For Good Measure

Da Capo Conversations with Monica Chew and Erika Oba

November 20, 2023 Monica Chew, Erika Oba Episode 77
For Good Measure
Da Capo Conversations with Monica Chew and Erika Oba
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 77: Da Capo Conversations with Monica Chew and Erika Oba

Looking for a way to listen to diverse creators and to support equity in the arts? Tune in weekly to For Good Measure!

Today we revisit Monica Chew’s and Erika Oba’s perspectives on their compositional process. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Monica Chew and Erika Oba, check them out here and here. Parts of this episode originally premiered on June 20, 2022, click here, and May 16, 2022, 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
With assistance from Hannah Chen, Sam Mason, Renata Volchinskaya

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Nanette McGuinness 00:00 
[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 continue our Da Capo Conversations, a mini-series where we'll be giving familiar segments a topical twist. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS] Today, we revisit Monica Chew's and Erika Oba's perspectives on their compositional process. Here's what Monica Chew had to say. 

Monica Chew 00:39 
That is something I'm trying so hard to figure out. And the only thing that I found to work reliably is having a date, a venue and an ensemble. And each piece so far has been a little different in its conception and how it goes, sometimes it's really fast like that clarinet miniature that just got premiered. I think that's because I didn't have any decisions to make other than what to write. I mean, the deadline was that day, it's for one instrument, which only has like three and a half octaves or whatever. And just like eliminates a lot of angst. But if it's, if it's something like, oh, let's say that I want to write a chamber piece for next spring, it just opens this whole can of worms in my head of who should I write for? And how long is it? And where is it going to be? And when do we need to have the score ready? And the more, the more clearly, I see the the, more clearly I see the underperformance the easier it is to actually get something out, with a caveat that I am not particularly good at writing for myself. I actually haven't written very much piano music. Um, my first piano piece was actually, I played it in June. And I wrote it like, the week before and finished the score the day before. So it was not a great experience stress wise. I'm actually pretty good at writing for, writing for people who have limited rehearsal time. Let's see. So, yeah, 

Nanette McGuinness 02:48
Here's what Erika Oba had to say.

Erika Oba 02:51
It really depends on who I'm writing for and what context, but I would say that I found the most fruitful kind of like method or steps is when I start by improvising if I start at the piano, and like just record myself improvising different things, that's generally like the strongest way that I've found. I've tried other things too, but um, finding that that's generally that's the strongest starting point for me. For some projects, if I'm not collaborating with someone else, and given like, you know, like, well, this is what the piece is about. I found that like thinking conceptually, and thematically is helpful to me, as well. So if I'm writing like a chamber music piece for, like a group that I'm not in, for example, if I'm not performing in that ensemble, sometimes that takes a little bit more mining to think through like, Well, where am I going with this, but once I have that seed of an idea, kind of improvising around whatever that concept is, and then recording myself and then going back and listening and seeing if I like it, and then maybe transcribing a snippet and then working from there is I think a useful way to approach things for me personally. 

Nanette McGuinness 04:16 
[OUTRO MUSIC] 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." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS] 

Today, we revisit Monica Chew's and Erika Oba's perspectives on their compositional process.
Here's what Monica Chew had to say.
Here's what Erika Oba had to say.