This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For the complete interview, you can access here.
Kristine Dizon: Hello, my name is Kristine Dizon and I'm the CEO and founder of The Modern Artist Project. Today, I'm with Kirsten Milenko, an Australian composer and conductor based in Paris. Her music embodies acoustic and electronic settings of an immersive and beautifully strange nature grounded on spectral portraits. Her work as a conductor began as an extension of composition evolving to reform the relations of imaginary to concrete realizations of musical gesture across a diverse repertoire. She completed her composition studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where she received the 2016 Ignaz Friedman Memorial Prize for Excellence in Composition. She's currently studying the 2022-2023 Cursus Program on Composition and Computer Music at IRCAM. In 2019, she was awarded the Roche Young Commission by the Artistic Director of the Lucerne Festival, Wolfgang Rihm.
In 2020, her debut opera and dance theater piece Dalloway premiered at the Pulstar Festival in Copenhagen. She was a participant in the 2022-2021 Words and Music Workshops with the Opera Orchestre National De Montpellier, led by Ted Huffman and Sivan Eldar, and attended the Académie du Festival d’Aix with Andrea Breath in 2021.
She's also an orchestrator. Recently commissioned to work on projects such as a series of orchestra remixes of electronic pieces by SØS Gunver Ryberg for the Symphony Orchestra and Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture for Mizmorim Festival 2023. Thank you Kirsten for joining us today.
Kirsten Milenko: Hello, thanks for having me.
KD: So you have such a rich background, there's so much I love it. What I'm curious about is to learn more about what led you on this path within composition.
KM: Yeah. So composition, it was a bit of a weird relationship. It was kind of a field that fit me rather than me trying to fit into it. So when I graduated high school, I had the usual identity crisis that everyone at that age had like, “What am I gonna do with my life? What next?” And I started doing international relations, where you study international law and language and a whole lot of different things.
And I think I got three weeks in and I just started playing music all the time. I wasn't studying or doing anything productive beyond music. So I decided to audition to then split my degree into arts and music and do piano. And I did, I think in total three years of that and the more piano repertoire I was learning, the more I wanted to improvise.
And eventually, that improvisation became little scribbles and those little scribbles became drafts and they eventually started to become pieces. And yeah, actually, a similar process happened from my instrumental work to electronic. It was just this like discovery kind of step-by-step. And through that discovery, I realized I needed more training.
And I ended up shifting schools. I started out at the University of New South Wales, went to the Sydney Conservatory of Music, and like restarted my studies, which I think gave everyone in my life a bit of a heart attack, throwing three years of tertiary education away. But in terms of the like degree away. And I stayed at the Sydney Conservatory for three years, went to Denmark on an exchange, loved it. There, decided to stay, and did my masters in Copenhagen.
And yeah, I kind of just dove headfirst into the world of composition, did as many academies as I could write for, as many ensembles as I could. I found where my limits were as well, which is something that we don't talk enough about with composers is actually when you need to rein it in and really just do one thing at a time. But yeah, it's, it's kind of been a process of trial and error, but one that has been a lot of fun.
KD: Thank you for sharing that. And I think it's really great, that you were experimenting with different things, not saying that the three years that you had before you decided to really dedicate yourself to music was wasted because without those three years, you wouldn't have been able to find that path.
KM: Absolutely. I think they were really informative, especially for composers. I think it's important to do something else before composition. Whether you do a Bachelor's degree and then you have a bit of a break, and you just do something really intensely or whether you take that time before your studies, it's important to have a bit of a thought about kind of what you want in the world and what you're capable of giving the world at the same time.
KD: Yes. And it's also one of those things too, this idea of exploration and being able to take the time as you had mentioned, to really get to that point where you can't see yourself doing anything else, right? And so that's something that's really interesting. A lot of time. I've always found young people or younger people because we're still very young. But the fact that we're so worried where, we have this identity crisis that you talked about before, being able to say, “Okay, the decision I'm going to make is to define who I am forever. Right?”.
You know, it's all about the journey and the type of thing. So, in regards to the things that you do, could you elaborate a little bit more on the different projects you're doing?
KM: Oh, gosh, we have a lot of projects and the projects that we do here are very intense, it's kind of like the hours of a normal working job you have, the 9 to 5 situation. But then on top of that, you have to revise everything as you're going along and do projects and all of that, which is the academic settings. It's not so normal, so much more intensive like time where you're active in a lab or a classroom or something.
So the course covers a whole lot of different aspects. We do some work with poetry and dance where we use motion sensors. We're doing an improvisation workshop in about a week, less than a week, which is exciting to be preparing for. We've done our first project, which was setting a film to music. It’s kind of a way to explore all of the different technologies at our fingertips because one of the blessings is that anything is possible.
But that's also kind of crazy at the same time because you're in this place for one year. And anything is possible. So what on earth did you do with yourself in that time? The lessons are really focused on exploring different programs, and different ways of working with them. Everything from Max MSP to being able to live to like Reaper too, just really everything. And those projects are a way of just putting that into practice.
And then at the end, we have a major project and mine is with a singer, a soprano called Beatrice who's based in Paris. And it's a doorway of what I hope will be more work with more chamber settings of opera. It's not an opera because that would be a bit indulgent to put on an opera in a festival setting. It's just a small piece. But that's my summary of what we do at com, but I did my best.
KD: This is really great for our listeners, the fact that income offers the possibilities, that I don't think you would find really in a lot of places. Being able to experiment to try new things, things that work, maybe something might explode. But at the same time, it's one of those things that you don't have to fear, to be able to try new things and I think that's really awesome. Now, in regards to the work that you've done for composition, I know you've done a lot of different things. Could you elaborate more on, your ideas on how you approach composition and how it connects to you personally?
KM: Yeah, it's a big question. I think in general when you start studying composition, you have to really think about yourself as an artist and as a person as much as anything else. And everyone's approach to music, of course, is very different from being a performer to a composer. I'm at a point now where I really approach my pieces as little sculptures, and in each section of that sculpture, it's a big piece, a big orchestral piece. That sculpture has many different angles and the light will move over it in different ways. And I always think of that metaphor of taking a brick and then chiseling it down to find the end result of this thing. You're working on the times, when I was first starting out in academies and really trying to find my feet as a composer, I was very much thinking of a creation process, always trying to put myself into my music rather than taking myself out of it in a way. It sounds a bit academic and strange. But I think this process of removing rather than adding is something that took me a really long time to realize. But that's sort of the best way I can explain my approach to it now.
KD: I think this is really great. When we approach composition, I know when I was younger, I tried to compose things and I always never felt like anything I did was good. So it would just always be crumbling the paper and throwing it away. Right? And so I admire that, being able to have that type of patience to go through the process because it is quite a process.
KM: Just as an instrumentalist needs to develop a practice routine that works for them, the kind of repertoire they're working on. For example, sometimes someone wants to be this big Bel Canto voice and they realize that Barack is their niche or maybe they're this huge Wagnerian soprano, they have to discover what is their pathway, and composers have to do that as well. We need to really find a rhythm and a routine and a way of like finding our way through pre-existing repertoire, finding relevant things. If we want to create a certain sound, has that been done before? And if so, how can we stand on the shoulders of that rather than blindly trying to forge a path because that gets a little egocentric? So to be able to navigate that find your own pathway and develop yourself as a composer at the same time, it takes a lot of time and energy.
KD: But at the same time, it's a passion too, right? If you're motivated and if you're passionate about it, the energy that you exert into something makes it really meaningful.
KM: Yeah, of course, it's still hard though. It's still also a job. But yes, the passion is really important.
KD: It’s still work, that type of thing and I agree, not just in regards to the labor of love, I guess you could say, that puts into something that you care about deeply. You're a very successful composer, doing all of these things independently, with all of these types of commissions that come your way. Could you talk a little bit more about what led you to this path? It's a bit entrepreneurial now.
KM: Yeah, it is. I don't think of it like that very often, but it is quite entrepreneurial. It's funny, I think often when we talk about business minds or entrepreneurship in music, the backs go up of everyone in the room. No one wants to talk about it, you'll break music if you talk about money or anything like that, there's this attitude that it's just gonna shatter the illusion.
And I think that's really damaging. One of the great things about being in Scandinavia is just the group of people I was spending time with were very open about every single aspect of the industry. From the way we were formatting our scores to what we thought a fair rate was for commissions, to really everything. And I loved this because what it meant is that you ended up having colleagues in not just an artistic communal sense, but in a way that developed a workplace at the same time. And that's pretty rare for composers. It's something I'm really grateful for for that time and all those people in my life. That entrepreneurial side of things that some… I think that's why when you're developing your voice as a composer, it's really important to think of the kind of music you want to write and what makes sense to you and still be very open-minded during your training, which the training obviously extends for decades as a composer, it never ends. Really be conscious of the fact that you are different from your work in a way that you are your workplace and if you go and work on a residency or something with an orchestra, which is really cool when people get the chance to do that, that's a moment where you get to step into a more collective setting.
But at the end of the day, you're always this entrepreneurial-like soul, you have to be very aware of that. That’s kind of tough sometimes, but it's kind of fun as well.
KD: One of the things that you mentioned was the idea that when we talk about money and music, it's like, “Oh money broke music,” right? But the thing is that it is a lot of work, it is dedication, it is an art, it can also be a service that we provide.
For example, being given a commission and saying, “Can you please write X Y Z for me?“ It takes hours, it takes time, it takes thought to create an idea based on what is given to you within whatever parameters.
KM: Right. Yeah, very much.
KD: So it's one of those things that when we think about this entrepreneurial mindset, a lot of the time people sometimes forget, yes, it's beautiful to make art, but if you want to be making just art for your life, you have to find a way to share it with people in a way that they could connect with it and see the value in it.
KM: Yeah, that's really true. I don't know where to take that thought, but I agree.
KD Being in those collectives that you mentioned, the idea of being around colleagues that share similar values. Now, when you’re studying and as you continue your studies and really gaining your feet or your grounding in regards to the work that you do, not only as a composer but also as an orchestrator. How have you found that in regards to doing these commissions, working directly with these different ensembles…
KM: Do you mean, how have I balanced my time or how have I kind of built up the work?
KD: Both balancing time of being able to build that momentum?
KM: Yeah. Gosh, I'm not sure. Actually, orchestration is something that I've always found quite natural in a way, I've understood it a lot. I've always struggled with theory and harmony and things, which I hate to admit, but it's something that if it's not like Palestrina kind of theory if it's more like bar harmony, it's really rough for me.
So, that's something that I found really difficult. But orchestration, on the other hand, has been really, obviously, it takes effort, but it's come very naturally and it's something I've always really loved. Also, the approaches I take to my compositions often start with orchestrations and then work backward from there to become motifs and whatever actually comprises the piece.
So the orchestration work in Denmark, you kind of have your main study which is composition or conducting or whatever it is. And for composers in the master's degree, you effectively have to like supporting subjects, and one of mine was orchestration. So I spent two years of my master's having one-on-one lessons about orchestration and studying the works of different musicians and how to orchestrate in different settings besides not just piano to the orchestra, but taking a percussion quintet and turning it into a string quartet or taking an orchestral piece and turning it into a wind trio or something like that. So, yeah, that flexibility was kind of in my mind through a lot of effort, but also because it felt like a comfortable place for me to be in. And I've been quite fortunate with my orchestration work because I haven't had to search in the same way that I have in the early days of my commissions, I haven't had to push through doors in the same way. I really think with my early composition commission application days, it was like nine out of 10 would be pushed back, which I think it's quite normal for composers, and then, that rate changes as you go on. But orchestration, I haven't had to do that, which I feel really fortunate for.
I've been able to just go like directly into work, which I really loved and they have been settings that I've just really enjoyed, They’ve been a bit abnormal and cool, and it's been really fun. I was a bit rambling. I'm sorry.
KD: That’s great. Just because of the fact that taking orchestration, this idea of being able to take a piece of music that already exists and being able to create this setting, not saying it's disturbing the peace, but being able to create a setting whereas a different group of musicians would be able to enjoy performing this work that otherwise wouldn't be available to them within that original instrumentation.
KM: Yeah exactly. And there's a huge history of that. Even performing an area with a piano rather than a full orchestra and an opera setting like that, that in a way is performing an arrangement and it's something that's so natural in a lot of parts of our industry that we kind of forget that someone has arranged that entire orchestral score for piano or for two people on piano or maybe a string quartet or something.
The coolest project I've done so far, well the least traditional I guess I could say was this orchestral-like remixing, a reimagining of electronic works, that was really cool. Like I was basically just given these tracks and said like, “Here’s your orchestra, do what you gotta do.” It was really nice because I got to use these very contemporary techniques and this tapestry of sounds that is available to us in contemporary music for a more techno setting. I hate to pigeonhole music because her music is a lot of things, techno is one of them. And yeah, it was so much fun. I just loved reestablishing the tapestry that she had made with a completely different set of tools and kind of almost like that approach of composing, like peeling it back until it gets to that point where it feels authentic and complete in some way, it's very fun and in some ways it feels new, right?
KD: Very much!
In regards to that type of experience you mentioned earlier, you really have to push sometimes early on in one's career, you really want to make your own pathway. How did that shape you into who you are today?
KM: I think it had a positive and negative effect. So being a composer from Australia, you just have this constant fear of missing out, there's always this thing that the grass is greener somewhere else. So you need to apply to everything to maybe get this tiny little piece of something and that's kind of your attitude at the beginning.
I really just like to apply to all these things, even if I wasn't qualified enough, I would just apply to them. And that was really great. At the beginning. I got some nice surprises and over time I started getting accepted to more things and then I had to learn how to say no. And I actually had to become more discerning and that was a really rough learning curve for me, especially when this sense of a constant drought is basically like what we're told when we're young artists in Sydney. I don't know if it's still like that anymore, but that was really what we were told was that this career is rough. You'll never have enough. You always have to try for more than you can like actually handle that. You just have to always be putting yourself out there to suddenly be in a position of, “I am getting too much coming in now.”
I need to really balance this. It was really hard to talk to people about it because it's quite privileged to be in that position. And yeah, I don't know, it's just a strange learning curve in my life. But interestingly, I actually come from a family of scientists and engineers and these research brains and their whole attitude is” Well of course, you have to try all the time”, and maybe something will work and maybe it won't, it doesn't mean anything about you as a person. So from a very formative time, I was always able to separate myself from those successes or rejections. It was a bit of an all-over-the-place answer.
KD: That was really great, the idea of not being afraid of failure, just being able to say that I'm just gonna keep seeing what can happen. And I think it's great that you mentioned, your family, comes from a science background and they would understand if anything, when you try different things. There are certain things that won't work, there are certain things that will work, and when they do work, great. So I guess, in that sense, it's kind of with composition, you're trying different things, trying to see what works, making calculated decisions or maybe not calculated decisions in regards to how you want to phrase to be shaped or what type of soundscape you wanna be able to create for your audience, right?
KM: Yeah, it's very much a process of, it's not always necessarily about trial and error. It's also sometimes about distance. So sometimes you're working on something for a really long time, and I had a really amazing professor who once said, “You can't decide that something is good just because you've spent lots of time on it. Like you need to step away from your work and then come back to it and then with fresh ears decide is this actually worthwhile?”.
Should I keep this or should I archive it and think about it for later? Or just get rid of it. You need to be constantly really discerning with your work. It’s a process, that's what I would say. It's a process of some kind all the time. I love it.
KD: I know, I love it too and this is actually something that I really feel like in the last five years I've really internalized. I don't know about you but when you feel comfortable with the process, even though, our patience can break at times, it actually makes you feel more whole. And being able to understand, oneself and how we approach our art and things like that.
So, in regards to the idea of feeling privileged in a position to say no, I’m so happy to be in a position where you’re able to do the things that you wish, the things that you want. And I feel what would be interesting to learn more about is what types of pieces of advice would you give to maybe young artists. It doesn't just have to be just composers but across the disciplines within the field.
KM: Yeah, that's a tough one I think. It's similar to that research approach. It's kind of if you can take yourself out of the equation for a second and just see what makes sense a bit more conceptually. What you want out of music, it's really hard to do because, at the same time, you're thinking about what you want and what makes sense to you and you're trying to remove yourself.
I only say that because often when we're in one field, specifically music, I think the same could be said of sport or like dance or any other field that's very niche and you kind of just get a bit of tunnel vision over time. It's really hard to have a sense of autonomy within that. And so to be able to step back in any way you can, whether it's looking across different art forms to what maybe inspires you in dance, or find sympathetic artists in other fields and to reflect on their own trajectories or just some part of them that you find inspiring. Yeah, I think that process is really important because we can get really stuck in our head and we can get really isolated. And even if we're in a room full of people and we agree and we're all working together, it can still be isolated in some way. So to be able to be really present and experience those moments and also to be able to reflect on like how it sits with you as an individual over time.
I think that's really important and that also makes us more present. It means that we end up doing work that we enjoy, which makes us better at what we do and also more enjoyable to work with everyone around us.
KD: I agree. It’s like when we have those stereotypes of the angsty moody artist type of thing and, you want to take joy in the collaborations that you have with people.
KM: Yeah, exactly.
And, that's something that's really important and I've noticed, I don't know about you but have you found that today that is really actually a priority of a majority of professional settings is, being able to collaborate with someone in not only a professional way but in a way that's actually meaningful for the other collaborators.
KM: I think that's really important. And, yeah, it's what we spend our lives doing. It's gonna make sense. It's kind of crazy otherwise.
KD: I know, for sure. Now a couple of things, I know you also as a friend, and the reason why I wanted to bring you here was because I know there are a lot of things that, through your professional experiences, your dreams, and your goals, I think could be really useful for the audience to hear in regards to being able not to feel discouraged.
There are a lot of people I've been to school with people who completely changed careers, and they're sad to see, and some of them happen to be very good musicians. What advice would you give to someone just starting out, especially trying to get their footing into the door?
KM: I think it's kind of similar to what I was saying earlier in terms of always having this reflection of knowing yourself as a person as well as knowing your field because often composers are a little different in this regard because we're always in the basement of the academies, no one really thinks about us. But in general, in academies, I think when you get put into this setting of if you're a singer, you have to want to be an opera singer.
And if you're an instrumentalist, you have to want to be in an orchestra. This is a generalization. But there's a reason it's a generalization because I've met a lot of musicians who are in this place of being excellent at what they do, but actually not wanting to be in one of those niches or maybe they're excellent percussionists, but they don't want to be playing, like Bruckner their whole life, famous percussion composer.
Just reflecting on what you want and actually also discovering the diversity of music because as musicians, we often complain that it's not a very diverse field in terms of the people who are in the field, who are playing the music, who are organizing the concerts, who are deciding where the venues will be, who are thinking of the programming.
We often think that it's this really close-minded field. I don't want to speak badly about the music industry because I love it. But of course, I'm critical of it because I love it. So I think to be constantly, really involved in actually discovering, maybe some people say they don't like newly written music, but actually, there's probably a huge amount of repertoire that they would really love and to really explore as much of the industry as they can, even if something maybe doesn't seem really exciting at the beginning to just dive into it and see why they find it exciting or why they don't find it exciting at the beginning. Whether that changes keep note of everything as well. This is something we have to do constantly as composers because there's no set direction, There's no orchestra, we can go and work for because we don't live in the 18th century anymore.
That's not our reality. We have to really be reflecting all the time on improving ourselves as composers and reflecting on how we feel about the work we're making. There's also this sense of “you're a successful composer.” If you're constantly writing music that's being performed by excellent ensembles at excellent festivals that's really important.
But there's also there's a whole tapestry of careers out there that you can go and dive into. So I think, if someone ever feels discouraged about music in general to really reflect on where that discouragement is coming from, whether that it's about being a performer. And if so is that actually just about being a soloist or is that about performing in general? And then eventually, do they not want to be a musician at all?
Do they want to get into artist management into orchestral production? Like there's a lot to this industry, really a lot. I don't think any change of direction is ever a kind of failure. But I think that constant reflection between self and trajectory is very important.
KD: I think this is really great. My favorite bit was about the 18th century, the career, the industry is always evolving and that's actually really encouraging to hear. Because it's 2023. With all the technology that we have today, with all of the different forms of social media, if you find your niche, if you find something that makes you happy you feel like you're communicating your authentic self…that says mountains. The reason why I bring that up and why I wanted to ask you about that is because a lot of the time people feel that, “Okay. I have degrees, I have the training, I'm awesome, I have done X Y Z, a job will come or work will come to me”.
In actuality, it kind of goes back to that saying, “Food things come to those who wait”, I don't know if that really applies to the industry just because if you spend your whole life waiting, nothing will really come. You could tell me I'm completely crazy.
KM: No, I think you have a point. I think there's a difference between active and passive waiting. Like if you're passively waiting and you've got your feet up and you're hoping that some angel will come down from the skies and offer you this platter of like a million euros a year job in your first year of university. That's not gonna happen.
Maybe it's like one in a billion people that will happen. But that's very unlikely. But active waiting, having a sense of patience, knowing yourself as a person, and knowing where you want to go in the industry… that kind of passion is something that is that thing. I think that factor that gets someone into an audition or not is that sense of drive and focus that comes from knowing themselves as a person and an artist and comes from that practice and dedication and preparation and development of how you want to also influence the industry. Because it is an industry that's comprised of the people who are constantly performing on it. Otherwise, we just wouldn't have live music. Yeah, it's a tricky one.
KD: I love the idea that you came up with this idea of active and passive, and a lot of the time, it's something that I feel like actually now that you bring it up, I'm going to probably think about it more later just because of the fact that we work so hard. We train decades in this and the learning doesn't stop.
We keep on going. I want to take a step back a little bit to what we had talked about earlier in regards to the life of a composer, for you being able to have opportunities in orchestration and things like that. Now, when it comes to the idea of value, right? I know a lot of the time, at least with younger people, we're still young... At least we can laugh about it, but to say, “Okay, well, I'm young and I have this opportunity, they're giving me a little bit of money, even though I could do the job perfectly”, how were you able to show the value in the work that you demonstrate? Besides the fact that your music is really awesome and I'm not saying that just as a friend, but I really do genuinely believe in encouraging people if they choose this path.
KM: Oh my God, that's a huge question. I think for composers building up, building your own repertoire, and building your catalog is really important because of course, every composer in the world has those pieces that are effectively attitudes. As performers, you don't necessarily perform every single piece you've ever played, ever.
Maybe some people do. But I think in general, most of the work that you play isn't actually specifically for performance. It's part of your practice and it's part of your development. So I think that going through that process of development as a composer, like as an internal composer, and then getting pieces, like a kind of separate catalog prepared for the world of these, these pieces that are still the same trajectory is the same continuation of you as an artist. It's the same authenticity, but set pieces are more skilled may be more streamlined and they're more relevant to certain industry members. And yeah, just developing kind of a gateway into your field because there's a lot of music out there, so to be able to show why your music is maybe relevant to an ensemble or an individual or a company, like who wants to support you, that's really important.
And if you do it in the right way and it really is this extension of self and you're very clear as to how you're building that portfolio and that catalog then that's cool. And I think that people can see that and also just being nice to work because there’s no room for people who suck. This thing about the Toscanini's of the world being somehow better than us. This isn't real, we're seeing this in politics, we're seeing this in art, and we're seeing this in sports as well. These people just are awful, they're not being valued anymore. And that is a good thing. So l just being really good at what you do and being enjoyable to work with. This is a nice combination that I think is already happening a lot in the world but it's good to do more of as well
KD: It’s good to talk about it too because a lot of the time in universities or even Conservatory, the whole idea is, “Okay, we're going to make you the best musician, the best artist, best actors, theater”, but sometimes what I feel could be emphasized more is exactly with what you mentioned, how to act as a professional in a professional setting.
Being able to emphasize the importance of communication, being able to connect with people in a way that's not like the Toscanini, that's not like these types of dictator-like attitudes, but the fact that we're evolving in the sense of like, we can still make great art but you don't have to be a jerk about it.
KM: Yeah, I think the art is better when you don't need to be a joke about it because it's really… I think it would be the last resort even in politics, things don't start off in a, well, actually, no, that's a generalization. Things can definitely start off in a bad place in politics, but it's just so unnecessary, there are so many examples of countries and orchestras and companies and all these things that are really functional without the need for aggression. And I think that's just an important thing to reflect on because we don't often talk about rehearsal technique, we don't often talk about how to interact with people, especially composers. There's so much focus on building a great score that when it comes down to it, maybe there's a musician who might be aggressive towards you because maybe they've never actually played this certain kind of repertoire before.
And all those years of training that we were talking about just now suddenly don't apply to this one specific moment in a piece and to be able to have really good communication skills and to work through that with them. So that moment that they haven't necessarily done yet can connect to those years of experience. And that actually brings out the best in both of you that's really important as well because I mean, also for composers, we start out not knowing much, we start out needing to learn a lot about how instruments work. But there does come a time when sometimes, not all the time, not even most of the time, but sometimes we know more about the instrument than actually the instrumentalist playing and that's not an enjoyable situation for an instrumentalist. And you have to really be diplomatic when you're talking and also know that not every instrumentalist is the same.
And maybe some of these settings are for one instrumentalist who spent years developing a certain technique that's very rare. Maybe you just need to be able to communicate an idea really effectively. So to be able to develop that clear, streamlined, enjoyable communication. It's important for everyone.
KD: For sure. And I think this is something not just within music, but actually across disciplines that is very important to emphasize because of the fact that, that’s actually part of the reason why I had created The Modern Artist Project is being able to find ways to help different communities in regards to the simple skills of just how would you interact with someone, to be able to encourage them to become better without being patronizing or being able to inspire something like good. I feel like with all the different things that you mentioned, the idea of sports, the idea of politics, when we think about those connections to music or even to art, it is profound. Even if you look at the history that we have had.
KM: Yeah. No, that's really true. And also, all of those other fields, all of the politics, sports, performing, arts, everything they all come down to this weird commonality of being just comprised of people, they're by people for people and you have to have this balance of belief systems and expertise and everything all balanced out in the room. And, even for sports players, the best players in the world, they've got a whole team behind them that we don't talk about enough, the best musicians in the world. They've also got that team behind them. They've had all those years of training, they've had all the resources and all of the support and that sense of community and just like having a nice kind of system in your world that's important to you.
KD: And I imagine as a composer to get people to play music, right? Or even anyone who creates something that you would need also friends. I remember when I was a younger person going to shape it that way. I'm still young, a younger person where I remember having a lot of friends who were composers who would ask me to play stuff for them, not even just concerts or play their music, but actually experiments say, “Hey, Kristine, can you play this? Can the clarinet do that?”, type of thing. And I always found that those interactions were really nice. When people want to just see if it's possible.
KM: No, those are really important. And I think for my early years as a composer, I really have my friends to thank for everything I was able to learn and do because, without them, I just would have been continuing with my little scribbles in a room somewhere. So the patience that they had and also I think some of them at least had a really good time just seeing their instrument in a new light with this person. That's what happens if you do that. So to start off from that perspective then really specialized over the years and studied very intensely with many different teachers about the very precise mechanics of different instruments. And you end up specializing more in some instrumental types than others just because that's sort of where your interests take you and you feel more comfortable working with them. That changes over time. But the people are very important.
KD: I think this is great and for example, going back to this idea of a portfolio, the idea of saying,” Okay, well, I have all of my friends over for pizza after this recording session”, trying to find little ways to entice people, draw them in, and say, “Hey, you know this will happen if you do this right?” The beauty of being able to put those things together. I think that's awesome. Now, I know we've been talking about a lot of really great things, interesting things in regards to, collaboration, interpersonal skills, and what it means to be a professional in entrepreneurship.
But I want to also see because I know you're a conductor where in fact, we're in that same program together. Yes, in Lugano, Switzerland. So what led you to this path in regards to also adding conducting to your already full plate of things?
KM: Yeah, conducting was a bit of a weird one. It took me so long to find composition and then I wanted to branch out into an equally solitary field which is conducting. People always imagine conductors being surrounded by people all the time, but most of the time is spent preparing alone, just very similar to composition. I actually found a lot of joy in the rehearsal process when I was working on my pieces with friends bringing the best out of music and getting really nerdy about it and deciding like exactly what kind of dynamics to work on, working on the exact attack envelopes of each little moment within a phrase, getting really into the music. And I realized over time that actually I think that conductors and composers have a very similar way of approaching music, but they're kind of from opposite directions.
A conductor takes a finished thing and needs to like recreate it in its most authentic form. A composer has that idea in their mind, maybe it changes as they discover things, but then they need to get into the most concrete form. So it's kind of the training that I've done in composition, especially orchestration is very compatible with conducting.
The theory needs a lot of work as it always does. That's what I spend a lot of my time improving. But all the other work, the orchestration, the air training, all of that, that's really compatible. And the training rehearsals getting the best out of people, what to do if you have these difficult encounters, which thankfully, I've had almost none, very few.
And yeah, just getting the best out of everyone in the room so that you all just have a really great time. And also I will follow up briefly, I went to ballet school for a long time. So I started piano and ballet when I was five and had this very ballet-ish upbringing. It was very fun. And yeah, I spent 12 years in ballet school. One of the things that I always focused on in dance was this movement between orchestration and going back to the piano and connecting phrasing and movements with dance. I have this kind of very visual way of approaching orchestration that ends up overlapping with conducting. And I think that's come from those years of ballet training and all that body awareness and stuff that you get from ballet.
Yeah, right. When you mentioned the conducting part, it is very solitary because a lot of the time, we're by ourselves, we're looking at a score, we’re reading a language, in regards to the intention of the person, being able to have the details come out, making the most of the phrasing of music that has existed for hundreds of years. This is really great, and I love the fact that you have done all of these things and have seen the connections, not only to what you currently do but how that connects to your past and how that has shaped who you are.
I think that's really great and I think we're gonna leave on that note, Kirsten. I want to thank you for joining us today and for sharing your experience and thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing the amazing things that you continue to do for our community.
Thank you. Thanks for having me. It was really nice to chat.
Kristine Dizon is a multi-faceted performer, teacher, writer, author, linguist, and entrepreneur. She is Founder & CEO of the Music & Language Learning Center, The Modern Artist Project and co-founder of the Gran Canaria International Clarinet Festival and American Single Reed Summit. She is an artist for Uebel Clarinets and Silverstein Works. Learn more at www.kristinedizon.com.