Recent Performance: Toronto SongSlam

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!

The Waiting Game

As I have posted on my social media already, I am having a book published. It came as quite a shock to a lot of people, who know me largely as a musician and composer. Now I feel may be a good time to recount how this all came to pass and what’s up next for me.

I’ve always loved writing. In elementary school, we had to write daily journals in order to improve our French writing skills. I often wrote multiple-part epic stories about my stuffed animals or princesses. When I was ten, I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and it inspired me so much to write my own epic fantasy stories. I wanted to someday become a published author.

Needless to say, those early works aren’t great. I’m not sure many are salvageable. But I have to hand it to Tolkien for inspiring me to write endlessly throughout my time in middle school.

When I was fourteen, I read Twilight for the first time. It was the first book I’d read set in modern times in a high school setting. While I enjoyed the book back then, I didn’t feel that the way high school was portrayed was accurate. As I read more high school books (fantasy or not), I found this observation to be true for many.

My gears slowly shifted from writing messy fantasy to writing urban fantasy. And then finally, I wrote the first draft of what became I Knew Him, my debut novel. It was the first contemporary novel I’d written and it was messy and overdramatic, as anything written by a fifteen-year-old is bound to be. But I truly loved the characters and their relationships. I just didn’t know what story belonged to them yet.

Throughout my time in undergrad at Mount Allison, I often returned to this story and these characters as a way to relax after spending a whole day thinking critically about music. I wrote countless false starts late in my dorm room, trying to figure out how these characters could have the story they needed. I never got it just right.

Then I read Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and something clicked in my brain. It was the first LGBTQIA book I’d read where the characters had a happy ending. Back then, most non-straight characters in media had relatively hard lives. It was rare to see someone happy for more than a few moments (or episodes, if we’re thinking in TV terms). A lot of LGBTQIA side characters in books also had little time to shine, or were miserable for most of the story. I realized I wanted to write a story like Boy Meets Boy, and the characters from I Knew Him seemed like the perfect people to experience this joyful story.

Countless rewrites and two music degrees later, I had my final version of I Knew Him. At one point, in between degrees I’d queried the novel and was rejected each time. Since I was still in school, I put the draft aside and decided to query with more intensity when I was all graduated.

After I’d graduated and was out in the “real world,” I started to think about the draft again. I found several places where more description could be added, or more character development could happen. I set off to revise it one final time. This time I’d taken it as far as I could go alone. It was time to start sending it out to agents and publishers that accepted non-agented submissions again.

I submitted my book to NineStar Press, received the automated message it would take about 12 weeks to hear back from them. As the weeks passed, I slowly forgot about it… and forgot about where the 12 week mark would be. I even decided I should rework a few points in the story one last time.

Then one day after I came home from work, I saw I had an email in my inbox. The email was from an editor at NineStar, and they were offering me a contract! I couldn’t believe it. I almost threw up out of the sheer shock from it. But as I calmed down to the idea, the excitement began to settle in. I told the editor I’d been revising it again, and she was fine with letting me do what I wanted before taking the reins.

So now, I’m here. I’ve sent out my final revision and it’s in the hands of the editor. For now, there’s not much for me to do but wait for the revisions to roll in. I’ve been writing other stories and writing more music. Mostly, I’ve been letting the idea of being a published author sink in. I’m so excited to see where this journey takes me. I hope you’ll all follow it with me.

Currently writing: UFO Sightings

Back in April, I was invited to participate in Opera from Scratch, hosted by Vocalypse Productions in Halifax. The workshop will be taking place in August, but currently I am in the midst of writing the piece for the workshop. Each selected composer must write a work centred on a piece of Nova Scotian history or folklore. For my piece, I decided to write about the Shag Harbour UFO sighting from 1967.

UFOs and aliens have been on my brain as of late. My mom recalled a story of her seeing a UFO with my grandfather back in the 1970s when I was visiting at Christmas. Her parents lived on a farm just outside of Sackville, New Brunswick. The story intrigued me because I hadn’t really heard her talk about it before. What intrigued me more was the dream that she had the night she saw the strange flying object.

When selecting a subject for this opera, I thought back to the UFO sighting my mom had described. I began to search for a similar sighting in Nova Scotia, and discovered the Shag Harbour incident. It was so fascinating to me. But I knew I didn’t just want to recount the events of that night. I wanted to include something creative as well. I decided to add in my mom’s dream, but with some modifications for dramatic effect.

It was also interesting to write my own libretto. I fear I may have overcompensated, having thought I wouldn’t have enough material for a ten-minute piece. But looking at it now, I realize I wrote too much. It’s been interesting knowing where to cut things, and I’m glad that I’m the sole creator of the text and can cut away as I please. I’m keeping my favourite parts, though.

The piece should be finished soon. After that, it may be time to start working on a secret project again…

Recent Performance: Abandoned

At the beginning of this past month, I had the great opportunity of seeing my work Abandoned performed by the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra Winds. It was part of a workshop and reading program that they had begun 2016. The participants would write a piece for the SPO Winds and work with composer mentors to help shape the work. Finally, the piece was read by the SPO Winds and the performers delivered feedback on playability and general musical structure.

The experience as a whole was invaluable for me. I had a lesson with Elizabeth Raum and Alex Eddington, who both provided fantastic advice that helped me see my composing and this work in a completely different way. I also found the feedback from the players helped me create a better piece that was both more playable and more concise musically.

Leading up to the performance, I revisited this work and edited it heavily. I took the quite a bit of the advice from the performers and went very in-depth in the analysis of my score. I am much happier with the end result than I was at the initial reading in the winter of 2017, and I am very grateful SPO Winds gave me and the other participants from the reading the chance to have their works performed by a skilled ensemble.

At the performance, the participants in the 2017-2018 workshop as well as the 2016-2017 workshop stood together for a photo. I am hoping that the SPO Winds will perform some of the works from this year’s workshop in the future.

Upcoming Performance

I’m pleased to announce my piece Letters will be performed on December 7th at 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education. The performance is presented by The Music Gallery, working with the Sounds of Silence Initiative.

The Sounds of Silence Initiative was formed just last year, and has brought together over fifty musicians, composers, and poets together to create new art song that celebrate the diverse cultural identities of Canadians. The concert features four sets of song cycles.

Letters is the setting of three works by transgender poet Charlie Petch for piano and tenor. Each poem is addressed to a different person. They are filled with comedy, tragedy, and bittersweet feelings.

I was very excited to write this piece as soon as I read the text. I haven’t had much opportunity to write vocal pieces using comical texts, and it proved to be a welcome challenge. Another interesting challenge was in setting the poem “Dear Ivan,” which featured a long text and varying emotions. The question then became “how do I keep this piece fresh despite its length? Which parts of the text should be spoken, and which should be sung?” In the end, I’m quite pleased with the answers I found to these questions.

For more information on the event, check out the Facebook page here.