make things more equitable, to be rewriting history to include composers like Amy beach like Florence price, like Margaret bonds. And it's it's really important to me that that is also a part of my work as a living female composer. So in my own studio, when I'm teaching students, I make sure that everyone's always playing a piece by woman composer, not allowed to just play music that's by Bach and Beethoven. Yeah, it's it's a real problem. And, and I think it's for people who aren't in the industry, it can kind of come as a shock, because so much of the world has become accustomed to sort of recognizing talent wherever it exists, and not just sort of in these siloed areas. But it's a it's a big problem in our industry.
Hmm. Is the audience sort of driving change as well? Did they want it? Are they wanting to hear new things? Is that are they sort of hungry for that? I don't know modernization of the of the what's the word I don't know,
relation of the canon. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I? That's a really interesting question because I think it depends on which part of the audience we're talking about. Yeah. And I have found that, that older generations off often are a little bit more resistant to this change or to, to hearing pieces that are new or being premiered. But I think there's, if you present new music in the right way, if you kind of set it up, if you give people information if you play a piece more than once, because you might not like Beethoven the first time you hear it, but because it's played so often, it's a part of our popular culture we hear in Looney Tunes, because it's sort of everywhere we end up gravitating towards it. And I think there's a lot to be said for how new music is presented to an audience that can then make them fall in love with it. And I think I think audiences are more and more becoming interested in hearing new music by hearing music by people who are living now and music that responds to our times.
Absolutely. Just on that, too, I noticed there was a piece that you've written, it was like a, sorry, I can't remember exactly what context it was in. But it was a retelling I suppose re imagining of Down by the riverside of war no more, which I thought was really cool. Knowing the words to and everything else. Oh, that is really cool. I just thought then, as we're talking about current stuff, like that's, I don't know, I mean, what's going on right now, with Russia and Ukraine? It's like, there could be, there's so many pieces that could be like people could hear now that relate to what's happening now. You know, why do we have to keep listening to stuff that doesn't sort of align with our current political climate or social climate? Like, doesn't sound familiar chain? Why does that mean, we have to keep hearing it over and over again, and like we hear it when we're on hold on the phone or hear it on a background of a commercial? Like, why? Why is that so important to us to keep hearing it? You know? I don't know. Yeah.
Yeah. It's a definite thing. I mean, you think of like popular music, they they move on, right, that was popular last year is not popular this year. And that's kind of part of the excitement of it. And in the classical music world, we like haven't moved on from like, the past 200 years, yet. We're still trying to make progress.
It's very interesting. Yeah. Says it's very interesting. I wonder if it's other night, I'm gonna draw a long bow here. The amount of money that people make out of the pop music industry, is it because it's driven? It's a It's, what's the word? It's a commercialized entity. So they're always trying to pump out new things and make more money? I don't know. Is that Is that a fair thing to say? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe?
Maybe it's part of it. I mean, if you think classical music at one point for certain populations was the popular music of the time. Yeah. And it's just kind of become this like, niche tiny little corner of the music industry now.
But you're, you're changing that. So that is awesome. I love that. So you mentioned so we are gonna get your children at some point. You mentioned that you're you're a teacher as well. That I love how you said you make sure there's some feet, there's always like a female composers work that people are working on. Do you find that? The I guess it's gonna be the same as the last question about the audience depending on age. But are your students wanting new pieces? Are they looking for the stuff they've never heard before to play? Or are they still going back to the old, faithful sort of?
Yeah. Most of my students don't realize before they come to me that there is new music out there. They just want to learn how to play the piano or the violin, and usually that's through some exposure that they've had to classical music in general. And I think it's when they encounter me and I'm like, I write music. I am a composer. Oh, what is that? What does that sound like? And you know, I've I've yet have a student who doesn't like that, about me as a teacher that I'm that I'm actively creating music, and I will frequently play my own music for my students. So when I was working on the piano preludes, I actually played some rough drafts for students. And I asked them like, well, what descriptive word comes to mind, because I can't figure it out. And it was kind of helping them, helping them give me some ideas for the piece. And they loved that to sort of have a window into the process and to know what was going on. And as far as exposing them to different types of music, I still am very much like a classical Lee trained musician. So that's, that's what I teach. I don't teach jazz improvisation because that's not my thing. I don't know how to do it. But I am very careful that I'm incorporating music from outside the traditional canon. So, for example, female composers, not just current female composers, but historical female composers that aren't sort of in most of the anthologies that we find when we're teaching sort of graded piano studies. Yes, that's another way to expose them to it.
Yeah, fantastic. Oh, good for you. That's so awesome to hear. Alright, let's get to your family then. How many children do you have? Tell me a little bit?
I have two little boys. I have a almost six year old and a three year old.
Yeah, cool. I've got a six year old. It's a good time a life Baby six, zero. It is it so they into your meeting, they play music, they sort of come in and hang on your beautiful piano.
They do like to bang on the piano. I also have you can't see it. It's off screen here. But I have a cupboard filled with like hand percussion different things. Boomwhackers which are these like big plastic tubes that you whack on the ground and it makes up a rough sounding pitch. tambourine, tambourines, maracas, egg shakers, they love going in there and having family band time. And it's quite amazing the amount of cacophony that they can create. And I can actually sit at my desk and tune it all out and do work. And they'll be sitting here on the floor, just making a racket, but it keeps them busy for a good 20 minutes. So if I have to deal with the noise, I will
Oh, JC do well. And it's sort of I think, like, energetically, it's sort of, you know, it's, it's getting so much energy through their body as well. Like, I don't know, I work in childcare. So I'm used to seeing children go completely bonkers. And then completely flat. So just massive buildup of energy. There's like, oh, no, do your kids do the same sort of thing? Oh, yes.
All of the day is always like, get them as tired as possible. So they sleep, and they go to bed early and stay asleep.
So with those ages of, of your boys, when do you do your work? Is it sort of an evening thing? Or are they in care, so you can actually do what you need to do.
So right now, I also so I do all different things. So I'm currently working a full time job as an arts administrator. So I'm sort of running all the administrative stuff for a professional string quartet here in Maine. So that's what I am doing roughly like the nine to five hours. So I have fortunately a lot of flexibility because I'm working from home for that. And then I teach about eight hours of studio a week so that students who come come to my home and I teach them piano and violin. And then somewhere in there I squeezed in my composition, often times, it's like really early in the morning, or it's late at night. Or the nice thing about composing as opposed to practicing an instrument is that I don't have to be physically at my instrument to do it. So like I'll be out in a run and I'll be thinking about the music and kind of testing out ideas in my head. So so I'm able to do it kind of squeezed in there. I'm also really fortunate that my partner is very supportive of my creativity and he'll take the kids out of the house on the weekend for a cup have hours and I'll get like a big chunk of time where I can really work. But no set schedule unfortunately,
just happens when it happens. Do you find that happen after you come back from your run, and you've got these ideas to actually come back in and either notated or recorded onto something, because you're coming back into the like mum role is that you find that
it's so hard to switch between the different roles and to be constantly interrupted. I think that's probably what drives me more nights is when I'm in the middle of composing, you know, maybe I'm like writing something at the piano while they're eating breakfast. Because they, most of the time, can eat peacefully. And one of them will come running in here, I need some more milk or whatever the problem happens to be. And it's like, oh, there goes the idea. It's just gone. Poof out of my head. But I've gotten into the habit of leaving myself video recordings as little messages. So if I'm going to sit down at the piano, and I know there's even a chance I might get interrupted, I'll just hit record. And that way, anything that I play anything that I've been kind of talking to myself out loud through giving myself ideas, at least I have a record of it, and I can kind of get back into that moment via the video recording.
Yeah, absolutely. That's, it's Oh, my gosh, I'm feeling the pain there. i Yeah, I think interruptions is probably the thing that frustrates me the most really, it's just, you're on a roll. And then it's like, I need some cheese, oh.
You're saying earlier about when you were writing the cat piece, when you were thinking about what it would be like to be mother? Can you expand on that a little bit more about sort of how you were feeling when you knew your life was about to change completely.
So I, we very sort of deliberately made the decision like, Okay, we're going to have kids. And it came apart mostly because I so after grad school, I went on the job market for one year. And I got I got a couple of interviews, I got to the final round for when an interview offers sort of tenure track composition or theory professors in the university and went through that whole process and realize that it was either going to take a really long time and multiple years of doing this whole kind of circus to find the right position for me. Or I would have to do a series of visiting assistant professorships, where you get hired for one year, maybe two years at an institution, and then you leave and you go somewhere else. Or I would never get a position. And none of those options really sounded good to me. They don't have stability, it's a lot of sort of giving up a lot of your life for these academic institutions that who knows how they're going to treat you. And then then you also have the tenure clock, right. So even if you did land, a tenure track position, you're on the tenure clock, not a great time to be having kids, it's already stressful enough. And I made the decision that that wasn't the life for me. And I would rather have my kids young and maybe give up that dream of teaching in a university and have my kids young and get them out of the house while I'm young too. Because, you know, the composing if I had to stop for a couple of years, which I did when my kids were were very young, I didn't there were a couple of years, but I just didn't write a single note. I'd rather do that then and then have the rest of my life to do the creative stuff. It will always be there. So
yeah, yeah, it was like an actual decision of how I want my life to be. Yeah, so when you said how you didn't write a note were you playing it all was like music still a part of your life during the
very much so playing that I found that so i i graduated grad school and had a couple months off, and then ended up pregnant with number one. And I was teaching as an adjunct during the pregnancy and we had just bought a house and moved in. So there was like a lot of stuff going on. Being homeowners fixing up the house and dealing with morning sickness adjunctive and a couple of classes dealing with that still kind of trying to apply to some jobs and, and composition just kind of fell by the wayside. And I think part of that was also related to how intense graduate school is. is just the amount of work and the amount of pressure that you're under. And I really rushed to finish my dissertation as quickly as possible because I didn't want to. I didn't want to be in the position where I would lose my funding, but still have to finish my dissertation. Yeah. So I really pushed to finish it while I still had funding. And I was just kind of burnt out. I was, yeah, it was done for a little while. And, and I was being creative. And other things, I found that, you know, learning, there's so much education that you have to do when you're pregnant, just learning about what's going on with your body learning about okay, what is it going to be like to be a mom? How am I going to prepare myself for this? So there were other things going on, that felt somewhat creative, and I was still constantly playing music, and I was playing the community orchestra and playing with friends and still teaching a lot. So music has always been there, just the composition stop for a few years?
Yeah, that's understandable. It's like you just can't do everything. Exactly. And even if you know, you have the time to do it, it'd be like, we actually need to rest at some point, don't you like you just can't, I mean, some people probably do, but I know myself, you just cannot push through because you just need to fill up at some point yes.
When you are writing your pieces, you talked about getting influence from everywhere? Do you find that your children influence your composing?
Sometimes, I think more than anything, it's their curiosity and watching them, watching them learn watching how they interact with the world that has, in some ways given me permission to do the same. And like that moment that I was describing earlier, whereas on a run, I heard the water stream and the ice, I don't think I would have necessarily noticed that before kids. I think I think parts of me have always been in tune with just sort of listening in a way that maybe non musicians don't, because music is such a part of my life. But I'm not sure if I would have stopped. And I literally stopped on the side of the trail, and just kind of stood there listening to it. And then I was playing with a stick in the stream. And I don't know that I would have done that if I didn't have kids just sort of this permission to engage with the world in a more childlike sense of curiosity. I think that's more than anything, how they've sort of inspired and worked their way into my music.
Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I feel like as adults, we sort of feel like we have to behave in a certain way. And like, when you were talking there about stopping, I remember one day I'd stopped while it was walking, and I stopped to look at these flowers. And someone drove personnel like, what do you do? Like, you know, yeah, you know, I had a sledge at me. And I was like, I'm looking at the flowers, like, you know, what's the big? You know, I think, I don't know, somewhere in adult life. It's sort of like, No, you're not allowed to be playful, and you know, that anymore. It's like, you have to be serious and grown up now. I feel like being an artist or a creative person, you sort of have to have that in a real what would you be inspired by it? Like, you know, that just you have to be curious and, and stop and play with sticks. You know? Just, it's just part of life. I don't know. It's it's a very interesting thing. And the more I talk to artistic moms, it's like, there's this thread that goes through that you you are different in a really good way like you you don't necessarily have these hang ups about what people that judge you or people can worry about things and I don't know it's just a different way of looking at life. I don't know maybe I'm speaking for myself, but I don't know I just think I don't know I'm going off on babbling Vietnam so
there was there was sort of a in the back of my head when I stopped on the trail. This is like busy trails through our woods were in the city so people are walking their dogs and stuff. There was a part of me that that kind of said, what if someone comes down the trail you're gonna be the adult on the side of the trail playing with sticks in the stream and like tapping the ice to see what kind of sound it makes. Like so what Yeah, so what they see me like it drag myself and like experimenting and being curious. And they'll probably just walk right past me. Yeah, maybe though maybe they'll be curious and ask what I'm doing. But probably they'll just walk right past.
Yeah, there you go. I love it so there's a thing that we talk about in Australia a lot. And I'm finding that it's it is quite a worldwide phenomenon, this mum guilt. And I put that in inverted commas. What's your thoughts on mum guilt?
Oh, boy. I think it it's a very real thing. And I think it's, it's something that's been constructed by our culture's and by our society, I don't think it's a, an innate part of being a human mother. But I think at this point, it is because of the culture and the societies that we're in. And it's, it's torturous, and it's, it's not something that I that I think, a lot of men experience. And I'm sure there are some that experience, you know, some version of this, like parental parental guilt, but I think there's something there's something special about being a mom experiencing it, just because of all of the different expectations that are put on women. And, and it's definitely something that I've wrestled with, and within the classical music industry, you know, there's, it's taken a long time for orchestras to accept women as violinists and their sections. So, you know, within my lifetime, the Vienna Philharmonic, for example, like wouldn't allow women to play in the ensemble. Oh, and so, you know, there's sort of discrimination writ large against women, let alone women who might be mothers like that full embodiment of being a woman. And so there's sort of the industry and women's place within it. But then there's also like, the family and the home life and that feeling like if you're, if you have any spare moment that's free. It should be like devoted to your kids and your family. And it's really hard to then say, No, I don't have to go and do that thing. Or it's okay for me to miss bedtime and be composing because that is also important to me. Yeah, I mean, for example, I've, I've been to concerts, and by myself and people who knew me, and they would sit, you know, make remarks like, Oh, you're missing bedtime. I'm so glad you came to the concert. Like, I'm so sorry. You had to miss bedtime. And like, I love missing bedtime. It is my least favorite part of day. I am so glad to be here. My husband is perfectly capable of putting our children to bed. Yeah, he does it most days, even if I'm home.
Yeah, isn't that it's just interesting. Have the judgment. People just assume that it's like, that's what you should be doing your mom, that's what you should be doing. Like, hello, they have two parents like, exactly. Ah, it really frustrates me. And comments like that. They just don't go very far to help. You know, it's like, it sets you back. If you've if you've got if you were feeling a little bit funny, like, ah, you know, I probably wanted to do this or that or the other. And you got no, I'm going to do this. It's okay. And then someone makes a comment. And it just drags you straight back into that. Oh, no, I should have done that. Because now everyone thinks I'm a bad mother and bla bla bla. You know, exactly. There's a lot to be said for, for how other people's comments. How much of an impact it makes on moms. And yeah, I don't know. Yes, it's a big frustrating topic. That one really has really struggled with them. But I'd love to hear you say it's okay for me, for me to miss bedtime. Because there's other things that are important to you. It's like, I don't know.
And you're right. It's hard to like even if you've made yourself a priority, and you've kind of laid aside the mom guilt and you've been able to engage with the activity. Those comments are so hurtful, because they regenerate that guilt with inside yourself, even if you've been able to successfully overcome it. And it's sort of like always lurking there in the background just like I am, I should be with my kids. or more, you know, like sort of the more simple guilt that's not even directly pertaining to your craft as an artist. Things like, Oh, I didn't pack them a perfect lunch, like I just threw stuff in their lunchbox, and I didn't write them a note on Valentine's Day. I just like, you know, that kind of thing. And there are these ridiculous expectations that moms are held up to. And I think it also helps to kind of find your tribe of moms, I have a couple of good mom, friends who they know that my house is a mess. They know that my laundry lives on my bedroom floor for a couple of days before it ever gets put away. And they're cool with it, because they also do the same thing. And it's about sort of letting down that facade of being like this perfect woman and just saying, like, No, I fail all the time in my household duties and taking care of my kids and my professional line, like I am not perfect, and have other women who can be comfortable with you and say the same thing is really, it's really heartening. And it it really helps the overall situation.
Oh, yeah, yeah, I definitely agree with that. It's like, you just don't feel you feel quite comfortable just to be yourself and to you don't have to feel like you're gonna be judged by them. Like, you're all in it together. It's not a competition, exactly.
And the other thing I love to talk about is identity about how your own identity changed. When you had your children when you became a mum, did you sort of go through a shift in that regard?
Yes, because the composition kind of stopped for a good three years in there. And, and it was something I worried about, like am I ever gonna be able to write again, and maybe all my creative energy is just going into raising my kids. And that's where it's going to be. And I felt kind of lost. And I felt like I lost a part of myself for a while. And even even though I was making music and teaching and still engaged with the music community, it didn't feel the same, it didn't feel the same as creating myself and as actually composing. And it it took a lot of a lot of work to get back into composing a lot of fear a lot of judging myself, like, what if you were never any good at this to begin with, and it's gonna be so hard. And it actually the so the first piece I think I wrote after the birth of my second was a piece of music that my grandfather asked me to write. So my grandfather, had studied piano with me for a couple of years, when I was in Philadelphia, and that was, it was always really special to have these lessons with him. And he, he had this passage from a song that he wanted me to set to music. And and I took I took on the challenge didn't have anyone prepared to sing it. I was like, Okay, I'll just, this is an exercise for me. And I'll see if I can do this again. And I wrote this piece and ended up ended up getting performed at St. Davids church in Baltimore. But that was sort of the the baby step that I took back into composition. And I was also really fortunate that my, my mom is an artist. And I think there's something really special about having a mom who's an artist who is so supportive of my own creativity. And I'm sure that moms are supportive of creative daughters in all sorts of ways. But to have someone who's lived it themselves, is it's probably one of the best things that I have going for me because she knows how important it is. She knows how hard it is to place the priority on my creative work. And sort of right when I started getting back into composing, she would take my kids for a couple of hours during the week and she would say you are not allowed to clean your house hours, you are not allowed to go grocery shopping. I want to hear what you have done for you during those few hours. And to have to have that sort of account forced accountability. Really sort of got me back on the track of composing Again,
and to test someone to see the value in what you're doing as well. So I've talked to some mums who have their their in laws, or even their own parents have sort of seen it as fluffing about, like, you're just, you know, yeah, I don't know, it's like, there's a lot of emphasis emphasis placed on the monetary value of what you're doing. And it's like, well, you're not really, you're not really working. So it's not that important. You know what I mean? Like, it's a real, it's a real, whole new ballgame when people don't see the value in what you're actually creating and adding to society and culture. And, you know, yeah, yeah,
that that is a huge problem. And I mean, I don't know what it's like in Australia for how like arts funding works. But here in the States, it is, it is a mess in the United States. I know a couple of the countries in Europe have slightly better models and a little bit more support for musicians in the classical industry, but the way that arts are undervalued in our culture, and yet, so much money is made off of them, like in the pop music, industry, streaming services and all of the sort of exploitation that goes on. Yeah, absolutely.
We have a big issue in Australia that that was certainly brought out through the whole pandemic situation that the sport, the sport side of Australia kept going, they made allowances for, like the footy teams to travel interstate, even though people weren't supposed to be traveling and everything kept going, except the arts. And people were just, you know, obviously losing their incomes, everything was falling to pieces. And it still hasn't been fully addressed that what happened to like, literally, arts are everywhere, like television, and radio, and everything that we pick up and use is being created by someone in some way. And it's like, we just don't value it. We just don't see the importance of it in our culture. And it's really, this is me off. Sorry. All this time, the free like people had concert scheduled to travel around Australia, but they couldn't because the the borders were closed. But yet hundreds of football players were traveling wherever they wanted to, and just like come on, really, really show the huge divide between what what are our culture values? incredibly disappointing. Yeah, it was interesting. You said about the different places in Europe I saw on the telly the other day that island might be might be introducing just like a universal income for artists. Yeah. God, how amazing would that be like, it would just you would just have the freedom to create, you wouldn't have to worry about how you're going to, you know, pay the bills or whatever, you can just imagine the explosion that's going to happen creativity in that area, just be amazing.
mentioned all the people who leave the arts, so many talented, amazing artists, musicians, dancers, playwrights, they leave the arts because you can't make a living in it. And they're, you know, there's a point in your life where you have to decide, do I want to start a family and if I'm going to start a family, I want to be financially stable, and what does that mean for my creative practice? And I was really fortunate that, you know, my, my partner is a public school teacher, you know, neither of us are ever going to be no wealthy in our lifetime, but he has a stable job, he has really good health insurance. And so like the pressure was thankfully never on me to provide, you know, the big income and health insurance for our family. But, you know, I know I know plenty of couples who both of them are musicians and that is it's an incredibly hard life just because there's no stability within our industry. Yeah. Yep. And I've seen lots of people leave as a result which is you know, it's it's detrimental to all of us because we're losing out on on their talents and what talents they could pass on to students.
You Yeah, yeah. The whole the whole industry is just poor for unfortunately. Yeah. I'm getting wound up just so frustrating to you
Well, I have had some some interesting experiences recently with other women, composers reaching out to me primarily, you know, people who are like out of undergrad not necessarily in graduate school or, or are coming back to music after leaving a different career path behind. And I think there's a lack of meant During in our industry, women mentoring other women. And like I was very fortunate, I studied with John Tower. And when I went to graduate school I studied with Anna Wiesner. So you know, I've studied with these other women composers, but there's a lack of community. And I think it's important for for young women in particular, to be able to have conversations with, with someone and be able to talk about things like, you know, if I take this job overseas and move to, you know, move to a different country for a couple of years, because I'm following my boyfriend and I want to be with him. What does that mean for my career as a musician, and that's probably a conversation that a young woman might not be comfortable having with a male figure. They might be, you know, concerned whether they're going to be judged for that decision or whatnot. So, so that's been kind of interesting. And I definitely don't have the bandwidth for it right now. But I think in the in the future, I would, I would love to start some type of mentorship program specifically for for women, composers who are kind of like on the cusp of that sort of professional becoming a professional composer, they've left school behind. They've done all that all that hard work. And now it's how do I make this into a living for myself? How do I, if I'm going to start a family? How do I navigate that and my career at the same time?
That's yeah, that is so great, you should definitely do that.
I got I gotta wait a couple more years, I gotta get both kids in grade school. I have a few more hours in the day. But eventually, eventually,
that's so valuable. That's just incredible. On that, though, did you have anyone around you that you could sort of lead off with the children side of things was there anyone in your sort of circle that was doing the same sort of thing as you, um,
none of my musician friends had kids when I started having kids. So I was definitely kind of the odd one out there. And, and in grad school, I was the only woman in the program for quite some time. So there wasn't even someone going through grad school at the same time as me who was dealing with these issues. I have plenty of women friends outside of music, who have kids and families. But I think I think a lot of musicians wait until later on to start families because of that lack of financial stability. And I had a lot of help when our kids were young. My parents were in the same town as us. And as I mentioned before, my mom really recognized the need for me to still have some space to myself, even if my primary role at the time was staying home and taking care of the kids. So I've always had lots of family support with child care. Because that's the other thing in the United States, there's no child care via the government. You gotta wait until your kids are public school age, and then you can get rid of them for nine months of the year. Did I really just say get rid of them. I meant we can overlay save them goodbye, tearfully at the bus stop and welcome them home with a hug.
You know, there's, there's no, there's no support for for families and for kids when they're preschool age. So thankfully, I've had family because sending my kids to daycare or childcare would have been a sort of a reckless financial decision to make because any money that I would have made, would have been completely negated by paying for childcare. So yeah, so that's kind of how I've had navigated the young, the young children thing and dealing with that and being creative at the same time.
Yeah, I can definitely imagine people are gonna hear this and definitely get some take something from it. And I, I really hope that you do do your mentoring, because that's just so valuable. We'll just keep it'll keep the creative, everything going and people won't have to. And I think when you said about before about asking a man, a man's got such different opinions on that stuff, like they're not going to get, they're just going to get told some rubbish, you know, sorry.
Yeah. It's not to say it's not and, and I'm sure there are wonderful, you know, male composers out there who would be great mentors for a young woman. But, you know, at least in my experience, there's something different about, you know, women's speaking to other women. And I just, well, I haven't quite finished up this program yet, but I've been fortunate to be mentored myself by it. To wonderful men as part of let's be spoken, which is a mentorship program specifically for women in the classical and jazz industry. And that that was really key in sort of getting my composing and my professional career back on track. And to realize in these big group sessions that we would have with all of us and the two leaders, Gina, and I wouldn't be, we would kind of come to these realizations that we're all struggling with these same things like, Oh, I have to do publicity photos. And I like how do I want those to look and it's so hard as a woman versus like, a man just throws on a suit and take some photos, and he's good to go. Women were like, is this going to be sexy? Is this going to make me appear sweet? Is this going to influence how people hear my music because it's just different as a woman. And And that program was really helpful. So there definitely are mentorship programs for women in the industry. But I am excited to eventually start something specifically for, for women to talk one on one with someone who's like cobbled together a career in composition, because it's so different than being a performer. Because that the model for how you create your income is just not there. 30 there's very little institutional support for it. Versus a performer, you can join an ensemble, you can be part of an orchestra, you can you can create your own tours, right? You don't even have to have management to do that. Whereas a composer, if my musics going to have a life, other people are going to be playing it. And that takes a lot of behind the scenes effort to make happen.
Yeah, that's a really good point, isn't it? It's like there's not there's not a model that says, This is how you do it. You do this and then you do that. And then it's done. Like it's just yeah. Yeah, there you go. Now Good on you. I really enjoyed chatting with you, Eric. It's been a real pleasure talking with you.
And I have missed bedtime. So
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