Category Archives: Canadian Composers Interview Series

Canadian Composers Interview Series with Imant Raminsh

In our new blog series, Canadian Composers Interview with ACNMP board member and organist Matthew Boutda, we endeavour to illuminate the artistic process of select working composers from across Canada.

Born in 1943 in Ventspils, Latvia, Imant Raminsh came to Canada in 1948. After completing an ARCT diploma in violin at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and a Bachelor of Music programme at the University of Toronto, he spent two years at the Akademie “Mozarteum” in Salzburg, Austria, studying composition, violin and conducting, and playing in the professional Camerata Academica orchestra.

He is the founding conductor of the Prince George Symphony, the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan, NOVA Children’s Choir, and AURA Chamber Choir. His compositions have been performed on six continents by such ensembles as the Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto, Okanagan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick Symphonies, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the Tafelmusik Baroque Chamber Choir, the Tokyo Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Stockholm Chamber Choir, the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, Ave Sol (Latvian Chamber Choir), and many others. His music has been heard in such world-renowned halls as Carnegie Hall (New York), Tchaikovsky Hall (Moscow), Westminster Abbey, and Notre Dame (Paris).

Imant has also pursued studies in geology and biology, and worked for many summers as a naturalist/interpreter in BC provincial parks. He and his wife, Becky, an architectural designer, poet, and collaborator on some of his choral works, have a lovely bright daughter, Lisa Alexandra Soleil.

He is an officer in the Order of the Three Stars of the Republic of Latvia.

Matthew: Would you mind sharing a few words about your personal and musical background?

Imant: Musically, my first instrument is violin. I have had practice on piano.  My mother was a pianist. She graduated in the 1930s and had a career as a concert pianist when the war broke out.  Music was always a part of our family and all of our siblings studied piano to some degree.  I happened to drift off to the strings and -probably because of my cultural background as a Latvian for whom folk song was very strong- the majority of my works are for solo voice or choir.

Matthew:  What inspired you to composition?

Imant: Music has always been an internal thing for me!  The interest to try and create something original has always been there. I don’t know if there has been something specific, but my earliest compositions are from the age of 5 and, in fact, I still have copies of them. I had always been fascinated by ledger lines, with extensions like firetrucks. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t doodling or writing. In my late high school years and university years, I started to take myself a little more seriously.  As for learning to compose, largely I have been self-taught. Over the years I have had students come to me because they wanted to learn composition. I have always said to them that composition can be learned but cannot be taught.  Students can be exposed to the variety of techniques, but in terms of the art itself, it is really something that cannot be taught. I have certainly gained much from composers who gave me good advice and I did study composition in Salzburg, but the actual process is very individual within oneself.

Matthew:  What advice do you have for beginners learning how to compose?

Imant:  Just compose. Just do it. Don’t wait for inspiration. You could solicit help from people that you know that are known as composers, but just do it. Young students are fascinated by the romance of composers -how do you get to be a Beethoven or a Bach? But you just do it. You won’t become a Bach or Beethoven, but become who you are with your own voice. What made them great? A lot of hard work. Even Bach talked about the hours he put into developing his craft. What is failure? What is success? Only the one writing can say what he or she has set out to do. Don’t put all your hopes on other people’s evaluation of your work. Just do it.

Matthew: What makes your work different from others?

Imant:  I think you would have to be the one to decide that. Every composer’s work is unique to that composer to some degree. Composers in their early stages write works inspired by great composers. If you think of the great writers, they all still use the same lexicons and just created works which reflect their ideas. For me to judge my work from the point of view of others is difficult.

Matthew: What is your favourite work that you have written?

Imant:  That is kind of like trying to choose what is your favourite child.  It is unfair to ask, but I do have some favourite . . . Songs of the Lights, my opera ‘The Nightingale’.

A number of works by Imant have been selected for inclusion in our Contemporary Showcase Syllabus, including one of his favourites: Songs of the Lights.  Click here to listen to the work for choir.

Canadian Composers Interview Series with Carmen Braden

In our new blog series, Canadian Composers Interview with ACNMP board member and organist Matthew Boutda, we endeavour to illuminate the artistic process of select working composers from across Canada.

Carmen Braden is WCMA-nominated composer/performer/field recordist from the Canadian sub-Arctic. Her music+sound company Black Ice Sound is based in her hometown of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

Carmen’s vocal, instrumental, and electroacoustic music is greatly tied to her soundscape. She draws from the environment by examining natural phenomena through sonic, visual, sensual and scientific ways of understanding.

Her music has been performed across Canada by many prestigious ensembles and soloists including the Toronto Symphony, James Ehnes, the Elmer Isler Singers, and the Gryphon Trio. Her work has been performed internationally at the ArtArctica festival in Finland and The Global Composition in Germany. Carmen’s debut studio album Ravens was relesed by Centrediscs in 2017.

Matthew: Would you mind sharing a few words about your personal and musical background?

Carmen: I was born in Whitehorse, Yukon in 1985, and raised in Yellowknife, and Yellowknife is where I’ve made my home and work base. I took piano lessons starting at age 5, and was a real music nerd in elementary and high school – in all the bands and choirs, learning different instruments like the flute, tuba and trumpet. I started learning about composers and began improvising and learning jazz piano, and did my first real analysis of another composer’s work (it was Debussy’s La Mer -one of my lifelong favourites!). I did my undergrad and masters degrees in music composition (BMus Acadia ’09, MMus U of Calgary ’15), and stated my own music business called Black Ice Sound. Now I compose, perform, teach, and do anything that comes up for work relating to music – and I travel across Canada and sometimes internationally to work – it’s awesome!

Matthew: What inspired you to composition?

Carmen: Watching my teachers compose in University really got me excited, especially when I saw how they were bringing their environmental surroundings into their works. That made me want to do the same with my own environment and that’s where I found my first early inspirations that still say with me.

Matthew: Are you currently working on a new composition?

Carmen: I just finished one last week for choir – it’s all about water. I have had such a busy winter with creating things that I will take a break for a few weeks before starting the next one. I find it is very necessary to renew and replenish the creative juices.

Matthew: For beginners learning how to compose, what advice do you have for them?

Carmen: Be as curious as possible . . . about everything! All kinds of music should be explored when you’re learning to play or learning to compose. For example, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn just won the Pulizter – an award that was almost always given to classical composers. There are compositional ideas that are worth checking out in that album! And curiosity should also be an everyday – even an every-moment – part of a composer’s life. It will help to expand what inspires you, as well as make you a better human. And that is essential when making music and working with other humans.

Matthew: What makes your works different from others?

Carmen: The fact that I wrote it! Every person’s compositions are unique to them. I suppose my inspirations about the sub-Arctic environment aren’t very common in other people’s works. And sometimes my style includes improvisation or finding ways to make each performance of my pieces unique each time. Many composers do this as well, and I love how it keeps the music fresh even for me – the composer.

Matthew: Why should we grow this awareness for Canadian music?

Carmen: Because Canadians are writing excellent music!

Carmen’s debut CD ‘Ravens’ was released on the Centrediscs label in 2017. Click here to listen to ‘The Raven Conspiracy: II, Waltz of Wing and Claw’ for String Quartet.

Canadian Composers Interview Series with Alex Eddington

In our new blog series, Canadian Composers Interview with ACNMP board member and organist Matthew Boutda, we endeavour to illuminate the artistic process of select working composers from across Canada.

Alex Eddington is a composer, theatre artist and arts educator based in Toronto. Alex has had his music commissioned and performed by a diverse list of musicians, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Continuum Contemporary Music, junctQín keyboard collective, Da Camera Singers, violinist Contrad Chow, and singers Kristin-Mueller-Heaslip and Derek Kwan.  His music has been performed across Canada, in parts of the USA, and as far away as Poland and Taiwan.

His many pieces for young musicians includeLiving Soul, which was premiered by over 100 students of the Suzuki String School of Guelph.  Alex was commissioned by the TSO and Mississauga Symphony to composer Dancing About Architecture, a two-minute “sesquie” fanfare for the 150thanniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 2017.

Matthew:  Would you mind sharing a few words about your personal and musical background?

Alex: I grew up taking piano lessons, and later got serious about trombone.  I don’t come from a musical family, although my mom had a lovely singing voice. I went to U of T as a trombonist, but intending to move into the composition stream in second year. Played trombone professionally, but chose to stop playing by 4th-year U of T partly because of an injury, partly to focus on composition.  Then I went off backpacking in the U.K. for a year.  Then I got a Master’s degree in composition from U of Alberta.

Matthew:  What inspired you to composition?

Alex:  I got interested in repertoire really early – listening a lot to Beethoven and Bach during high school, and learning their pieces on piano.  Loving music made me want to make my own. I also believe that for some composers, we want to bring order to the sounds of the world.

Matthew:  What makes your works different from others?

Alex: I’m pretty open in terms of style or genre.  I’m not concerned about always sounding either “experimental” or “classical”.  I use the toolbox or soundworld that works for a particular piece.  The piece is what it is.  There’s almost always something from outside that comes into my music: a text, a location (building or land feature etc.), a sound from nature, or quotations of other music.  I’m a theatre artist as well as a composer, so I believe I think about story, and audience, and dramatic/comic tension, more than most composers.

Matthew:  For beginners learning how to compose, what advice do you have for them?

Alex: Listen to everything and find what you love. Then listen to more of it. Spotify is built for this kind of listening, so is SoundCloud, so are parts of YouTube. YouTube has channels with scores of recent pieces scrolling along with the music, which is amazing.

Matthew:  How can more people be exposed to Canadian music?

Alex:  The Canadian Music Centre is such a good resource for scores and recordings, plus the albums that they produce are available online.  I wish that more young students of music would learn Canadian repertoire. The RCM piano syllabus has included quite a bit, but the ACNMP fills a very important gap here through the Contemporary Showcase syllabus.

Matthew:  Are you currently working on a new composition?

Alex: Yes! I’m chipping away at a track for an album of my vocal music – a collaboration with soprano Kristin Mueller-Heaslip who I’ve been working with for 17 years now, ever since my undergrad.  I’m also feeling inspired to write more choral music, so I’m reaching out to choir directors at the moment.

Six works by Alex Eddington are included in our Contemporary Showcase Syllabus including ‘So Joab Blew A Trumpet’ for solo trumpet (CLASS 2003D Advanced).  Below is a performance of the work.