For Good Measure

Da Capo Conversations with Pamela Z and Dawn Norfleet

August 14, 2023 Ensemble for These Times Episode 63
For Good Measure
Da Capo Conversations with Pamela Z and Dawn Norfleet
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 63: Da Capo Conversations with Pamela Z and Dawn Norfleet

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 revisit Pamela Z’s and Dawn Norfleet’s perspectives on their paths to becoming a composer. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Pamela Z and Dawn Norfleet, check them out here and here. Parts of this episode originally premiered on January 18, 2021, on Youtube, click here and on January 17, 2022, 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

Co-Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Co-Producer and Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Volunteer: Merve Tokar
Interns: Sam Mason and Renata Volchinskaya

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Nanette McGuinness:

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 begin our Da Capo Conversations, a mini series where we'll be giving familiar segments a topical twist. Today, we revisit Pamela Z's and Dawn Norfleet's perspectives on their paths to becoming a composer. Here's what Pamela Z had to say.

Pamela Z:

In the early part of my professional life, basically, my early adult life, I was a music student at University of Colorado Boulder. I was studying voice with John Patton. I was very lucky to have him, because he was probably the only instructor on the voice faculty that would allow their students to sing anything other than bel canto. And he preferred that I do, opera arias and art song when I was studying with him, but he did not mind that after hours I was going and playing in clubs and singing other styles of music. There were people on the faculty that would have dropped you as a student, if they'd found out that you were doing that. So I was very lucky in that regard. So I went to music school singing classical music, mostly common-practice period – opera arias and art song and so forth. And at the same time playing singer songwriter-like rock and folk rock in clubs. And then after I graduated from college, I was actually making my living as a musician, playing music in clubs. But at the same time, I had a radio program on the local NPR affiliate, which was KGNU in Boulder. And I feel like I got my sort of contemporary music and experimental music education from the stacks of the that radio station. And I was doing this freeform radio program where I was just playing all manner of contemporary music, avant garde music, experimental music, across all different genres. And so I would be seguéing from Varèse and Stockhausen into, like, you know, the Ramones. [laughs]You know, or Brian Eno, and so I became enamored of contemporary music, and I really wanted to veer more in that direction and do things that were more avant-garde than what I was doing. But I was having a hard time finding that. And I tried in my songwriting, to just write things that were that were more experimental. And it just ended up sounding like quirky versions of what I was already doing. And then, at one point, I was exposed to someone using a digital delay. And it happened to be Jaco Pastorius, who used to be the bassist of a group called Weather Report. And at a concert, he played a piece, the rest of the band left the stage, and he sat down and started doing a duet with himself by looping his bass into this digital delay. And I was just so taken by that I was like, how is he doing that? So I went to music store the next day. I described it to the guy, and he was just like, oh, that's a digital delay, but you don't want the one that Jaco was probably using because that's a foot pedal one and it has a really low sampling rate, and it's not going to sound great on your voice. So he sold me a rack-mountable digital delay unit. And I always tell people that I went home and, my poor neighbors, I never went to bed that night. I just was amazed at what can happen when you can loop and layer your voice. That was a very specific moment in time where I actually found my voice as an artist, because as soon as I started working with the delay, I had to run out and buy more delays and build a rig that was made from a whole stack of digital delay units and multi-effects processors. But the thing that was specific about that situation was that I, I began to listen differently, I began to construct work differently, I became aware of other elements being important besides melody and harmony and rhythm, I was I was much more interested now in timbre and in texture, and I became aware of structures that had to do with repetition and slowly changing processes. And I also became really aware of how musical the sound of spoken words can be, because of all the melodic and rhythmic material that is embedded in speech sound. And so I just started composing completely differently. And I basically jettisoned everything I had been doing before that and just started a whole brand new way of working.

Nanette McGuinness:

Here's what Dawn Norfleet had to say.

Dawn Norfleet:

The first time I I sang harmony was when I was five years old. My mother was in a choir with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. So they had a Delta choraliers. And they invited family members to come along. And so I remember, you know, having to sing a note and hold it, while other people had to sing something else. And I was like, Oh, this is so cool. So, when I was in choir, in, at my school, in the fourth grade, I went to public schools in LA county, and if there if there was no harmony part, I would create one. So at the same time, I started playing flute, again, in the public schools. So fourth grade, there was a little orchestra, little black girls, little black boys, you know, playing handle and cheekbone, whatever, what else, whatever else was was, was set in front of us. Yeah. So so um, then, you know, going into junior high, not middle school. I started improvising with the band. I mean, I would, I would do it on my own, basically, and then playing at my grandmother's churches and stuff. And then going into to jazz in the in high school, I had to play the saxophone because flute players were discriminated against. You had to play. You had to play something else. So I picked up the saxophone just for high school, in order to get in the jazz band. And so. So, when I, when I went to college, when I started when I began college, music was the furthest thing from my mind, in terms of something to major in. But by the end of my sophomore year, you had a major in something. So, like, I'd taken all of these courses that I was like, hey, you know, I didn't take to music theory at all. But I thought, Okay, I got a major in something. So I'm major in music. And then the next year, I was allowed to my school, Wellesley College, we were allowed to, you know, go to certain other schools, and it would count toward our graduation credits. So Wesleyan had has had a very rich music program. And so I took jazz history, not jazz history, jazz, theory, and performance. And that's when all that music theory started making sense to me because I get I had to play it, internalize it, play it in all the keys and hear it and improvise. So, now, how I got into composition was, well, I started I started writing music as a songwriter at age 15, singer songwriter, I'd clunk out chords on the piano, and I would sing. I didn't, I didn't really write ate out a lot of things. I could, but I just didn't because I thought, well, who's gonna play it? So when I got in college, I, I stood I heard some 20th century composers. And I was just kind of fascinated by like, wow, people are making melodies out of things that have no tonality, or there's just a tonal or there, it's bleeps and bloops. And all that. And I was kind of intrigued by that. So I started composing in that language, I never could really get into the whole tone rose thing. But a lot of times, I would start with something and then I quickly leave it. So I'd say it's, I started doing that my second year in college. And then when I then I went to this thing in the summer, this symposium held at my college called the composer's conference, and I met, you know, all these amazing composers, Mario Davidovsky, John Adams, and some of the fellows there who are now like, you know, top in their field there was Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, um, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, just all these people and I was just like, really amazed. And so I decided, okay, this is what I want to do when I go to grad school so I I went to Columbia University and got my master's in composition and and yeah, so after I finished my masters, I kind of turned my attention to ethnomusicology for my P for a PhD. Wow, kind of a 180 because my ethnomusicology, my degree, my focus was on African American music, specifically hip hop culture, underground hip hop culture. So that's what my dissertation is.

Nanette McGuinness:

Thank you for listening to For Good Measure's Da Capo Conversations, and a special thank you to our guests 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 co producer and audio engineer Stephanie M. Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure."

Today we revisit Pamela Z’s and Dawn Norfleet’s perspectives on their paths to becoming a composer.
Here's what Pamela Z had to say.
Here's what Dawn Norfleet had to say.