17 OctIt’s A Dream: Composer Conversation w/ Mary Ellen Childs
ETHEL’s Cornelius Dufallo sits down with composer Mary Ellen Childs. ETHEL is slated to perform the NYC premiere of Child’s Dream House tonight at The Stone.
1. Can you name some of your biggest influences?
Of course I’ve been influenced by the work of many other composers, but one of my biggest influences is dance. I grew up dancing and making dances. Even when I started writing music – in graduate school – I spent a lot of time watching choreographers create work. I did this simply because I was curious and interested, but later realized that I was learning the art of creating and some years later I found myself applying what I had learned to music-making.
2. Describe the process of creating “Dream House.” Where did the idea come from, and how did it develop?
Dream House was written after I lived through an extensive building project at my home, removing the roof and building a studio on the second floor. Walls, ceilings, floors were changing and moving all around me. The experience was deeply affecting: structures that I had counted on to be unchanging, dependable aspects of my daily life – I experienced as shifting and disappearing so something new could take place. As a result of this experience I came to understand on a profound level that destruction and creation are completely interdependent. Dream House was written in response. It is 13 movements and with some of them there are recorded construction sounds woven into the fabric of the music. It was written expressly for ETHEL, who play it beautifully! The premiere took place in 2004 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis and I worked with a team of collaborators to create multi-image video with the live string quartet at center stage. But the music is also meant to be heard without the images, which is how it will be performed in its New York City premiere at The Stone. I’ve been writing music for more than 25 years and Dream House is the work that is my most personal, deeply felt, most close to my heart.
3. What are some other exciting upcoming projects?
Lots! I’m creating a new solo work with choreographer Claire Porter, just finished a new choral piece for the Minnesota Chorale (the chorus of the MN Orchestra), I’ll be writing a new piano piece based on a Sondheim song for Anthony de Mare’s Liaisons project, and there are plans in the works for me to write a new piece for electric violin and trombone quartet for former ETHEL violinist Mary Rowell and Guidonian Hand. I’m also finishing revisions on my opera Propeller. I’m also in the research phase of a new project with music and designed scents. Yes, smells!
4. What do you think is the role of creative artists in society?
First, I think everyone is creative. It’s part of being human. I think there is no one role for artists in society, but any role usually comes down to this: artists and their work can help others see and feel things in a new perspective or with more detailed and conscious attention.
5. Do you have any advice for young composers?
I tell my students to have lots of experiences. Listen to lots of music of all kinds, even things you don’t think you’ll like. Go to live performances as much as you can. See and study the work of artists in other artforms. Follow whatever you’re interested in – eventually it will find it’s way into your work. Be curious. Travel. Live. Write, write, write. Absorb life!