Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My life consists of two professions, music educator and composer. I currently teach at Canyon High School in Anaheim hills, CA. I have a program of four choral ensembles, one guitar course and one song writing course. My weekdays start with teaching for about five hours, then heading home to have lunch with my dog Kona. I do a variety of activities depending on the day; DIY home projects, going on a walk with Kona, or working on music for upcoming commissions. I find myself always going back and forth between home life and professional life, both really do feed into each other.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
From Wilderness is the work that has brought me the most into my life. Not only professionally but personally. This is my first concert-length work and that is a great accomplishment in and of itself. It took two years to compose and four years to receive its world premiere; it was postponed due to the pandemic. Given all the time and love put into making this work have a life has been a challenge and a great joy. Just as the work calls you to have a journey, this work had one of its own. I would not change any part of it.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter in this state more easily?
I am always open to receive inspiration. I have never been one to sit and force myself to be inspired. I do at times have moments of inspiration at the most inconvenient times, so I must channel those thoughts into a short recording of a melody or take a shorthand note for a later time. I find that my most inspired moments of musical creativity are at night. That is when my thoughts and concerns for my day have settled, and I can be fully open to creating something new.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I believe that music can heal people, relationships, and even call others to do good in the world. I do not believe music can hurt in the sense of physical pain, but it can call upon emotions and perspectives that can trigger trauma. I have not personally been moved to pain by music, but I have been mistreated by the ones who lead the music. Always remembering that your actions as a leader in the rehearsal space need to be sensitive and supportive to all. There is no honest music without the ensemble being physically, emotionally, and mentally present.
I want to see more music that involves forms of therapy. That want led me to compose From Wilderness as a meditation for all who would listen. The audience receives a form of sound healing through the crystal singing bowls. They provide a sound bath and a moment for self-reflection and self-healing. I try to musically embed moments of healing into my music whenever I can.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
For me it’s simple. If you are not a part of the culture you are referencing or quoting, be sure to connect with someone who is. You must honour people by seeking guidance from someone who is in and of that culture.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I am a visual person. I learn by seeing a task performed in front of me. As a composer, seeing music on a page and how it visually relates to the auditory sound is very exciting for me. I often think in terms of connecting the visual of landscapes in real life to the auditory soundscapes of music. How does a tree, a mountain, a river, physically look and sound? This is often referred to as word painting; when the notes on a page resemble the physical object or movement of the word being set to music. I like to take it a step further where someone is walking through the scene of text. Almost as if the person is there in dream form, objectively witnessing the scene but not physically there. This is part of creating a mood or atmosphere the listener can experience beyond just hearing the music.
Art can be a purpose, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I want my music to open the doors for exploration into the lives we live everyday as well as the lives we want to live. I write music that again, is universally open to interpretation. What one listener takes from any piece of mine might be entirely different from someone else; and that is the point, all that is taken from music is valid to someone. Some of my music serves a very simple purpose and others serve a deeply grounded purpose. I take both with immense importance because the purpose of each work does not always match what the listener receives. A piece about joy and love can lift someone up as well as remind someone of times passed. The music needs to be crafted in a way that is authentic to many experiences, and as a composer my goal is to write music that can share many experiences.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music expresses the speechless feelings we have when words inspire us to experience more than we thought we could. Music can also move us to speak, to make a change, to act on the time we have in this world.