For Good Measure

Jonathan Bailey Holland

July 04, 2022 Jonathan Bailey Holland Episode 5
For Good Measure
Jonathan Bailey Holland
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 5: Jonathan Bailey Holland

Looking for a way to listen to diverse creators and to support equity in the arts? Tune in weekly to For Good Measure!

In this week’s episode, we talk to to 2022 Guggenheim Fellow Jonathan Bailey Holland about how his identity affects his compositions now and in the past. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Jonathan Bailey Holland, check him out here: http://www.jonathanbaileyholland.com/ . Parts of this episode originally premiered on January 2021, found on Youtube, click here.

This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!

Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano),  as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021

Transcription courtesy of Otter.ai.

Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Merve Tokar and Roziht Edwards


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Nanette McGuinness:

[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to "For Good Measure," an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by a grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, Artistic Executive Director of Ensemble for These Times. In this week's episode, we're joined by Jonathan Bailey Holland, who we spoke to in February 2021. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS] Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. In an interview with WBUR, you talked about how "Synchrony" stemmed from your personal feelings about racial injustice in the US. And that writing it was your responsibility? What ideas did you want your listeners to take away from this recording in 2016?

Jonathan Bailey Holland:

In my opinion, all artists respond to the world in terms of how they experience it; artists may be doing other things, but that is often what artists do. Perhaps it's what we're supposed to do. In terms of "Synchrony," and when it was written and recorded, I wanted to convey the economy of being African American. And watching all of the events unfolding that drove the Black Lives Matter movement at that time. The work incorporates both optimistic messages, and tragic and unfortunately, still relevant messages from that time of individuals who I think you know, even though they're not identified explicitly in the music, we know who they are. And I decided to include audio clips in the work. Because I think experiencing these events, we can listen to things on the news, we can read a headline and only partially engage. But when you're in a concert hall, you go to a concert to sit and listen and pay attention and hear what's being presented to you. And so to experience these words in that context, you don't have a choice but to pay attention and be affected by it.

Nanette McGuinness:

In view of the events of 2020, has your feeling about "Synchrony" changed at all? Or has it mostly sharpened?

Jonathan Bailey Holland:

There's commentary to be made on the state of the world right now. But I don't have a desire for the piece. Man, if I had a desire would be that the piece would represent historical events and not current events. But here we are.

Nanette McGuinness:

You've talked about the duality of being an African American and a classical composer. How does that inform your music and your compositional life

Jonathan Bailey Holland:

In terms of the duality being an African American and being a classical composer, I would say that being African Americans defines everything about my life. And the same could be said about people from other races or ethnicities. But in America, being African American means various things in various contexts. I think in the context of classical music, that means that the descriptor is often seen as necessary when talking about me or my music, in a way that similar descriptors are not seen as necessary for other composers who are not African American. And it therefore means that I spend more time thinking about the fact that that descriptor is often associated with me as a composer, then other composers may spend thinking about being more than just a composer.

Nanette McGuinness:

Our concert this past November explored old forms and styles and their influence on new works such as your "Two Part Inventions" for piano. Could you talk about your inventions and the inspiration behind them?

Jonathan Bailey Holland:

The "Two Part Inventions" were written when I was a an undergraduate composition major. And I remember specifically I started them in the summer of 1993, while I was at a summer program in New York City, and I eventually finished them later that year, and worked on them with the pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who was also a student at the time. I think, you know, the impetus for them was that I was always fascinated by the counterpoint and wanted to tackle counterpoint specifically in my own music and thinking about different ways in which I could do that. And also, you know, kind of gain some experience writing for the piano.

Nanette McGuinness:

With the pandemic affecting the performing arts so greatly, what advice would you offer young aspiring artists during such uncertain times, in order to help them chart their paths towards rewarding careers as composers and or musicians.

Jonathan Bailey Holland:

In terms of advice to young aspiring artists during these uncertain times, my advice would be that there have been many uncertain times in the past as well. And that we have figured out how to persevere and push through and overcome. And the same will happen now. And if you have the conviction to create art, then you probably don't know how to not create art and will continue to feel compelled to do so. And I think that artists are the ones who tell the real stories of what it's like to live right now. And so I think that we just have to continue to create and adapt and move forward.

Nanette McGuinness:

[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to "For Good Measure," and a special thank you to our guest, Jonathan Bailey Holland for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT, our concert season online and in the Bay Area, or to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at www.E4TT.org. This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. "For Good Measure" is produced by Nanette McGuinness and Ensemble for These Times, and designed by Brennan Stokes. With special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]

In an interview with WBUR, you talked about how “Synchrony” stemmed from your personal feelings about racial injustice in the U.S., and that “writing it was your responsibility.” What ideas did you want your listeners to take away from this recording...?
In view of the events of 2020, has your feeling about “Synchrony” changed at all, or has it mostly sharpened?
You’ve talked about the duality of being an African-American and a classical composer. How does that inform your music and your compositional life?
Our concert this past November explored old forms and styles, and their influence on new works such as your Two-Part Inventions for piano. Could you talk about your inventions and the inspiration behind them?
With the pandemic affecting the performing arts so greatly, what advice would you offer young aspiring artists during such uncertain times, in order to help them chart their paths towards rewarding careers as composers and/or musicians?