For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 9: Gabriela Lena Frank (part 1)
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 Gabriela Lena Frank about her heritage, her numerous initiatives–particularly the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music–and the impact receiving the Heinz Award has had. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Gabriela Lena Frank, visit https://www.glfcam.com/people/gabriela . Parts of this episode originally premiered on Jun 21, 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: Roziht Edwards and Merve Tokar
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[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 Gabriela Lena Frank, who we spoke to in June 2021. [INTRO MUSIC END] Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. And congratulations on your 2020 hindsight award. How has your heritage shaped your journey as a musician and how were your compositions rooted in your multicultural, multiracial identity?Gabriela Lena Frank:
I like a lot of other musicians. So a lot of our livelihood hurts, wiped out entirely by the pandemic. And to have this kind of recognition was really life saving. Some of the money went into my academy, I split some of the proceeds. And I started a small Academy, Gabriela Lena Frank creative Academy of Music for emerging composers like myself that feel that we can't split our voice from our identity, our cultural heritage. And it's an every note of every piece of music that I write, even if it's not ostensibly, on a Latin American theme. I mean, I'm a Latina, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so I can't really get away from it. I think it has been important for me over the decades that I've been doing this is to constantly evolve, and to even be surprising in how I'm drawing on my heritage. So that while the voice may be consistent, the themes I may may draw on, or the instruments that I might write for, keep evolving as my own skill sets get better and better. So it my heritage, my explanation of what it means to be multiracial, middle aged woman, Gen X or composer partially disabled. It's, it's a complicated package of traits and attributes. And I think it's very American. I think that's what's so wonderful about this country is being able to be surrounded, and we're open to it, surrounded by a multitude of life perspectives. So it's important for me to continue what I started when I was a teenager, which was exploring what it means to be Gabriela Lena Frank.Nanette McGuinness:
You've created so many wonderful initiatives from GLF cam to your different music series. Could you talk more about the inspiration for them and what you're hoping they accomplish?Gabriela Lena Frank:
So GLFCAM or the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music was formed out of mainly an instinct at his impetus, which was that during this time, when I came up with this idea to form a small nonprofit, the timing was during the election of 2016. And if you if one goes their memory back to this time, this was when we're in the middle of a really divisive election. And it was quite shocking to see how awful the national discourse was, was becoming. And I was part of that group of people just increasingly dismayed and really worried about how things were going to turn out. And during a cross country trip that my husband and I took in the car, we drove through really economically depressed and culturally depressed areas of the country where I could see why certain kinds of messages that were so divisive, would make sense or would be appealing. And we experienced some really one significant awful event of just out and out racism and hostility, that changed everything for me. And I realized that I have to do something different other than enjoy a good career as a woman of color and in a field that does not recognize a lot of accomplished women of color. And that came to me Well, we have a large home now, having left the Bay Area A few years earlier, and I can open up this house for my younger siblings that are coming of age and create a safe space for people. All demographics, multitude of aesthetics, in various stages of emerging whether it's a student or young professional, to create music together. And if this is out of my house, then I can And handpick the people, both the composers that would be mentored and supported, as well as the performers who would do the mentoring and playing and premiering of their music through workshops. And that simple instant over four years was still pretty young organization. But in just four years, we've been able to become a force, a recognized nonprofit in the classical music world, and have started commissioning have started opening the eyes of my composers even more to community work. And I realized that ultimately, what I wanted to do was to provide models for my composers and open up some doors for them so that they could have a holistic life as an artist, that they're not just producing music for a new music series, but they're also out in the community. And they're known and they can do teaching in public schools, while they have a gig from Carnegie Hall. While they are a part of a climate action initiative that brings together artists and I think it's really teaching my composers how to be nomadic, and to go into a bunch of different realms that are not necessarily the ones that are talked about in the music schools. And I think this is what's going to bring classical music more into the 21st century is being open to different voices and open to different avenues other than a storied concert hall to deliver our talents.Nanette McGuinness:
Out of curiosity is the room behind you one of the GLF camera rooms.Gabriela Lena Frank:
Oh, so where I'm filming here, we're doing some renovation work at the main house where we live. And I'm a freelance musician with two mortgages, we bought a fixer upper, and we spent a couple years fixing it up. So this is one of the bedrooms with the we commissioned these really beautiful bunk beds with a queen bed, and a single prop from a young female carpenter in the area. And then we got some nice woodwork going on here. So this is the so called Mark Twain room, because this is the kind of wood that Mark Twain would have seen. In his lifetime, we have a Bruce Lee wound with Asian wood. And we have a Jimmy Cliff room as in the way gay star with the kind of wood you would see and then in the Caribbeans. And so this is where the composer's stay. When it comes to the residency, sometimes we put the performers instead here and it's been super useful. So this is my temporary office. Until the renovation work is done up at the main house.Nanette McGuinness:
I did my best not to giggle when you said the Jimmy Cliff room. I love it. That's great. Outreach is a major part of your work. What was one of your more memorable experiences?Gabriela Lena Frank:
I've done a lot of different types of outreach activities from the time I was in college. Some of them were more long term and involve actual relationships with people and others were one off kinds of events that were stewarded into existing into existence by somebody that was contracting me whether it was a composer in residence somewhere or just visiting for a weekend for content of my music. And I think that you sometimes don't know when a moving experience is going to come into your life and one that was part of my my time with the Detroit Symphony. Not too long after they declared bankruptcy soils, their component resonance from think was 2013 to 2000. Through the spring of 2017. Within the last couple of years at that web, MCI started dropping in as a guest with the music therapists at Detroit's Children's Hospital. And I had never been in a company of six children like this. And these music therapists were incredible and they took care of the doctors and nurses as well as the kids that often were going through such hard times and and there was a lot of sadness in that place. And they were really trying to bring in joy and they were considered very important by the nurses and doctors because children have children have fewer inhibitions. So a pretty piece of music might actually get their numbers are up on their medical charts, that they really respond well to happy events and joyful events and there's there's their children. So music therapy was really seen as truly therapeutic for them. I just remember some of these children's still that I would go and improvise on a keyboard for and we would do little songs and talk to them and speak with the parents, you can see the gratitude of the parents that were coming in and just trying to brighten up the kids day. And I remember also really being grateful that they're members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that were coming in, and they're taking off their professional hat and putting on a humanitarian hack, which can be really hard for us to do. We feel like this music's beneath me, or these people couldn't tell if I played a long note or in tune or, or not. And we need to step outside of that wall as much as possible. I think it again, will make us more relevant for the 21st century. And this experience with these little kids was one of the harder experiences I've been through, but it really translate it was transformative. In many ways, too.Nanette McGuinness:
That's great. You know, music has such power you right? And if we're only in the concert halls, then we're not part of everyone's daily life. And then that space gets taken up by other kinds of music or other arts. So I think what you're saying is absolutely correct. [OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure. And a special thank you to our guests Gabriela Lena Frank 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, where 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 Measures 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]