For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 54: Monica Chew (part 3)
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In this week’s episode, we talk to Monica Chew about being an Asian-American composer, the Bay Area music scene, and her favorite composers for the piano. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Monica Chew, check her out here: www.monicachew.com. Parts of this episode originally premiered on June 2022, 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
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, artistic executive director of Ensemble For These Times. In this week's episode, we continue with our conversation with Monica Chew, who join us in June 2022 [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. How has being an Asian American woman influenced your path in life?Monica Chew:
Oh, well, I moved out. I moved out to California when I was 20. And that was to go to conservatory for my master's in piano. And I had previously lived in North Carolina. And although I'm there, my entire family is my entire nuclear family is there I it was clear to me when I moved out to California that I was never going to live in North Carolina again, because North Carolina is a is a hotbed of religious and political conservatism. And you can escape that a little bit in university towns, but it's very painful. Living in the South as a minority. Certainly being a woman in engineering was very obvious. To me when I worked for Google and even in school, I mean, it's just, I think it's around 10%. And, yeah, and you know, there are the usual things that happen, like somebody's assuming that I'm a UX designer, or whatever, when I'm not. Or whatever. There's very common stories that you can look up if you're interested in that kind of thing. As far as the my racial background, it's very easy in the Bay Area for a lot of East Asians to assume that they have white privilege until something like COVID happens. And Wuhan flu is on Fox News for 20 hours, 24 hours straight. And then you really see Oh, well. Yeah, people are getting stabbed and daylight, eighth and market. And that that was really disheartening to see. So I mean, I think a lot of people have had that, that experience, though, just of noticing that. That their their privilege has been eroded. During during COVID, over the past, you know, four or five years when it's become safer to be overtly racist, and misogynist, and all that. I think it's, it's felt like a large increase in reported incidents. And, you know, it's well, I'll just tell you, my, my first memory of a really bad, but felt like a hate crime to me, was when Rodney King got beaten by LAPD that happened when I was 12. And at that time, I don't think that cam like digital cameras were very as common as I mean, they were they were not really very common. So in some ways, we were really lucky that it was filmed at all. And I just remember, even at 12, I was so shocked at the verdict. And I just couldn't believe that that had happened. And it's, it's, it's just criminal, that these things have are still happening after, you know, decades. And I don't know if I'm more aware of it now. Or I think I think that's actually the answer that I'm more aware of it now. Because people have more cameras now. And it gets reported more. But uh, it really felt like a market increase over the past five years, for obvious reasons. As a Bay Area artist, how has the musical landscape changed during your time here? Is there anything you'd like to see more or less of? Well, what I have noticed over the past couple of years is that I think more and more people are seeing the value in diversity and programming. And that's, I mean, obviously it's ensembles like E4TT has always made that a priority. And it's, it's really been great to see, even larger institutions like a sub Symphony have all these guest directors that do much more exciting programming, frankly, than what was on the menu five years ago. And that's been great. Some things that I would like to see are, I would love to I would love to see that continue. I would love to see some of our institutions accommodate for shorter attention spans and smaller budgets. Like, for example, I, I follow le opera, and I think they have really just responded so admirably. And their expansion of programming and their availability of like, digital shorts, that are, you know, less than 10 minutes for, you know, new or remote subscribers and just really doing a great job and diversifying their programming. And I would love to see more of that here. for the more well funded institutions, I just find it so bizarre what's going on with, you know, Peter gal than I don't. I have, it's just, it's just astonishing to me that they can continue doing the same things and expect different results. So yeah, it's. And then, like, there is that awful interview with David Finkel, and Wuhan, and the New York Times. And I think that anybody who thinks that all of music is represented in a heightened quartet is not is not who we should be looking to for for leadership, so I hope that more people recognize that and respond appropriately. I love Haydn. It's just that I don't want to only study Hyden or only listen to Hyden. And yeah.Nanette McGuinness:
Who are some of your favorite contemporary composers of piano music? Any underrated or undiscovered gems?Monica Chew:
There's so many composers that I don't know. And every, every day I hear something by someone that I would love to play that I whose music I don't know very well. And this morning, it was a Adolphus historic scherzo, which I just thought was fantastic. And I'm not going to try to enumerate all those contemporary composers that I think are underrated, but I'll just say that. Recently, I've really enjoyed learning the studies and African rhythms by Fred Ono, verse Wookie. And those that are pieces that I think are so fun, and I hope to keep them in my repertoire forever. I have an section's etudes on my piano desk. They're very difficult. So they may not ever make it out but I I totally love them. And, and you know the past few months, I've heard music by Reena Esmail and Ida Shirazi that I would love to learn and that's, you know, that's only the tip of the iceberg. I'm not going to go on and on and on, because I I'm going to leave somebody else. There's never enough time and the list is always growing. So it's actually it's true. It's one of my great joys is actually doing music research research, which basically just means listening to lots of music and figuring out what I could possibly program next. Yeah, it's true.Nanette McGuinness:
It's a little like being in a toy store or bookstore or a candy store. All the shelves are in front of you and you wander down one aisle and discover more and more wonderful selections. So you're like, I want to do this. That's terrific. I love this. It's really amazing how much good music and how many good composers are out there when you just start to tiptoe along just a little bit. So one leads to another. Yeah.Monica Chew:
It is. It really is.Nanette McGuinness:
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure, and a special thank you to our guest, Monica Chew 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 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]