Can you talk about your creative journey so far, and how the Suzuki method (of piano-learning) has shaped your musical life?
I began playing music when I was 5 years old on the piano and learning the Suzuki method, I would play everything that I heard and would make it my own by changing and improving a lot. With my piano lessons, my piano teacher,Mrs. Smith, would tell me, “Erica, that’s not what the music says…” because I would add things that weren’t there or play rhythms that I thought went better with the music. This helped me a lot with memorizing pieces for national and international guilds where I would rank superior because of my ability to retain and memorize up to 15 pieces at a time. The Suzuki method has shaped my music in many ways ranging from grabbing aspects of pieces or songs I listen to, breaking them down to what I truly love about them and adapting them into my own creations. I would also keep pieces in my head a lot easier than peers because of this and ultimately this helps me jot ideas down quickly.
I give myself harsh practice rituals. I’ll pick out a song (pop/rock/indie/alternative/song orchestral soundtracks) and will give myself 5 minutes to learn the song. This helps with keeping my ears strong but also helps me stay sharp for new ideas.
What made you interested in composition, and what part did mentors and academic advisors play in your decision to pursue a career in composition?
When I was in my undergrad, I wanted to become an anesthesiologist like my dad so I double majored in Biology and Music Performance because of the several music scholarships I had for the school. I was looking for a secure profession with great financial growth but I kept music because I couldn’t see myself without it but I also didn’t know what I would do with a career in piano performance because I wasn’t an incredible performer or sight-reader for that matter. So ultimately during this time, Dr. Omelchenko, the professor for composition invited me to join his class and that’s how I truly began composing. He was so patient with me, so kind and honest with his words and feedback and this later led to my performing two compositions in front of nearly the entire music faculty, friends and family during my senior recital. I even had friends who played the pieces with me and were excited to do it, which was really neat! I’m so grateful to all of them because of how instrumental they all were during that time. After my recital, I knew I would do everything I could to become a composer and make this my life.
My undergrad composition professor who I look at as my advisor Stas Omelchenko helped me to build my compositional foundation for me to take the next steps in my musical and academic career. Martin Suckling was my advisor for my first master’s degree and he was instrumental in giving me pure and focused approaches on how to write, styles to write and confidence to push through boundaries of writing. I’d say the music I wrote with him is still some of my proudest to this day; he also gave me honest and direct feedback to continue forward with my composing career. Andreas Bjorck was my advisor for my second and most recent master’s. He helped me write the kind of music I was excited about and helped me sculpt and elaborate on it as well as greatly enhance my music production, which helped to pave the way for me to continue my musical journey into a career. All of them played and still play vital roles in my musical journey and always will for that matter.
Tell us about your time in York, UK; what were some of the highlights during your studies there?
During my time in York, I had so many opportunities to write music for string quartets such as, The Quatuor Diotima String Quartet, the Gildas String Quartet as well as having pieces workshopped as well. I was also inducted into the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire for a Conducting course, and I would later take private lessons from the instructor due to the pandemic. I also received my first job working as a composer for the video game, Live by the Sword: Tactics, which I also became the sound designer for as well. There were so many opportunities in such a small amount of time. I still contact and meet my director when I visit and check on everyone, including my advisor, still to this day as well to keep him updated.
It must have been amazing having your piece, “Motion”, performed at the Carnegie Hall in NYC. How does one go from an uncertain career to being featured on this famous stage?
It was a dream to have my piece, Motion, performed at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall. Honestly, I still can’t fathom that I’ve had a piece performed there at Carnegie Hall because it’s such a big dream of mine, that I didn’t know it was attainable, certainly not at the age of 25. My piece, Galactic Triumph caught the eye of Brenda Vongova who is the president of the United Nations Chamber Music Society. She was shown this piece by my brother-in-law and invited me to be part of the Women’s Concert they were having. The piece fit the classical atmosphere which ranged from Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and other amazing female composers that have helped shape the classical realm. I was so honored to be in a program among such trailblazers!
You’ve scored several short films, what are some of your takeaways from working on those?
With the help of my interviewees for my thesis, Catherine Joy, John Lunn, Carter Burwell, Claire M Singer and Kara Talve; they have all given me such invaluable information for writing music, understanding cues and takeaways from meetings with directors, and the processes for writing. For my thesis at Berklee I focused on bringing emotions forward but also being selective on how I did this, using instrumentation, orchestration, rhythmic patterns, tonal textures, harmonic/modal approaches, etc. So, for each of the short films, I worked on including my thesis where I wrote 3 pieces per cue (3 cues in total for 9 pieces), I paid attention to the dialogue of the scenes, the information I would receive from my directors, as well as my own interpretation of the cues and developing a common ground, and keeping the importance of silence when needed. I’ve tried my best to incorporate all of these when I could in the shorts I’ve worked on but also while bringing in my own voice. While accomplishing this, one of those short films, The Window Between Us, won the Industry Award at the LUMA Film Festival in York, England just last month.
Check out the AWFC Composer Directory for Erica
Interview by Nami Melumad
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