For Good Measure

Elinor Armer II - Part 1

July 24, 2023 Elinor Armer Episode 60
For Good Measure
Elinor Armer II - Part 1
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 60: Elinor Armer II (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 Elinor Armer about the creative process for her E4TT "Mothers and Daughters" commission “Matrix” and how it relates to her own life as a mother and daughter. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Elinor Armer, check her out here:  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

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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Nanette McGuinness:

[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're joined by Elinor Armer, who we spoke to in August 2020 [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. Welcome, Elly, and thank you so much for joining us for this composer talk before we perform the work today that you wrote for us, "Matrix." Please tell us about your piece.

Elinor Armer:

Well, you may remember that some time ago, you sent me the plans for the upcoming seasons, you know, of E4TT. And one of them was to be on the theme of of mothers and daughters. And I selected that one, because I thought I would be able to find some poetry that would that I would like to set. And I you know, I'm, I'm very close to that subject. I am both a mother and a daughter. I, originally, you may remember, was all wrapped up in the idea of the Persephone myth. You know, you and I went round and round with some poems related to that. And then somehow that got discarded. A lot of the poems were too long and thoroughgoing and some of them rather Frank, in their imagery, and so on. So I continued looking, and I was in the process of going through my old friend and collaborator, Ursula Gwynns. Poems, looking for poems to set, I'm making a memorial album of my settings of her poetry. And I remembered coming across the one that she wrote called a song for my daughter, and that just hit the spot, totally hit the spot. Partly because of its symmetry of generations. That particular poem, you know, refers to her daughter first, as I believe, mother of my granddaughter, or granddaughter of my mother, I can't remember which came first. But there's all kinds of verbal inversion. Going on there y actually created little motives to represent daughter, granddaughter, and mother. And they, of course, were invertible Invertible counterpoint if you like, if you want to sound very fancy. And those motives worked their way into the, into the piece, which is essentially tonal or modal. It didn't seem to me to call for any experimental harmonic, you know, advanced harmonic, super modern ideas, and I don't think any of Ursula is work has ever been anything more than just sort of naturally tonal or almost total, for me and and preferred by her. She has, in the past mentioned some other settings of her work that she didn't like for this reason, or that and so I always tried to avoid doing those things that she did, like, you know, from other composers. The poem was meaningful to me because I have known Elizabeth, her daughter, for longer than I knew her. It was actually through Elizabeth that I met Ursula Le Guin. I met her at Elizabeth's wedding. And Elizabeth had been my student long ago, at the San Francisco Conservatory, and a brilliant student, she was and now look at her, she said, you know, in a very important position, down at UCLA, and very highly considered and so on. But we, we have remained friends, of course, through all of this. And speaking of friends, I was going through other poems, sets of poems, specifically a book called audible Dawn by an old friend of mine, Rella Lossy and we were very good friends. She She has long since been Castaway, but I've always loved her poetry. And I don't want to spill a bean here. But the poem that I chose by her was actually addressed to her son. But we won't tell anybody that because it works just as well, to pretend that it's addressed to a daughter. So I was very happy to find that one, by her and child, your eyes, and the the, the vigor of it and and the spontaneity and the strength of it in a sense of was a wonderful contrast to the more lyrical, more regular poem by by Ursula, I thought they would work very well together. And I always like working with poetry by my friends and loved ones. When I have the chance, I when I have the chance, I do it, and I'm fortunate to, to know or to have known many poets. So it's just all in the family, if you will.

Nanette McGuinness:

You introduced me to the poetry of LLRC with "Child Your Eyes," which I then found in Time Pieces, her collection, and I love her poetry. I am so grateful to you for introducing me to her writing. A colleague of mine read the poem and was playing the piece and was so moved by how accurate it was in terms of her own experience as a mother and how she experienced her children, both the poem and the music. And now, there's another composer who's setting another of Rella Lossy's poems in the future for us. So the chain of friendship of poetry and composition continues. Just wonderful.

Elinor Armer:

Lovely, I'm happy that you're that you're a Lincoln that.

Nanette McGuinness:

Yeah, you too, as well.[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure, and a special thank you to our guest, Elinor Armer 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 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]

Welcome, Elly and thank you so much for joining us for this composer talk before we perform the work today you wrote for us, “Matrix.” Please tell me about the piece.
You introduced me to the poetry of Rella Lossy with "Child, Your Eyes," which I then found in Time Pieces, her collection. And I love her poetry. I'm so grateful to you for introducing me to her writing. A colleague of mine read the poem and was playing..