2018 Emerge on Main artist Nancy Tam (composer & sound artist) asks Music on Main 2016-2018 Composer in Residence Nicole Lizée 4 questions.

NT: Please describe your experience of being in a compositional rut? And, how you get out of said rut?

NL: What might be perceived as a rut could actually be a part of the process of creating. It should challenge you. Sometimes there’s some discomfort. Developing a new work is complex and challenging emotionally, intellectually, and creatively. There may very well be obstacles (or ‘ruts’) along the way. This is usually good. This could mean unfamiliar territory and expanding/developing. Difficult decisions have to be made throughout the process. When it’s something that’s meaningful to me and that I believe in, I have the drive to work through obstacles – otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it. On the other hand, sometimes things just flow and a piece almost writes itself. I also read a lot of books, particularly nonfiction. I find that immersing myself in other worlds opens up the brain to other options and can promote clarity of thought. Learning how to use a new piece of equipment – i.e. cameras, software – or working on my tennis game; these actions demand complete focus on something else, stimulating other parts of the brain. You can come back to your main endeavour and see it from a new angle.

NT: What motivates you to compose music? And, what do you think the function of western concert music in Canada is?

NL: Essentially, expression, emotion, and ideas. I’ve composed since I was very young – it’s safe to say I was obsessed with it; it was ‘what I loved to do the most’. I never questioned why, or what it was, or how to do it – I just did it, because I felt the pull or drive to do it. This hasn’t changed. Another aspect of composing music means working with incredible artists, writers, thinkers, risk-takers – who share an unrelenting passion and belief. This is an amazing motivator. In response to the second question I strongly feel that concert music should only exist to express ideas and emotions. It should be personal and meaningful and authentic. It shouldn’t exist to follow trends, jump on bandwagons, or attempt to mimic someone else. The term function can be interpreted as having a use other than this – to sell products or to meet existing expectations of what music should be. This kind of music-making doesn’t interest me at all.

NT: What are the names of 10 influential compositions by female composers?

NL: This is a question that requires a great deal of thought – and compiling a list of 10 is difficult to do. A few things that jump to mind: the word ‘influential’ is very subjective and often implies that the work has had to exist for a certain length of time, and has been determined (by someone) to have had a major impact on the music world. I also feel the term composer often – but shouldn’t – automatically refers to those who work within a specific genre. Also, these works are of major importance regardless of whether or not they were written by women.

An unfinished list of 10 pieces by composers:
Kaija Saariaho – Orion, L’Amour de loin
Ann Southam – Glass Houses
Meredith Monk – Book of Days, Songs of Ascension
Pauline Oliveros – many works, her ‘Deep Listening’ aesthetic
Kate Bush – The Hounds of Love album – particularly Side B, titled, The Ninth Wave
Delia Derbyshire – all of it, particularly her work created for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and her group, White Noise, her secret work never released but discovered after her death – essentially, all of it
Carla Bley – Escalator Over the Hill
Daphne Oram – her Oramics technique
Laurie Anderson – her invention of instruments, album Big Science, her many innovative, cross genre collaborations
Alice Coltrane – her

Lists like these – that isolate a certain group – are tricky and I’m not sure how much good they do. If I had been asked for a few of my favourite pieces, several newer pieces would be included in this list. It’s impossible for a list of 10 to be complete. And, for this list to be ‘correct’ I would also have to list Hildegard von Bingen, Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger, Amy Beach, etc, etc.

NT: Where will you be this summer and how will you spend it?

NL: First, I will be at Bang On a Can in NYC when So Percussion are performing White Label Experiment. I’m hoping to get to Indianapolis immediately afterward where the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra are performing my work. In mid-June I will be on faculty at Lunenberg Academy of Music Performance (Nova Scotia). In the middle of this residency I will fly to Toronto for the Luminato Festival to perform my operetta, La Callas Fantasie, with Carla Huhtanen and Ben Reimer. I will also see Eve Egoyan’s performance of my Lynch Études in her own concert that week. Then I fly back to Lunenburg for the remainder of the residency, which concludes with the premiere of a new multimedia piece for San Francisco’s Friction Quartet, who are also in residency at Lunenberg. After this I travel to Australia for about 10 days to meet and work with artists and artistic directors to plan the future. Then I return to Montreal to write for the coming 2018-19 season – and hopefully fit in some much needed tennis and bourbon (probably at the same time).


Music on Main’s 2016-2018 Composer in Residence Nicole Lizée (composer & performer) took to the stage for One Night Stand with Steve Raegele (guitar), Ben Reimer (percussion), Rebecca Whitling (violin), Tawnya Popoff (viola), and Rebecca Wenham (cello) on April 17, 2018 at The Fox Cabaret.

Composer and sound artist Nancy Tam stepped into the spotlight with clarinetist Liam Hockley and pianist Nicole Linaksita for Emerge on Main on April 24, 2018 at The Fox Cabaret.