What was your first musical experience? I was about three years old, and standing at the piano, which my sister was playing, and my eyes were at the keyboard level. I was holding onto the piano and I think even gnawing on it a little. I remember feeling the whole piano vibrating and moving, and I knew that somehow her fingers were making that sound and vibration. I couldn't wait for my turn. As soon as my sister was finished practicing, I got up onto the piano stool and wrote a piece. It was just a series of clusters that I came up with, ordered and restructured, but when I had played my piece through I climbed down and found my mother in the kitchen and asked her what she thought of my piece. How has your environment, where you spent your childhood, been reflected in your music? I was born in Delaware, though we moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota when I was three. I grew up in that city only a block away from a lake and I live there still. The unusual thing about Minneapolis is that is built around lakes and creeks; it has a concentrated urban energy, but it is also possible to take a canoe or sailboat out on the water, in the middle of the city. What has found its way into the music is a sense of movement from ground to water, and a movement from civilized energy to nature. Who were your early music teachers and in what way have they influenced your music? My earliest music teachers were the St. Joseph nuns at Christ the King School in Minneapolis. Everyone learned to read and sing Gregorian Chant, and learned to sight read using movable 'do.' We started in first grade and sang and read through sixth grade, until the Ecumenical Council happened, and Gregorian Chant was eliminated from the music program. Pretty unfortunate, and a huge mistake, in my opinion, to move away from the Guidonian system to a rote, repetitive one. My piano teacher, Sister Colette, was extraordinary in the kinds of repertoire she gave me. I played very unusual repertoire—Mozart, Bartok, Stravinsky, Japanese music and boogie right away. That variety was very important in introducing so many different musical sounds and colors to me.
What leads you to compose art song?
When I was a little girl, whenever I had something important to communicate, I sang it. It didn't matter where I was, in school, at the dinner table, working around the house, trying to get someone's attention in a crowd—I just sang (and still do) what I wanted to say. I love the human voice, especially when it sings. It seems to me that the human voice raised in song carries our spirit on its breath in a way that is essential, timeless, deeply mysterious and completely honest. I also love great texts - texts that invite you inside to play, discover and wonder at the author's passion and skill. When I compose song, I feel like I am in a vast, sun-lit space with the author(s), the words and the performers and we are delighted to be together, working at what we do best.
Who were your primary composition teachers and where? Who else has influenced you and your music? I went to the University of Minnesota for my undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral degrees; I studied composition with Dominick Argento, Paul Fetler and Eric Stokes. Vern Sutton, tenor and director of the opera program while I was at the University, offered to perform my first opera if I would write it. So I wrote an opera, and he did produce it. That meant so much to me, Vern saying, "If you do it, I will help." To tell the truth, my teachers have come to me from unexpected places in my musical life. They have been poets, architects, painters and philosophers. The other way I really learn is by reading scores voraciously, from Chuck Berry to Witold Lutoslawski.