I am so honored to have been selected as an International Alliance for Women in Music Search for New Music contest winner! My original composition “Survivor’s Suite” was chosen for the 2019 Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Prize.
Watch the premier of “Survivor’s Suite” from April 11, 2019
Now here’s the part people don’t usually talk about. This is my third time applying for this contest. It is always a little soul-crushing to see these types of press releases come out every few months announcing the winners of contests for which you also applied. Some days it is easier to handle because things are going well otherwise. Sometimes it is really hard-hitting to have that rejection. I just want to take a moment in the midst of my excitement to say that for every award I have won, there are many others I did not, and that’s okay. I want to be real about this common shared experience in the arts world.
A little background on the piece…
Toward the end of high school, I began discovering Duke Ellington’s extended works. I was already very familiar with the classics – “Sophisticated Lady,” “Take the A Train,” “In a Mellow Tone,” and the like. I was also pretty familiar with Ellington’s earlier repertoire – “Hot and Bothered,” “East St. Louis Toodle-oo,” “Black and Tan Fantasy,” and so on. But after hearing The Tattooed Bride, my conception of Duke Ellington, and jazz, was permanently altered. Then I started listening to the suites – Such Sweet Thunder, Nutcracker Suite, Far East Suite, Queen’s Suite, and others.
During my first semester at Berklee College of Music, one of my professors asked me what my ambition was by the time I graduated. I said, “I want to write a suite like Duke Ellington!” At that point, I had very limited previous writing experience, nothing beyond writing a basic lead sheet. I had never orchestrated anything for an ensemble before and had never written a through-composed work (one without a repeating form). I didn’t know the ranges of the instruments or anything about drum notation. I had only been using Finale (a music engraving software) for a few weeks. Yet, here I was with all the hope and ambition in the world.
A lot happened between then and now. A lot. And in spite of all the hurdles and setbacks and sidetracks, I somehow managed to pull it together and make that younger me’s dreams come true. I premiered my first suite this past April in my senior jazz composition portfolio recital, as part of a full concert of original big band music.
The content and context of the piece is intensely personal for me. I tried to convey my experiences of surviving through a very challenging situation in my life. I was afraid to perform it live or put it up for a contest to be scrutinized, but I did it with the support of my family, friends, and teachers.
Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me achieve this and thank you to IAWM for supporting women artists around the world to create and build community.