For Good Measure

Elinor Armer II - Part 2

July 31, 2023 Elinor Armer Episode 61
For Good Measure
Elinor Armer II - Part 2
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 61: Elinor Armer II (part 2)

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 about her compositional process when setting poetry. 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 continue with our conversation with Elinor Armer, who join us in January 2021[INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. One of the things that I thought might be interesting to those who are tuning in today is if you would talk about your compositional process.

Elinor Armer:

My process, at least in terms of I'll talk about setting poetry because that's quite a specific process, not necessarily the same as my process with, you know, pieces that do not have words, I very much want to honor the poet and find the poet's voice. So I always start with setting the words. You know, I don't, I don't generally, you know, go to the piano and, and, you know, poke around for chords, or anything of that sort. In fact, I usually take the book that has the poem in it, and right oh, all over the poor damn book, I have mutilated and marred many a poetry book, just by doing this. I then sometimes also do what I tell my students to do, which is to copy the poem out triple space, you know, on a piece of paper, where they can then mess with it. And and before they write a note, write on that piece of paper, or nowadays, I suppose they can do it, you know, at the computer, but somehow underline the important words, put borrow lines before syllables that you think should be downbeats. Sketching little rhythmic motives that some of the words suggest, decide in larger terms, you know, a Section B section, that kind of thing. And the poetry Don't Don't Miss, don't mess with it. I mean, I am big pentameter, it can only be pulled this way or that it's not, it's not taffy, you know, you have to there's a reason that poets use certain rhythms and meters, and you want to try to honor those. I do, however, sometimes have the musical phrase, set an entire sentence or an entire clause, even if it stops short of a line ending, or goes beyond a line ending, because I think that helps convey the meaning when the poem is heard. In other words, it it's kind of parsed according to actual sentences and clauses, rather than line endings. Because I think the last thing I want to do in setting a poem is to just be a singsong II. I don't want the poem to set me. And then, and then at that point, having having analyzed the poem and heard it in my mind, a number of times. I then start sketching, but even then, the vocal line tends to come first. And, you know, but I'm a harmonic fool. I'm just so crazy about harmony. That's been that's been my curse and blessing all my life. Then I can't resist Of course, starting to raise at the keyboard and you know, find sonorities that will that will suit but it's very important I think to have the overall the large rhythm and the small rhythms of the vocal line before you have anything else. Sometimes I then having you know, found a complemental material or, or piano material that helps the image URI and also serves the vocal line. I then, you know, adapt it to the rhythmic needs and try to keep it on the one hand out of the way of the singer. But on the other hand supportive of the singer and in fact, occasionally I, I am at pains to have the piano part prepare the singer with a pitch that she's going to have to come in on i i hope i did that enough for you, you know it, it, it it's hell for singers to have to just find something out of thin air.

Nanette McGuinness:

Yours was very easy to learn! So you did exactly what you were hoping. I've worked on some pieces where I really had to struggle to find pitches in the learning stage. And yours wasn't like that at all.

Elinor Armer:

That's good. Thank you.

Nanette McGuinness:

[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]

One of the things that I thought might be interesting to those who are tuning in today is if you would talk about your compositional process.