Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of having my piece “Stars” premiered at the Toronto SongSlam. The event was created by Sparks and Wiry Cries and was hosted in Toronto by Women on the Verge. Like a poetry slam, SongSlam asks the audience to vote for their favourite piece, and the winning team collects a cash prize.
When I first heard about this event, I was really excited by the concept. It’s rare to see classical music events that also feature audience participation. And the night of the event, I was really happy and surprised to see the hall was almost full! The audience was engaged, cheering for each team with so much enthusiasm. It was wonderful to be part of it.
For this competition, I teamed up with soprano Carolyn Beaudoin and pianist Scott Downing. I met Carolyn at the Opera from Scratch workshop in Halifax this past summer, and it was so fun to work with her again. She found the poem “Stars” by Canadian poet Marjorie Pickthall and we decided it’d be the perfect text for this piece.
Writing the piece was interesting. I knew I wanted to create an ethereal accompaniment to illustrate the text, but how was another challenge. After playing around with different ideas, I ended up blending traditional harmonies with quartal chords stacked on top. I listened to a lot of solo piano music to get a good grasp of how I wanted to write a part that had movement, but wasn’t impossible to play. I’ve always found writing piano parts daunting, even though I studied piano as a child until I finished high school. Some of my past work tried to overcompensate for that by having too many moving parts and too many voices. This time, I tried to keep things simpler and the final product is one I’m very happy with.
The night of the event was very exciting. Both Carolyn and Scott played beautifully and really brought the magic of the text alive. It was great to see what the other teams had come up with as well. There was so much variety, both in the texts chosen and the execution of setting the texts. It was amazing to see.
Overall, it was a really positive experience. Our team ended up tying for third place! I’m really glad Carolyn reached out to me about this event and we had to a chance to collaborate again.
Listen to the performance now!