For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 8: Sakari Dixon Vanderveer
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 Sakari Dixon Vanderveer about her compositional process and the philosophy behind her You(th) Can Compose workshop. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Sakari Dixon Vanderveer, visit https://sakaridixon.com/ . Parts of this episode originally premiered on May 17, 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
Intern: Roziht Edwards and Merve Tokar
[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 Sakari Dixon Vanderveer, who we spoke to in May 2021. [INTRO MUSIC END] Thank you so much for making the time to talk with us today. How do you translate your initial inspiration into music, i.e., can you describe your compositional process and how you connect the dots between your imagination and your music?Sakari Dixon Vanderveer:
Funnily enough, even though most of my pieces are programmatic to some extent, I rarely come up with the imagery or narrative of a piece prior to composing it. Most of my compositions are written with specific performance in mind. So my first course of action is to get to know more about them in their artistic voice, I might ask questions about what they feel is missing in their repertoire, or what sounds or techniques they would like to explore further. For example, that approach might feel restricted to some composers, but for me, it actually is a lot more exciting and freeing to give myself to find parameters and create my own musical challenges. Since I tend to improvise pretty extensively while I brainstorm appears, these parameters can often be a great jumping off point for a thematic material. Generally, the imagery or narrative comes much later in the process. I wait as long as possible to see what images or emotions freely come to mind while I'm writing the piece. Sometimes that happens very close to the end of completing a work, but often, it happens when I'm more than halfway into the piece. In that case, I find it pretty easy to delve deeper into the program that is presenting itself.Nanette McGuinness:
Your piece type is fascinating. It explores typefaces and fonts rather than textual meaning, and asks the musicians to improvise. Could you tell us about the piece? Do you often call for Aliah toric elements or improvisation in your works?Sakari Dixon Vanderveer:
I wrote the piece type for three of my friends and colleagues from the University of Redlands the face ensemble as a trio they specialize in contemporary music and improvisation. Since I knew that they were absolutely eager to work with aliens lyrics scores, I took the opportunity to branch out of my own comfort zone by writing a techspace piece. Before then, most of my music had been in standard notation. Yet in the past several years, I have been exploring various degrees of alien story and my writing. It has been a really intriguing challenge to consider what music elements I want to leave open ended and what elements I want to control. This pursuit has definitely strengthened my writing price process, even in more traditionally, notated works. As someone who spends a lot of their spare time reading, whether in books or online communication as both a craft and an art form is something that I think a lot about. On the one hand, there are the fundamentals such as word choice, grammar and logic. Yet there are other elements such as design that also have a significant influence on how information is conveyed. I admit I'm one of those people who can be prone to agonizing about my font choices. When I was thinking of what to explore the phase ensemble, I knew I wanted to break away from traditional notation, but I also felt that my skills as a graphic artist are fairly limited. Because of this, I decided early on that I wanted to use a text space score, I can save that challenge for another day. Since then, I have been including more alien story in my writing as long as it is something that the performer is comfortable with. Most recently, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to write another improvisatory work latitude for bass trombonist Maxine juggler as part of the 2020 composers conference. We collaborated on that piece extensively. Since I learned that Maxine has a background in jazz improvisation, I took the opportunity to include plenty of improvisatory aspects and fat. Some of the trombone samples included in the fixed media are Maxine's improvisations, based on sketches that I sent to her during the making of the piece. I had so much fun putting that together, and I definitely look forward to exploring more electronic and alien tech techniques in the near future.Nanette McGuinness:
Could you tell us about your youth compose workshop? What makes you passionate about teaching composition to children?Sakari Dixon Vanderveer:
The youth can compose summer workshop is an online program for students between the ages of 10 and 18, who are new to composing. In the span of four weeks, students learn about contemporary music visit with guest artists and composers improvise on their instrument and write their own piece to perform in a virtual recital. As a kid that age, I was lucky to have the support of music teachers who nurtured my interest in composition, even though they were not composers themselves. Although there are more programs being geared towards the development of pre college composers, I rarely see programs that cater to students who have little to no experience. It's never too late to start composing. But I do think that being a young musician is a perfect time to start. It can be easier in a way since kids tend to have less baggage about how they should or shouldn't write. I have found that students rarely have the opportunity to compose in their K 12 programs, or private lessons, since the focus is on performance. If a composition project is presented, often it's really a theory assessment in disguise. There's nothing wrong with that. But I do believe that those types of assignments do relatively little to develop a student's creativity. And they can reinforce the idea that there's a right or a wrong way to compose. I think it's important to recognize that distinction as educators. And if we do such assessments, we also need to provide plenty of open ended activities, and a non judgmental, nurturing environment. For example, in the youth can compose summer workshop, students began their study of composing the regular improvisation. Depending on the activity, there may be an inspirational prompts to get student students going, such as a story or picture. These prompts are really open ended, leaving plenty of opportunity for us to practice how to transcribe their ideas and develop them into a full length piece. We also experiment with different techniques such as writing chants, music, or producing fixed media in Audacity. I've become very devoted to teaching composition to kids, because learning to compose at an early age strengthened my understanding of music significantly, especially since I didn't have private lessons until halfway through high school. Basically, I was able to use the music theory that I was learning to better my understanding of playing the violin. I even use that knowledge to teach myself how to read alto clef when I wanted to take up the viola. Also, not every student who is passionate about music will see themselves in a performing career in the long run. When we fail to give kids a variety of opportunities to express themselves, it becomes a huge source of untapped potential. Essentially, we disempower them. I think we are in a world where we're seeing the effects of having relatively few voices dominate the narrative of our society. And as educators, we are some of the ones who have a unique opportunity to help students find their voice in one way or another.Nanette McGuinness:
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure. And a special thank you to our guest Sakari Dixon Vanderveer 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 END]