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music/Maker with Tyler Kline

  • Writer's pictureTyler Kline

music/Maker with Tyler Kline // Episode 4

Stitching Together an Authentic Musical Voice

with Shelley Washington


Photo of composer Shelley Washington with an overlay that reads, "music/Maker with Tyler Kline, Episode 4: Stitching Together an Authentic Musical Voice with Shelley Washington.
Photo credit: Peter Yankowsky

 



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On today's episode of music/Maker with Tyler Kline, Tyler is joined by composer Shelley Washington.


Shelley Washington has emerged as an important and powerful voice of her generation. Her music has been presented by leading ensembles including the Long Beach Opera company, Boston Lyric Opera company, the Kansas City Symphony, and in NPR’s Dolly Parton’s America podcast and Vox Media’s Explained on Netflix. Washington is an active performer and collaborator, co-founding the composer collective Kinds of Kings and performing in the Los Angeles based ensemble, Wild Up and in her Brooklyn-based band, Good Looking Friends. She is on faculty at New York University Steinhardt and completing her PhD at Princeton University. She lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Rodeo.


This is a really amazing and lengthy conversation, but it’s a good one: Shelley and Tyler talk discuss how she’s taken big swings and chances in her career; growing up in the Midwest and how that part of her identity filters into her music; her love of all things textile arts; the impact that her neurodivergency has had on her creative practice; how she turns her own opportunities into advocacy for other underrepresented artists; and lots, lots more.


Shelley is on the web at https://www.shelleywashington.com/


 

Media mentioned in this conversation


 

Transcript

Disclosure: links to products that appear throughout this interview may be affiliate links. By purchasing an item discussed in this interview via one of these links, you support this podcast and network.


Tyler Kline:

Well, Shelley, I’m so excited to have you on the show today, and get to know you a little bit better than I already do, and I'm sure others will get to know you even better than they do. So thank you for your time.


Shelley Washington:

I’m very excited to be here. Thank you for the invitation.


TK:

Yeah, of course.


So, I want to start by asking you, kind of the starting point that I ask everyone, and that is, what is your earliest artistic memory as a composer?


SW:

So, I've had to think about that a lot, because as I have gone on in my composition career and answer different versions of this question, I realized that I really started, like, heavy quotations “composing” when I was a little kid and I was taking piano lessons. But the thing is, I didn't know it was composing at the time. I just thought, oh, I'm making some stuff up, because I did not want to practice piano. And, of course, when your parents tell you you have to go practice, I'm like, “no, I'm not gonna go do that.” So I discovered that if I make up a little song, if I make up a little piece, instead of practicing the stuff I was assigned, I could razzle dazzle my teacher and then spend enough time razzle dazzling that we would never get to the thing I was supposed to practice. So, yeah, I did a a lot of that, which was not ideal, because I'm a terrible pianist.


TK: You just summed up why I composed to begin with as well. It was like, I hated practicing, and as you say, razzle dazzle.


SW: I just wanted to razzle dazzle. It's fun. Yeah.


TK: That was more important to me than being a well rounded musician. Right?


SW: Yeah. Like, you didn't know. You're not gonna know when you’re eight that it could potentially become an entire career. So, razzle dazzle, everybody. Psyche! It's an aversion tactic. It's not….


TK:

So that that was the seed that was planted. When did you consciously, I guess, know that you were composing? Did you do that when you got into high school or college?


SW: It was the end of my first masters, actually. I didn't really realize that people were career composers until I got to school at Truman State University. (Go, Bulldogs). And we had a composition department. It wasn't very big. It wasn't a very big school to begin with. It's in Kirksville, Missouri, which you could roll a rock and hit Iowa. It's very small town… a very small, incredible school. And it was a teacher's college to begin with.


So I went to Truman to study towards becoming a band director or just a music teacher. I studied saxophone in my undergrad and then went immediately into the education master's program. And, I took quite a few of the - heavy quotes - "the electives" that you can take as a master is just the bonus classes. And one of them was Introduction to Composition. And I thought, "oh, this will be super fun," because I had done a couple of arrangements of other songs for, you know... I had a vocal trio in my sorority, SAI - Sigma Alpha Iota - and did a couple arrangements for that. I did a couple arrangements for my saxophone quartet, just pop songs and other stuff.


But then I took this Intro to Composition class and got to write some of my own stuff. I loved it so much, but I still, at that point, hadn't considered being a composer by career. That was just... I really enjoyed taking this class. So during one of my summer semesters, I had finished my coursework at Truman. I had a summer semester where I was doing just a couple more classes before I went and did my teaching residency. And the department did its first interdisciplinary research grant... which was the composition department and the theater department wanted to do a research project where they would get funding from the school and wanted to audition composers and librettists from the theater department and then put them together over the summer semester, which is about eight weeks, and write a musical.


This was the first time it had ever happened, so it was kind of the trial run. And my teacher of the Intro to Composition class, who was Dr. Charles Gran, one of the composition professors there, encouraged me to apply, and I was already there taking summer classes. I also couldn't afford, at the time, to live there over the summer, and it was like, $2,000 or something. I'm like, "that's enough money for me to live over the entire summer." So, you know, it would be a bonus project, but I might as well throw my hat in the ring. I don't know if I'm gonna get it, because I'm up against all of the composition students, but why not?


So I did the audition, and I got it, and I was super excited about this because I got to meet some of the theater people. The person I was partnered with, Josh Reinhart, was also- We hit it off, and we were really good collaborative partners. And so at the time, I didn't realize that a 90 minutes musical in eight weeks was a lot.


TK:

That's a lot.


SW:

Yeah, it is a lot.


TK:

That's intense.


SW:

Yeah. And, I was also taking classes, like three or four master's classes at the time. I loved it so much. And it wasn't until after that that one of my teachers at the time - my saxophone teacher, was like, "did you know you can do this as a career? People still do this." And at that point, I had actually been handed Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer. And I hadn't really listened to any contemporary composers outside of my university's until that point. And so my knowledge of contemporary music outside of my local area was very, very limited. And then after just getting basically the permission from someone like, "you can. You can do this," it opened this whole world of, wow, there's a lot of people doing this right now.


And then being handed Steel Hammer, which I have, memorized now. I'm like... it's amazing. I actually listened to it the other day. I was like, "I haven't listened to this in a long time." And I'm just, "hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer." All of it's memorized. Julie put me in, I'm ready. But hearing that, that was the first time I'd ever heard a piece that, "wow, this is very song like. And it sounds like there's folk music, it sounds like there's rock music involved."


TK:

So was that also the first time you encountered music by a woman or had, you before then?


SW:

I think that might have been.


No, that's not entirely true. I play hand bells. My mother is a professional English hand bell musician. She's been playing since she was ten and is in a professional choir called Rezound in Kansas City. And they play all kinds of music by living composers. The hand bell world, it's mostly contemporary-ish stuff because hand bell music is, you know, it does go quite far back in time, but, there's now these increasingly large choirs and, you know, you have to write new music for that.


So, I actually had played- Cynthia Dobrinski is a prolific hand bell composer, and there's actually quite a few, like Kevin McChesney, Don Allured, and I met a couple of them growing up. But it's... they're very, very niche and very specific to English hand bells and all of the other different kinds of bells. And that's also something I hadn't thought about until really recently, was.


And, I think this is another question you had, but "what was your first interaction with composers?" It was through handbells, but I just never thought about that because it's super niche, but I love it.


TK:

Yeah, that's far out. It's like, I don't know. You hear about middle school band composers, and it's also, like, this niche group of not totally the same people, but a lot of the people who write for that ensemble, they are people who don't really do anything else. So kind of... I don't know, it's kind of unusual. It makes you think, like, "oh, maybe I should do that."


SW:

I do think about that a lot, and it's really... I mean, you find your niche, but also you have to have a really intimate knowledge of how the instruments work. And hand bells, it's one enormous instrument that takes a ton of people to play. So you have to know the limitations of every single part, and it's really specific. Those composers who are involved in that niche, it's kind of a hard thing to learn to write for because you have to go play in it. And then handbill choirs are kind of hard to find, unless you know my mom, who knows everybody.


So if you want to get into writing for English hand bells, I got a guy. It's my mom.


TK:

I'll put a link in the show notes. To your mom.


SW:

She's the best. I love her. Yeah. Sorry, that's, like, super far afield, but-


TK:

No, that's great. I mean, that was my question is... what was your first encounter with a living composer in real life? And my first thought when hearing you talk about Truman State was maybe the faculty there, but it was actually much earlier than that.


SW: Through handbells. And my mom sent me a picture. Let me see if I can find it. She sent me a picture of me. Me meeting Don Allured at Hand Bell Camp in July of 2001.


TK: Beautiful.


SW:

Yeah. And I don't remember this meeting. There is photo evidence it did happen, but, he was one of the first composers that I ever met and interacted with. And I didn't really clock it at the time because I'm a little kid playing hand bells, and it's such a normal thing in my house that I didn't realize was not normal in many people's houses, you know, playing bells since you were five or six. I started super, super young. Cause my mom has a... She's a conductor, she's in a hand bell choir.


TK:

She's gotta get you involved.


SW:

Oh, yeah. Immediately. And my brother and I didn't- We had a choice, obviously, but also, it's like you didn't have a choice, but I'm really glad that I got to do it. It's really fun. It's a team effort instrument. I love it. I miss it a lot. Yeah.


TK:

So here you were, you were at Truman State, you discovered Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer, and you would end up going to study with Julia Wolfe at NYU not long after that. So what was that- to me, when I hear this story, it's almost like you went 0 to 60, right? You took a composition elective, and then you started studying with a Pulitzer prize winning composer.


SW:

I'm very lucky.


TK:

Well, I think it's really cool. I mean, how does that feel? I mean, it is amazing. Did it feel like that? Like it was your... Or did it feel like, just completely natural, like, "oh, this is just what I'm meant to do?"


SW:

It did feel very much 0 to 60. And there was a little- about a year and a half, two years between that class and then going to NYU. So, I finished my Master's of Education. But during that, my final semester there, after my saxophone teacher encouraged me to consider pursuing composition and going on for further study, I was like, "you know what? I might as well, because just, why not at this point?" And so I emailed composers and teachers at every single school I could think of in New York. I did a lot of research, and my aunt Juli, she's a classically trained singer. She lives in New York. I asked her, "may I come stay with you for a little while and visit a bunch of schools to just ask these composers, what do you do as a composer? What does it look like going on to study composition at this level?" And then I made a really cute little portfolio. I still have a copy somewhere, but a little portfolio that included some of my compositions from the class and then selections from Is He Dead? The Musical.


And I said, "I have never really formally studied this before outside of this class and this musical. Can I come here?" This is, like, Julliard, Yale, Manhattan School, like, a bunch of schools. And I'm just like, you know, I might as well. I threw my hat in the ring once. Why not do it again and just kind of see what happens? So I met a lot of faculty who were really encouraging, and I don't know if that was just like, "come to our school, give us money, blah, blah," or, you know, I think there's a lot of genuine encouragement there.


And I sent an email to Julie. I'm like, "hello. I am obsessed with this piece of music. May I please come and talk to you about what it is you do, what NYU looks like, and just, you know, what is being a composer...?" And I, showed her my portfolio. She gave me a little lesson. She gave me a copy of Steel Hammer, like the CD, and I went home and cried. I was so. I was so happy.


TK:

Did she sign it?


SW:

I don't think she did. I should take it. I still have it.


TK:

Just go over there.


SW:

Like, "would you mind? Could you actually sign this?" We're co workers now. I work at NYU now. So I'm like, "hey, hey."


But I got to sit in on one of the classes she takes. And then I remember afterwards, you know, sitting in the hallway and figuring out, okay, now what am I going to do? This is the end of my visit to NYU, and just, you know, thinking everything over. And she came up to me and thanked me for visiting and said, "you know, I really like your music." And that was enough for me. I'm like, cool. My hero likes my music. That's good enough for me. So I applied to, like, eight schools for their master's programs and was shockingly admitted to a couple of them. It was Manhattan School, the NYU Tisch Musical Theater Program, and then NYU Steinhardt Concert Composition Program. And I was offered a very generous scholarship from Tisch, and then a fairly generous- for what Steinhardt has to offer scholarship - from NYU Steinhardt. And the sticker price. Woo woo. It scary. It was a lot. It's a lot, a lot. And I decided to take a year because this would have been graduating from Truman with my education master's and immediately going into a second program, and I'm like, I don't... I don't know if I know enough about this field to immediately dive in and go, you know, 0 to 60.


I'm like, if I'm going to do this, if I'm going to pursue this and invest this much money, which isn't mine, if I'm gonna really dive into this, I wanna be 100% sure that I'm gonna be able to go as hard as I can and really want to go that hard. I'm like, this is risky. You know, I am leaving a part of the music field that I know is slightly more secure. I mean, the American education system is... that's another big can of worms.


TK:

Well, 15 years ago, it was very different, though, too, right?


SW:

Yes. Yeah, it was. And the landscape has changed quite a bit. But even then, that is something that I know I would be able to do and be very successful at. This is something I'm very interested in. It's very new to me. I know that people have been doing it, obviously, forever, but, you know, is this something that I want to do, really do it?


And so I told Julie, like, I need to take some time. I am not going to say yes this year. and I'm just going to take some time and figure some stuff out. And so she said, "when you reapply, I want to save a spot for you," which was, amazing. And so I took a year, and I had a couple odd jobs that weren't composing or related to music at all, really. And, my second one was working as a federal contractor with Office of Personnel Management and General Service Administration.


TK:

That sounds so beige. Like, I don't even know what that means.


SW:

It was impressively beige. And I had a couple of coworkers who I absolutely adored, who were very kind and supportive and interested and interesting. The work itself was not ideal for me. I did have a federal clearance, which was kind of cool, I guess, and I did paperwork. That's what I could legally tell you: paperwork. Which is still beige by comparison to what I get to do now, I suppose. And I realized, I was like, "you know, though, this is a pretty cushy job, it's not for me."


And I was really unhappy. And I basically just remember sitting at home being like, "you know what? I'm just gonna. I'm just gonna do it. I might as well." Like, we live for a really long time. I am 21 at this time, 21 or 22. And I'm like, you know what? I'm just going to throw my hat in the ring. the worst that can happen is I can go really, really, really far into debt and end up back at the same place that I was. But the same place that I was was also fine, and I was happy, so I might as well just see what happens.


So I reapplied, and, NYU admitted me, and I went, and that was almost ten years ago that I moved to New York and started this journey. And it has been a comically wild ride since since then. Like, what's happening at all points during this journey is, I don't know what's going on, and that's fine. Yeah.


TK:

I see so many parallels to your journey and my journey in radio, actually. And I think the universal message here is to just go for it. Because when I graduated from undergrad, I was sent this job posting at the classical station that I now work for, and, I applied for this position that I was kind of like, I'm not really sure if I'm qualified for this. I think I am, but you know, it's part time. I'm going to grad school. I could use some money. And, yeah, I didn't get the job because I wasn't qualified, but I still went for it. And because I went for it, I still got a call from who would end up being my manager, who said, "I can't offer you this job, but I looked over your resume." You know, I had done radio at that point, kind of parallel to my music degrees, and she said, "I can't offer you a job, but I've looked over your resume, and I can offer you a few hours a week, maybe 10 hours a week as a student employee here at the radio station."


And because she did that, I mean, it was like me taking a chance and applying for this thing that I was, like, maybe just a little qualified for, but not really. And then she took a chance on me, and then now, like, that's the path I've been on, and it's led me to, like, amazing. It's led me to this. Right. So, I don't know. I think... yeah, there's imposter syndrome gets thrown around a lot, but, yeah, I think, I think that lesson of, like, just go for it. Like, the worst that can happen is I'm in the same place. Right? I think that that's valuable.


SW:

It is. And I've realized, you know, taking big swings, it's always going to be scary. And, I mean, being a musician in general is scary because it is this impermanent position for this intangible art. It's this art that you... You can hear it and then it's gone. You know, if it's is recorded, you have to seek it out, but you can't hold on to it. You can't put it up on a wall and look at it. It's something that has to be created by something, and that's kind of scary. And every once in a while, I think about it and just, like, all aspects of it as this rope that could potentially, you know, slip through your fingers. And it's... just constantly happening. But also, if you just kind of hang on and, you know, go for whatever ride it whips you through, sometimes it turns out surprisingly well, and sometimes it doesn't. But that's okay because you tried, and you can try so many different things in your life.


Like, I've started trying sewing. That's going in an interesting direction. I'm not sure if it's a career I'm going to pursue, but it's very fun. I like it a lot so far.


But it's asking people for help, I suppose, or, you know, going to people that you might be a little... not scared by, but just you revere them and respect them. Like, "hello. I have really no concept of how you do what you do. I would like to do it knowing nothing." Basically. do you trust me and believe in me enough to validate my desires? And then a lot of times people are going to say, "yes," but you have to ask first, and it's very scary. So high fives to us. We did. We're doing it.


TK:

You and I did it. Everyone can do it. If we can do it, anybody can do it.


SW:

Yeah, exactly. One of my roommates in New York, I was getting just super bummed on myself, and this was a period after I had graduated NYU. And I, like, I have little to no money. I have no idea what's gonna happen next. And I was quietly crying in the kitchen, and she comes in, and she's just like, "listen, really dumb people... really, like, unmotivated people who, I don't know, people who don't try as hard as you do, make it work in New York. You're gonna be fine." I'm like, oh, okay. Maybe a little mean, but also incredibly empowering. And I'm going to be fine.


TK:

In my observations - and please correct me if I'm wrong - but you are a proud Midwesterner-


SW:

Absolutely.


TK:

-and I can't help but also hear that in your music. There's this sort of expansive quality to your work that reminds me of the expansiveness of Midwestern landscapes, especially, but just kind of like that spirit of the Heartland. Right? And I'm not sure if that's intentional or not, but you're one of the few people that I know who can capture the feeling of a place in music. And I'm thinking especially of your string quartet, Middleground, and other works. And I'm going to talk about Middleground a little bit more in a second...


But is this something that you think about - this Midwestern quality - that you think about when you write your music? How has the Midwest factored into your creative thinking? If at all?


SW:

I love this comment so much because it makes me even more proud. Like, "Midwest forever! Ride or die for the Midwest!" It's where all of my childhood memories come from. I was born and raised, you know... and raised in several different locations. We moved around a lot when I was like, a little, little kid. My dad worked for the airlines, but, you know, Midwest- we landed in Kansas City and we stayed. And that is the Heartland, that is the middle. And I love it so much.


But I love that you get the sense of that sentiment of being from the Midwest in my music. It's not something I consciously have thought about, with the exception of Middleground. That's the one piece that I was like, "this is very location and memory based." You know, this piece, it's about and for my family and my childhood and the location that these specific memories come from. All of my other music- I'm glad that you get a sense of expansiveness. I'm not sure if that's intentional or just kind of inherent to who I am, because I identify a lot with the places I come from, and I get homesick a lot, a lot, a lot. And so maybe I just subconsciously bring that into my music. I don't know. I'm not entirely sure, actually. But I'm glad you get that sentiment. I'm going to hang on to that because it's just really nice. So thank you.


TK:

Yeah, I'm not sure if it's... I think the harmonies that you use especially kind of evoke that imagery to me. I mean... and most recently, you know, I was at that performance of your orchestra piece, Both. And the first movement of that, it's like... That's kind of when it clicked for me, I think it's like, "oh, yeah, this is like..." I could just see these horizons in your music. So, I don't know. I think it speaks to your identity, I guess, if you don't think about it.


SW:

...that's gonna make me cry. That's so nice, Tyler. Thank you.


TK:

I'm just... I'm just telling it like it is so nice.


SW:

Thank you. Give me a second, because that was just very sweet.


TK:

Oh, yeah. Sorry. This is the first I've never made anyone cry.


SW:

That's so nice. Thank you. I guess with that piece... I mean, that piece is about travel and definitely horizons because it was all birthed from being on an airplane or airplanes and being out in the air and then seeing everything that's going underneath you at, hundreds of miles per hour. So, you're being swept over it. But, I mean, it's so big and like, being in the Midwest... not Big Sky Country. Montana has monopoly on that phrase, but it is big sky country. You can drive just, you know, 45 minutes out of town in Kansas City, and you are in the country and you can see nothing but green hills and some cows and sky You can get that in New York in, you know, specific locations, not in the city proper.


And, my entire compositional career has been location-based because it started in New York City. Then I've just been here. You know, I had a brief tenure living in Princeton, New Jersey, but then I've been in New York the whole time, and so very location-based. So when I do travel and when I do have pieces or just music that is born either inspirationally or, like, I am going somewhere else that's outside of New York, maybe that just kind of sneaks in.


I love an open fifth. It has such a... Some people are like, "wow, you and Copland." I'm like, "Copland doesn't have a monopoly on open fifths, okay? Everyone is allowed to do it." Maybe Middleground. I'm like, all right, fine. I can see that. But also, he didn't have a monopoly on country and folk music, so stop making that comparison. But, I mean, I don't really mind it, because, like, I like his stuff. It's fine.


But I just, you know, it resonates with me. Not to pick the cheesy, like, "ha ha. It's music." It resonates," but it's a harmony that you can, you physically feel it in your body, and I love that sensation so much. And so I think it just sneaks into my music a lot out of pure bias. Like, "dang, that's nice. I'm gonna do it a lot and think it's nice." I like it, especially when it's really loud. It's the best. Such a good feeling.


But... should I talk about Middleground, I guess, or do you have questions?


TK:

Well, yeah, I was going to dig a little bit deeper into Middleground while we're talking about this, because I know the other part of Middleground... You know, one is your youth in the Heartland, but the other side of that is your family. And so you've already talked about your mom, and I can't help but bring up your amazing family shout out. Shout out to Sara and Syl and the whole crew, because I've had the pleasure to meet them and hang out with them multiple, multiple times, and it's been so good.


Your family strikes me as being all in on supporting you, but I also feel like they have this role in your creative practice that goes much deeper than just a parent supporting their child. Right? And so Middleground, it's this piece... It's dedicated to your family. So, I'm just wondering, can you tell us a little bit about the role that your family plays in your artistry.


SW:

I've always been really close to my entire family, and I'm very lucky to come from, an extended family where everyone has always just been really close. And we all really like each other, beyond just a familial love. Like, we like hanging out with each other. So I grew up in a family where everyone was together as often as possible. And my household was my mom, my dad, and my brother Stuart. And we were, you know, we lived in the house together, so we're obviously there all the time. But I am so lucky to be in a family like my immediate family, my extended family, where we have been close forever. And I'm, I love him a lot. And they're always a big part of my life just because they always have been, they always will be.


TK:

Would you say this familial spirit that you're describing, does it... I mean, I guess going back to the same question about the Midwest, does that go beyond your piece Middleground? Like, do you think about that at all in the music you write?


SW:

I think it's always there in some part of my mind because it is so important to me. My family is extremely important to me. And, even if I'm not consciously thinking about it, like, if whatever music I'm writing isn't about the location of the Midwest or about my family, it's just present, because it always has been. So, just like, this undercurrent of that subconscious self.


I mean, it affects all of my music. And so there's these little threads that I suppose... I don't know. I'm not a musicologist or a theorist. That's not my job. And I just write the music that I think sounds cool, but I guess that also means there's little breadcrumbs of, like, that's a "Shelley thing." I'm like, I don't really know. I just keep doing the stuff that I like, and I hope that my music doesn't all sound the same. But, of course, if I go and listen to some stuff, I'm like, "yeah, I do be doing that," but I still like it, so it's fine. I still like doing it. I'm like, okay.


TK:

I had someone once play my music and told me they knew it was my piece when they came across, like, three quintuplets in a row. They were like, "oh, yeah, that's a 'Tyler thing.'" I think it's okay. I think it's okay to have those things.


SW:

Yeah, it's like a signature. Even if it's not like, I'm gonna do the thing that I do. It's just, you just do it because you like it. Yeah, it sounds cool. That's the point, right? Make it sound cool to you specifically.


But the question of, does it come into my music? Yes. Intentionally or unintentionally, because it's important to me. And I actually run a lot of my music by my family members and also my childhood friends. You know, I've got my group chat, BFFs. We've been buds since we were like five. And we are all very different people now. We were all in band together, but no longer, you know, like... they're not by-profession musicians and aren't folks who are like, "I'm gonna go to the orchestra every single weekend, every opportunity." So I actually send them a lot of my music and, like, MIDI stuff. I send it to them like, "what do you guys think?" And every once in a while they're like, "what? Like, okay, cool, thank you."


I mean, it's valid input, and I respect everyone's opinion of my music, and I don't expect that everyone is gonna like it, but it does make me happy. I'm like, "do you get anything out of this? Is this like, saying anything to you? Does it make sense? Does it not make sense?" it's, just, I don't know, it's fun. I get lessons from people who aren't involved in the field at all every once in a while.


TK:

That's awesome. That's actually brilliant. We should all be doing that.


SW:

It's fine. Also be like, "listen to this MIDI. Do you hate it? Yeah. If so, why do you hate it?" Outside the fact that it's MIDI.


TK:

One of my favorite things about you as a musician is how multifaceted your music making is. For example, you're getting commissioned by major US orchestras, but you also... you're playing with Wild Up, which, for those who don't know, it's this amazing chamber ensemble doing really innovative work. ...that almost doesn't do it justice... But you also play with your alt indie, I guess I would describe it, band, Good Looking Friends. Yeah, I don't know, I was, like, listening and it was kind of punk, it was kind of indie, kind of folk. It's really good.


Would you say that there's cross-pollination between all these different musical activities that you do, or do you more or less kind of keep them compartmentalized?


SW:

I think they all... they definitely bleed into each other a lot. I've never thought of music as a thing that has a hierarchy, and that's because, again, going back to my childhood, music was just on at all times. We're radio people. I think there's a radio on definitely on every floor of the house with the main floor that we inhabited. We were mostly just in the kitchen because that's just like the place that you existed. I don't know. We just spent a lot... So there's definitely, there's a radio there. There's radio in the front room. And they were basically just on 24/7 NPR, just like, whatever station, which meant that there was just always some kind of music happening.


My parents are voracious listeners. My dad could beat, I think, anybody in a drop the needle test of any genre ever. He has such an extensive knowledge of just music in general. He is not a musician by trade. He works with technology. I was raised with just music is. It's all music. None of it is more or less important. I'm like, okay, cool. So that expectation has just... it's a core part of who I am, so it hasn't really changed. And, 100% the different things that I do in music have influenced the stuff that I write.


And I actually- my band, Good Looking Friends, I've been in this band or involved with it for, six years now, six or seven years. And they're my friends, they're my family. I love them all so much. And each of the members. Our past drummer, Dr. Adam Rossi, is one of the greatest drummers I've ever worked with and is just absolutely brilliant. He's a psychiatrist. He now has his own private practice in Winnipeg. And I love writing percussion stuff. I love writing for drum set, and there are little, like, fills and little things that I know that he did. I was like, "I'm-a log that for later," or just, "I really like this." And it got stored subconsciously. And then I go back and I listen. I was like, yeah, I'm pretty sure Adam did something like that.


Or Sean. Dr. Sean Nolan is our bassist, and he does this really beautiful, not noise improvisation, but just, you know, improvisatory, nebulous, harmonic stuff. You know, he plays bass, but with his pedalboard and everything he does... he's an incredible bassist. And, there's a movement of my- I have an electric guitar quartet, and I'm like... that's, you know, kind of not based around, but definitely inspired by stuff that Sean has done.


And then our lead guitarist and vocalist, our main writer. He's, like, the front of the band. Zach Fisher is brilliant, and the way that he layers music and, like, orchestrates this band, he writes really complex music for it being, you know, what some people would be like, "oh, it's just like this Midwest emo post rock band." It's really complex music. There's a lot of depth to it, and his use of harmony and tension and release, it's definitely something that's worked into my music a lot. And so I hear little aspects of their person and my music a lot, because, again, I love them. They're a part of my life.


TK:

Do your bandmates hear that in your music? Like, have they ever... or have you pointed it out? Do they have opinions?


SW:

I've pointed it out before, and they're just like, "oh, thank you. That's very nice." I definitely pointed out, be like, that's from you. Thank you. I love you very much. Like, oh, thank you.


TK:

Nice.


SW:

So, like, a little gift.


TK:

I have a similar thing with my buddy Sean, who's a wonderful, amazing... He does drums and electronics. That's his primary creative mode and has been for a while. And he does this kind of noise-based stuff that- especially with, like, brushes on a snare drum. And anytime I write for percussion, I'm like, "I gotta use the Sean sound."


SW:

Like, that's really nice. I like that a lot.


TK:

It's just this, like, kind of rustling thing that I just... I love it. It's just like, this texture that I can't not use. And I have Sean to thank for that, for opening my mind up to that, sound. You know, it's- I think it's cool.


SW:

I think a lot, because every once in a while, I get the question, like, "who are your biggest influences?" And I think the expectation is that I answer with classical composers. Like, composers not necessarily of the past, but, like, historic pillars of composition. And, you know, of course, Julie Wolfe, because she was my first hero, and I love all of her music. But then it's like, my biggest inspirations have been people that I am immediately involved with who have become major parts of my life and, like, the relationships I have with them.


So my answer for that question has always just been like, the homies, because I'm like... well, it's the most true thing. I'm like, you know, what music have I made with these people that are major parts of my life?


So, with Wild Up, we have this really long, ongoing Eastman project where we are recording an anthology. And so we have... we're doing seven albums. We're getting ready to release album number four- or announce album number four.


TK:

And this is Julius Eastman.


SW:

Julius Eastman. Yes, the composer. And so, by my connection to Wild Up, Eastman has also become an influence in the music that I make, either in the spirit in which he was creating music that was so inherent to himself and his connections to the world or his use of improvisations... the different emotions that he injected into his music. It's been a major influence to me because, you know, I play it a lot, but also because of my work with Wild Up. They're my friends. I get to make music with the homies, so, of course, it inspires my music, and I care about them all a great deal, and therefore, I care about that music a great deal, too.


TK:

Yeah. I love that.


You kind of talked about this while we were getting set up, and I know just from hanging out with you just a bunch, that you're really into vintage fashion and textiles in general. We were thrifting together with my wife, Susanna, of course. and you were, like, looking at pieces, but looking at them through the lens of, like, "can I modify this to make it work for me?" Kind of like, "I have my sewing kit in the hotel room."


SW:

Yeah.


TK:

...and I know that you've also written some music about textiles as well. So can you tell us about your relationship with the textile arts and how you find inspiration for your music within this craft?


SW:

Oh, yeah. So my mom - again, going back to my family - my mom went to the Kansas City Art Institute, and her medium was textiles. And, you know... big, big Irish Catholic family where clothes got handed down, which meant that if you wanted something to fit, you had to fix it yourself. This is in the, you know, the 60s, 70s. So it's like, you know, stuff was expensive. Big family, small town Kansas. So my mom has worked with textiles her whole life. She's been a seamstress, not by profession, but just by hobby, but she's amazing. And so I grew up being somewhat of like a Barbie doll, I suppose, where I'm standing there, and she's fitting all my clothes to me. My brother and I are... We're big people, quite tall, and we grew very, very fast, which meant our clothes couldn't always keep up with us. And so, you know, she was able to modify things so we'd still be able to wear them.


And, you know, my dad is my shopping buddy. He picked out my freshman year of high school homecoming dress, which I still have and have worn several times for, like, the premiere of that big orchestra piece in LA. I wore my homecoming dress for that. My dad picked that out. Also, it still fits, which is like, yeah, I love that dress so much. But, you know, they've... I run a lot of my, like, major fashion purchases by them still. I'm like, "what do you guys think?" And I trust them. They're my shopping buddies. And it's really fun.


But I've just always loved clothes and the expression that you get to have with them as a choice. And I know a lot of people who are like, "oh, I'm not into fashion." I'm like, "well, consciously you're not. Subconsciously you are, because you still are wearing something, and you still made the decision to put it on, and it's something that you feel good and enough to wear it, and it's still a choice that you made." So everyone is into fashion because we're not all running around naked. So, like, you had to choose to put something on, obviously. But some people choose to use clothing as a form of expression more than others. And I've always leaned towards the side of expression and the artistry that goes into some textiles, and it's the artistry.


And then because I grew up watching my mom making garments, she made this beautiful wedding dress for one of her friends. And it was this convertible dress that went from the wedding ceremony. And then in a dramatic change of one of the skirts into this four square dancing outfit, like, oh, my gosh. Oh, there's so much fabric and tulle everywhere, but the craftsmanship and, like, the technical know how for that, there's a lot that goes into making textiles, art and clothing. So, again, it's always been a major part of my life.


And then with the piece Uniforms that you're talking about... that piece has to do with the things that we put on our bodies and then concepts surrounding that. So the first movement is called Inheritance. And that one, the main thought that, I guess, the other concepts branch out of... I have a ring that was my grandmother's on my dad's side, and I wear it every day. And every time I wear it, I think of Grandma Marcy, and I love it and I treasure it. And it's something that I inherited when she passed on.


Then I started thinking about the other things that we inherit, like, you know, different physical and personality attributes from our family and ancestors. But then the things that those generations pass down to society as a whole and not necessarily the individuals. And some of it is good, some of it is not good. And so it all stemmed out of a single object that is something that I wear.


Another one of the movements is dedicated to my band, and then the location that I became friends with them, Bushwick Public House, which I miss what it once was. And then the thought of, well, what do people normally wear in that location? Because I... When I first started going to these shows in New York, felt like such a square. Oh, my goodness. Because I'm going in and I'm like, everyone has these cool band t shirts, and there's a lot of, like, you know, wearing of denim and leather and dark clothing, and I'm like, "hello, please accept me. I am a classical musician. I have long loved this community from afar. I don't feel like a part of it. Can you please accept me? I want to have friends."


This was also the first time that I... When I started getting involved with them, the first time I was making friends outside of school or work, which was really scary, because making new friends as a grown up is really hard and really scary. And so I was accepted by this community, and I love them all so much. I'm going to go see Dune with some of the friends that I made in that community.


So one of the movements of that piece is, BPH / GLF / Denim. So it's like Bushwick Public House, Good Looking Friends, Denim. And it's, you know... the music stems from those concepts, and those things are like, what did I wear? Cool. Who am I? Who are my friends? And all of that different stuff. So, yeah, I mean, a lot of my music comes from single concepts that branch out and are interconnected. Some of them might be kind of reaches, but, that piece, specifically, the main branches of concepts come from things that are worn and then how that could potentially affect the people that we are or our different interactions with the world.


TK:

It's almost like you're trying to put music to the emotions that you feel when thinking about these different fabrics, right? Do you ever think about the process of, like, a sewing machine, for example, how fabric and textiles are made? Do you ever think about translating that into your music at all?


SW:

I haven't. I feel like I can't now. It's already been done so well with Julie's Fire in My Mouth that, like, there's no comparison to the opening movement that sounds like.


So she made the orchestra sound like a bunch of sewing machines, and, oh, it was like magic, because everyone's looking around, trying to figure out... "Are there electronics in this piece? Where...?" And you could hear the audience kind of tittering and everyone's asking, "how is she... How is this happening? How is she doing it?" I'm not... I'm not even gonna bother, honestly. But it is. I'm like, no, there's no comparison. It was done so well.


But I do think a lot about the different sounds that are made, and I really like sewing because it's a quiet activity and it doesn't, you know... it's not intentionally a noise making thing. And I do think it's important for music makers, by career, in whatever aspect of music you do, to have a non-music activity that you genuinely love and enjoy just for sanity purposes.


TK:

Yeah, totally.


SW:

But then I'm, like, this activity... Yeah, it makes noise. Not intentionally, but I have so many memories tethered to the sound of sewing machines. And then, like, the smell of, like, what is a sewing machine? And ironing clothes, what does it smell like? Reminds me of my childhood in, like, a safe, happy place in my mom's... the sewing room. And getting to recreate that, it makes me feel safe and happy.


And even as we're talking, I'm surrounded by, like, little bits and bobs of... I took this- these shoulder pads out of a shirt I didn't like, and now I like the shirt because I changed it. But, yeah, I mean, just looking at how things are constructed and how intricate different kinds of fabric and feels and textures are, I think that works its way into my music a lot.


I have a lot of interwoven melodies and rhythms that are all kind of tightly smushed and knitted together to where it's just this whole blanket of sound. And I always consider my music as the whole. Like, the sum of its parts, where even if there's just a lot of teeny, tiny, chattery things happening, it's all of equal importance. And it all is... like, the cumulative is the most important aspect. Even if there's so many, like, oh, "well, this rhythm seems like it should be the most prominent..." I'm like, "no, no. It and the rhythm next to it and the one next to it and that weird melodic thing in the background. Same- all the same level of importance." All knitted together to make, like, whatever blanket piece this is supposed to be.


TK:

This feels cheesy to say now that I'm thinking about it, but I keep finding myself describing music as, like, "a tapestry of sound." And I think what you're describing is taking that to a very real and authentic level. Like, sometimes it's like I just can't find the right word. I'm going to use the word "tapestry."


SW:

I don't think it's a cheesy thing. There's only so many- a tapestry is a tangible object. Every once in a while, people are like, "we can't use dichotomy. We can't use that word anymore." I'm like, "what other word is there, though?" You gotta pick one of them.


But, yeah, I mean, a tapestry is the best way to think about it because it's, you know, again, this intangible rope that's slipping through our fingers. You experience music in the moment that it's happening, and you can, you know, step back through your memory and think about the piece as a whole and kind of visualize it in whatever way that you're thinking about it as a listener. But then as a composer, you get the benefit of looking at it and all of the interwoven, connected threads of music at the same time, because you're. You're the one making it. And then you can step back from your page or your computer and say, like, "look what I wove. Look what I made." Yeah, I don't think it's cheesy at all.


TK: Thank you for the reassurance.


Another aspect of your life that you've touched on in your work is your neurodivergency, specifically related to, like, ADHD and time blindness. So if you feel up to it, how does being neurodivergent impact your creative process?


SW:

It's interesting, because I wasn't diagnosed with anything until I made the decision to move to New York. And so it's like that journey coincides one-to-one with my journey as a composer. And so as I've learned about being a composer, I've also learned about myself. And there was a certain amount of grieving, I suppose, for my past self, of, if I had known about this growing up, maybe I would have gotten more help, and, who might I have been? You know, maybe I would have been able to do so much more, if I had the help and, you know, structure that would have been offered. But also, I turned out fine. I'm still working through some stuff, but we all are in our own ways, and I am pretty happy with where I am now. And I know that there's, you know, more, more to learn and more to gain. But as I've learned about what ADHD and you know, these other neuro-spicy aspects of myself are, I've been able - and, it's not all conscious, I suppose, but in retrospect - go back and think about how did this maybe affect my music? Or, you know, maybe this process of thought made this process of sound.


Some of it's just speculation, just like a fun little thought activity. But I've definitely figured out ways to help myself as a composer and also just as a person. So knowing my limits and being gentle with myself and not pushing myself, you know, beyond that limit. So, I then just feel guilty and bad about. I'm like, I'm just not... I'm not gonna do that anymore.


In terms of time blindness, time has always been something that's been one of my biggest anxieties, and I think other neurodivergent people will agree with me who have the same brand- I don't know, the same brand of neurodivergence where it's like, no matter how early I get up and am prepared and leave, I'm somehow always late. And it's like time is just sprinting ahead. And I always feel like I'm struggling to keep up with it, but that's only when it's on someone else's expectation.


When I'm just left to my own devices, I'm like, "ah, eternity. Sure, fine, whatever." I don't know. I'm just happy right now in this very second, and, you know, if I don't have any external warning or stimulation, I have no idea how much time has gone by. So, like, as we have been talking, there's a little time clock at the top that's ticking by. It's saying, this is the amount of time we have been speaking to each other. If that wasn't there, I would have- we could have been talking for five minutes. We could have been talking for 5 hours. I have no idea. And I think that's great in a way because it allows you to kind of sink in and get lost in whatever it is that you're doing, especially if you're interested in it. it's a blessing. If you're on someone else's expectation in time, it is somewhat of a curse because you might not make their deadline, which is a bummer. And I've had to be forgiving with myself on. If I'm trying my hardest, that's the most I can do.


And I'm getting better at it and, you know, figuring out different ways to regulate myself. There's clocks in every single room of my house in multiple locations. Like, several clocks. Like, one of... I'm trying to think. My living room has one on, I think, every wall because I also like them because they're pretty. But also, just as a gentle reminder that time is, unfortunately, linear and chronological and moving forward, so it's kind of a bummer to have to think about it. But, yeah.


TK:

I shared your piece about this, Eternal Present, on my radio show, not long ago. I think this past week, actually. People will be listening to this in the future, and so time is a construct like, we're talking about.


Anyway, so I was kind of doing a deep dive on, like, medical websites about time blindness. And the best description I saw of it, it was like everyone says, "time flies when you're having fun," or, like, "you get in the zone," right? And I agree with you. We've been talking for over an hour. It doesn't feel like that much time. It's fun. You know, time is flying. It's fun. But for people with time blindness and ADHD, which I guess is... perhaps, can be like, one in the same kind of thing, you know, it's like time is always flying it. Like, whether it's fun or not, right?


SW:

Yeah. Whether you want it to or not, it is always surpassing you.


Unless, there is a strong non-preferred task, and then you're just stuck in it, and it's an awful eternity. It's like, "wow, this is the worst thing I've ever done. And it's been, like, five minutes. Like, oh, my God, how. How much longer must I be trapped in this prison of time?" But it- Yeah, it's a very interesting shared phenomenon.


And, like, as I've learned about my neurodivergency and the self discovery of... I'm not the only person who feels this. It isn't just me. And finding the community has made it easier for me to be easy on myself. It's not a character flaw. I'm just built different, and that's okay. It has made its way into every branch of my music and how I actually, like, sit down and make the music. But that piece, Eternal Present, specifically, is the one piece that I've written that is conceptually about this phenomena in my life.


TK:

What's interesting to me is we're talking about,a time specific kind of neurodivergency. And on the same hand is... music is such a time-restrained phenomenon. It's a time-restrained art form. Whereas you could be a painter, you could be a textile artist. You create an object, and the object exists for people to enjoy it on their own time. But with music, as composers, it's almost like we're keeping people captive. I don't like to think about it that way because it's very negative. But, you know, we're kind of telling people, like, "okay, sit down. The only way you can experience my art." I mean, not the only way, but for most use cases, the only way that music can be experienced is from left to right, you know, starting now, until it's over.


SW:

Yeah.


TK:

And so I just think it's interesting you're a composer who manages time. It's interesting.


SW:

No, I thought about that a lot, too, where it's like, yeah, I am managing time, and I'm managing, like, a, place, I guess, in that time. And then me, myself, outside of the music, have just, like, no concept of what's going on. But in the music itself, the different aspects of time and timing and pacing of music...


Pacing, I think, is one of the hardest aspects of composing. It's like, how long someone- I, wish I remember who it was. We were talking about how we figure out how to pace our own music, and, like, what ratio should this part of the music be by comparison to the next part? Or how long should this movement be? How long should the entire piece be? And they're like, "well, how long is a piece of string? It is the length that it is." How do you know when the piece is done? You'll know, the piece is done. Or, I think this piece of string should be maybe another couple inches longer.


And then, you know, as composers, we run into maximum time durations. If you get commissioned by someone and they say, "you have 15 minutes." I'm like, "what if I have more to say? What if I have less to say?" And I know some, composers. My dear friend Aeryn Santillan, she likes writing really short pieces. She has a couple that are, like, two minutes long, and in my heart of hearts, I yearn for it to be longer. But she's like, "it's done. That's it". Like, oh, it's like this blitz, and it's this little... Not little, but, I mean, it's like this small chunk of time that you're completely invested. And that's the kind of music that she enjoys writing.


TK:

I hope to have Aeryn on the podcast sometime, because, you know... I think that speaks to her experience as, like, a punk musician, right? That's what she does, is punk guitarist. And punk is all about, here's two minutes of, you know, like, it's happening right now. That's very fascinating for you to bring up and us knowing that connection.


But I'm with you because I have to warn commissioners now that, "listen..." This phenomenon has been happening with me where, I think starting around the pandemic, the MIDI playback of a piece might be twelve minutes. I wrote a violin and piano piece that the MIDI was like, twelve minutes. And then I heard it in person finally, you know, a few years after I finished it, and it was 23 minutes of performance.


SW:

What?


TK:

And, part of that was like, you know, I think the movement changes, but also me being like, "play this slower." So, like, that's the thing. That's the other... The flip side of it for me is I write everything by hand initially, and then I'll put it into Finale and I'll approach it like, "oh, I want to write an eight minute piece," or that someone asked me to write an eight minute piece, and then I'll put it in the Finale. And the pacing is all wrong because I'd never heard it, really.


Like, I'm just plunking it on piano, writing the notes down, and then I'm like, "okay, I got to add a ton of time to this. Like, this note needs to be longer. This rest needs to be longer." And I just add so much more time. And I'm, like, warning people, I'm in... I'm in my Feldman era, I guess. Like, I'm not writing six-hour string quartets, but I'm like, "you got to know, I hope you're ready for a 25 minutes long piece," because that's... I can shoot for 15. It's going to be at least 20. That's just who I am now.


SW:

If it needs to be that long, it needs to be that long. And, like, as we grow, we're allowed to change.


TK:

So I feel like in talking about Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer, maybe you've already answered this question, but I'll kind of open it up to more broad categories here. I'm just wondering, what is a piece of music or a song or a book or piece of art, like... an artistic object, is the way I'm describing these things.


What's an artistic object that changed your life, your creative life, your life in general? Just leave it open ended here.


SW:

Oh, that's hard because there's so many. And they've all... like, we talked about the cumulative aspects and like, Murakami, who's like, you know, "we are a product of our accumulated past." And I definitely feel like that's in all of my music. Like, every aspect of the music that I've made my entire life gets filtered through my- Distilled in my brain and just kind of like, plops out and like, oh, I hear so many different genres of music. I'm like- I mean, it's just, it's just there. It's just happening. All of it in my mind is the same, even if it's influenced by someone else's genre boundaries. I suppose it's just, you know, garbled up in my brain and did that. Here we go. Now it's- I've claimed it and it's mine.


But I guess one piece that has stood out as a source of inspiration, it's again, kind of, "Did you know you're allowed to do this?" giving permission. And it was the first time I had experienced this. Alan Ferber, he is a jazz trombonist and also teaches in the jazz department at NYU. And I got to play in his nonet while I was studying composition. And it was so much fun. And I've learned the most about orchestration through my life as a performer. So a piece that I got this kind of permission to do something that I played was Alan Ferber's Roots and Transitions album. And we played it this ensemble class. And so he has his own nonet, but he brought in the music that he wrote for this album and we got to play it. And so I learned how to orchestrate for jazz nonet, through getting to play this album.


But then one of the things that he did, this technique and the last piece of this album called Cycles, he has the rhythm section and the drum set drop out of sync and time and tempo with the other half of the band. So it sounds like the band is playing in two different tempos and two different time signatures. And then when you look at the sheet music itself, it's all notated out. We've got some nested tuplets, and it looks really complicated when you're trying to do the math of "how do I get these things to sit with each other?" I'm like, "well, they're not supposed to." It's supposed to sound like those folks are going, you know, 20 clicks slower and in four, and we're still in, like, double time, but not lined up with them exactly. And I'm like, "wait a minute. That's super cool."


And I feel like it jives a lot with me as a person, because, again, with a neurodivergency, there's always something else is cooking in my brain, whether I want it or not. And there's.... I listened to, you know, 3 seconds of this song just to remind myself of it. And now as I'm talking, it's just playing in the back of my head. It's just happening back there.


TK:

I love it.


SW:

I don't want it happening. I'm trying to focus on.


TK:

Oh, okay... I don't love it.


SW:

It's okay.

TK:

I'm really looking forward to listening to this because it's new to me. But when you describe it, I hear, like... the music of Mingus is what I hear. Like, it's that kind of controlled chaos that it's just like, ah. I love that, too. So, yeah, I'll have to check it out.


SW:

It's a great album. He's a wonderful composer, and I really love his music a lot. And through that, I mean, just playing that one piece, I then started finding other composers who have done that.


Anna Meredith, and all of her music, is brilliant, and I love the electronic work that she does and her super famous Nautilus... that piece, track, song. Oh, my gosh, it goes so hard, and I love it so much. The first time I heard and experienced this, it was live. Not live, but it was a performance in the NYU Dance Department. One of their shows that I went to, their finale was all of the dancers on stage, Charlie Brown style, which was so funny. Like, they come in one person at a time with each of the layers of music.


So, like, the Nautilus opens with this brass going. And there's one guy in the back of this enormous stage doing, like, ride the pony to that line. And then when they come in with that line, as long as the line is happening, they're doing that one dance move the whole time. And that piece has a lot of stuff happening. And there was a lot of people on this stage, and just the huge impact of it... I was like, "I am now going to make this song my entire personality." I'm obsessed with it.


TK:

It's just so cool, and it's worthy of that. It's a song that deserves that people make it their entire personality.


SW:

Like, that's it. Music is done now. We don't need to do any more of it. That's the tops. That's the peak.


But I found that actually, a lot of the songs and pieces and music that I've become the most obsessed with were ones that I first experienced with really impactful experiences or locations or just, you know, visions, whatever. And,if I had to name the top five or six songs pieces that have become, like, aspects of my personality, I'm like, oh, I think I liked it so much because I heard it live in some aspect or in a place that was really deeply impactful that I loved so much.


But in terms of music and art, that has informed my- maybe not so much practice, but just like a fun little musical tool thing that I really jive with. Those two pieces, gave me the permission, like, "you can do this, and there's tons of people and composers and musicians who do that kind of thing." And it's this really sludgy, vaguely confusing, swirly feeling because your feet are no longer underneath you and you're just spinning through the waves. And I love that.


TK:

That music makes almost more sense to me because that's like the society we live in.


SW:

Tumultuous.


TK:

Everything is a mess all the time. and we have to navigate that as humans. And I know a lot of people, they want to escape from that with music. But to me, I think it's so good when people lean into it with their music.


SW:

Yeah, it's like... music can definitely be an escape, a place of refuge. But also, if the music- and I mean, art in general, is intended to be a reflection of, you know, someone's inner creative self or just inner experiences or their experiences dealing with society or memories or just things that they are observing, then of course it's going to feel like it's right in front of you. And the captive audience thing... like, "I witnessed this. I experienced it. You got to experience it, too. And that's why you're here," kind of thing. Not in a, like, aggressive, offensive way, but sometimes it can be aggressive and it can be really powerful.


TK:

Yeah, yeah. I dig it.


What would you describe as the primary pillars of your creative practice? And I'll acknowledge that we've probably touched on some a little bit, but I want to ask you directly.


SW:

Yeah. Like, how do I gather these things together?


It's funny because I feel like every piece I've written kind of boils out a different way. And in terms of my process, which I suppose includes different pillars, I haven't quite landed on any one intentionally specific route to making my music. Every piece has been a little bit different, but in general, one of the biggest things that I've done is let the piece come out at the pace it needs to. And sometimes that has been, you know... if it's a commission piece and I'm on someone else's timeline- again, time coming back to this, if I'm on someone else's timeline, it's awfully helpful to have a deadline, because I struggle with that.


I know a lot of composers struggle with that because it's like, you can't force creativity. You know, you can't squeeze out something that's already dry. And if something needs a little bit more time, it needs a little bit more time, and that's okay. I've had to remind myself many times, music is not life or death because it's starting to get close to a deadline. I'm like, "oh, no, my music isn't done, therefore, I'm a bad person." No, that's not it.


TK:

Yeah, I mean, we're not operating on people. We're not flying airplanes.


SW:

Yeah, it's relatively low stakes, which is a thing that we have to consciously remind ourselves of, because it can feel like the world is crashing down. I'm like... musicians where, again, no one is going to physically die. If you miss a note or miss a deadline by, a little bit, like, it's okay. It is. You know, there are obviously going to be some consequences, but you're not a bad person. You're doing your best. That's all we can do.


So being gentle with myself is definitely a creative pillar, and knowing who I am and my general animal tendencies and respecting them and not bullying myself into being someone that I know I'm not. And then, as I know myself, try to work with that and be like, "okay, well, you know, I want to take a little bit more time on certain parts of my music," so maybe this time, try a little harder to buffer in dedicated time for that. And some of my pieces, it's been more successful than others, and I just have to be okay with that and be like, "all right, well, you know, you maybe missed it by, like, a little bit on this one, but, you know, that's okay. No one died. I didn't die." I'm still happy with the piece. It came out at the pace it needed to come out.


So being gentle with myself and my creature habits is one of my pillars that it's a learned thing, and it's never going to be a consistent habit because nothing is ever static, and, you know, things are tumultuous and understanding that you are trying to make art that might have nothing to do with something that you're being confronted with and dealing with that. So nothing's ever going to be the same, but just doing your best throughout all of that and just doing my best is another creative pillar with, I mean, with everything I do. So, like, oh, I have to learn this incredibly technical, difficult musical lick, and I'm not quite nailing it. And I'm practicing and I'm practicing and I just feel like, "oh, you're a terrible musician because you've heard other people do this perfectly and you're not getting it." I'm like, no, I'm doing my best.


And so on my desk, I have a little label maker, and I have, "you can do it" over here, and then "you're doing a good job" over there. And they're very... just simple reminders. But sometimes you need validation, and we don't get it that often, actually. And sometimes you need to hear it every day, even if it's coming from a sticky note on your desk that says, "you're doing a good job." Sometimes that's enough. Sometimes it's the only thing that's keeping me going is that silly little note on my speaker that just says, "you're doing a good job."


TK:

I love the sticky note affirmation, actually. I love that you've used a label maker, because maybe I should do that. This is probably outing myself in weird ways, but I just love having a label maker.


SW:

Yeah, yeah, you have a label maker! Do it with a little alligator sticker.

It's so nice. You actually use it, like... well, for its intended purposes, but also, you know, just like, ah, "you can do it." It's silly, but I'm like, I can do it. I've done really crazy stuff in my life. I can open a document and get started on something I've been a little scared to. And then taking the W, taking the win and being like, "that's right, I did it."


Celebrating every tiny win is also a creative pillar that you have to remind yourself to do. Like, "hey, I did something that I've been a little scared to do," even if it is just starting a piece, fear version. I'm nervous about writing this, therefore, I'm not going to start, because that makes it real. It's like, all right, if you just open the document, call that a win for the day. Give yourself a little treat.


TK:

Actually, I love that tool that you're describing. Like, that's a real thing. I'm like, "okay, I gotta get started on a piece. I'm not really feeling like actually composing, but maybe I'll go in and I'll pretty up." I'll just make a document and make it look pretty before I put in all the notes and write the program notes. And, you know, that's just composing pre-work.


SW:

It is composing, and that's something I talk to my students about it a lot. It's just like a, "hey, this is a tool you can use to..." I mean, part of being a composer- I mean, you have to get the music out of your head, and if it's music that other people are performing, you have to figure out, "how do I disseminate my imagination in a visually tangible form for other people to manifest?" So I'm like, okay, our job is our imagination, which is pretty cool when you think about it that way. But I'm like, now I need other people to do my imagination, which means I have to write it down, which is the stuff of nightmares. I'm like, oh, oh. That's actually very, very difficult to do. And getting started is really hard. And it's really scary looking at a blank page, because you're just, again, going back to musical being this intangible thing that just, like, happens during an amount of time. But then we, as composers, get to see the whole tapestry.


When you're looking at a blank tapestry, it is very intimidating. You're like, we see this blank page. It can be really intimidating, and kind of a difficult place to start. And so sometimes when I'm like, all right, so you're looking at this blank page. If you just change the way that you, as a composer, physically see it, that might make it a little less scary. So instead of looking at it in page form, look at it in, like, the linear scroll view. Because, well, we hear music that way, and instead of writing it as you see it on the page, you're writing it as you will eventually hear it. That can change it and make it a little easier.


It might not make it easier for some people. It might make it easier for you. Or only write four or five measures at a time and don't have a million blank measures hanging out afterwards. It takes another step to add a couple more measures, but that just means you can see, "hey, I wrote all of this other stuff, and now I have reached those extra five measures I was trying to write, and now I get to put five more blank measures." So just doing it, like, chunk by chunk, that's something that can be helpful.


Just trying to think of, like, what are different tools I can trick myself out of my fear and anxiety. What's a workaround I can do for that? So I have that discussion with my students quite a bit, and then I also have to remind myself, I can do that, too. That's crazy. No way. What? Anxiety be gone, huh? Yeah.


TK:

I wanted to make sure we talked about this, because the last time we hung out in person was in Detroit, because the symphony there was playing your piece Both which we've kind of touched on a little bit.


And something you were telling us was that through this commissioning opportunity - which was with a number of orchestras, I should say - that you kind of baked into your contract that these orchestras would be required not just to perform your piece, but to perform the music of other underrepresented composers. So I'd love to discuss your advocacy work a little bit and the ways in which you kind of create opportunities for other composers by leveraging your own success. I mean, that's really what it boils down to.


SW:

I hope so. And I feel like, you know, there's always more that everyone can do. But also, it's like, you can only do so many things at a time. And so I do know that I've tried pretty hard throughout and pretty consistently throughout my career to think of different ways of, like, you know... I've been invited to do so many incredible things, and it is- I don't know how these people know who I am, all the time, or, like, how did they find me? I don't know why they invited me, but they did, and I am grateful and happy for all of it.


I'm like, okay, I have been invited to this place, and I am very well aware that my career was not all done just by myself. I've had a lot of help. I've had a lot of people advocate and take big swings on my behalf, and I,value that so much. And I'm just like, okay, well, I've been invited to this place. What can I do to take a couple of big swings for someone else? Or maybe not an individual, but just open whoever I'm working with... be like, "hey, did you know about this person or this, group or that you are allowed to do certain things?"


Because, again, sometimes people just need permission to do something or a validation. Like, I know that you conceptually understand what this is, but you yourself, you can also do this, and it's not as scary as you think. Sometimes that's just offering resources. Or, "hey, I'm not able to do this one thing, but I know someone who is able to do this one thing. Here's their contact information. Why don't you reach out?" Or, "how can I connect you?" Something like that.


But it's something that has been important to me to try and reach... not necessarily reach back, but just, like, reach out as I've been pulled up, because there is so much room in our field for everybody, and there's so many different kinds- there's so many different kinds of music. And it kills me when I meet people who are like, "I usually don't like contemporary music." I'm like, "oh, well, that's a lot of stuff you don't like. I am absolutely certain that you have not heard all of contemporary music." And I'm just like, do we need a better word to describe? We don't get to name an era until the era has ended. But when you just say contemporary music, I'm like, well, that just means music that is made by people who are alive, like, right now, and making the music. Not that the people who have just passed on are no longer contemporary, they're, like... of this era, but just, like, looking at the literal meaning of the word contemporary is what's happening right now. And I guarantee there's something that someone is making right this second that you will probably like.


But if you don't let yourself- or, like, you don't have the permission to go out and look at it because you don't like contemporary music, well, you're... You're just gonna keep not liking it. And, so just trying to expose people to other stuff, be like, "all right, well, you don't have to like my music." I don't expect everyone to, because that's really unreasonable and, like, honestly, a little bit mean. I'm like, "You don't have to like my music. That's completely fine. I like my music, and that's enough for me. That's all I want. It's cool if other people like it. It's a very nice bonus. But I make music that, I like and I like listening to. You don't have to like the same stuff that I do and you like other stuff. Therefore, there is room for everybody because that's how it works."


So, I try to go into these opportunities and into these spaces with the knowledge of, like, all right, well, I'm bringing this thing. I'm offering this. They don't have to like it. I'm still here, though. And while I'm here and be like, "what if? Here, try these things on for size as well. I have a friend who makes this kind of music. It's super different than what I make, but, you know, give them- check them out. You're trying to get more involved in the contemporary music world. Here are a whole bunch of people who write different things than what I do that you might like. Might as well try branching out."


So I have tried pretty hard to have discussions with the folks that I've worked with in the past. and being as frank as I can, obviously not in like a, a mean way, but just saying the things that are a little bit scary for me to say, like, hey, you don't have to like my music. I understand that. That's totally fine.


When you say, "I don't like contemporary music," I'm like, "that's kind of limiting." Or I've had conversations with groups and they're saying, "our audience won't like this or our audience doesn't like this." I'm like, "well, that's kind of putting your audience down." Why are you not believing in them? They are fully capable of making their own decisions. And if they're hearing something that they've never heard of before because you haven't offered it to them, they don't know if they're going to like it or not. So you, as the presenter, have to take bigger swings and offer your audiences the opportunity to make those decisions on their own. And that means you don't have to play the same contemporary composer over and over and over again. And if you keep getting the same feedback of, like, 98% of your audience is like, "I really don't like this." But then there's like, like 2% of the audience like, "this is the coolest thing I've ever heard." I'm like, I like that.


So maybe, I don't know. You don't have to play that all the time, but sprinkle it in there. The 2% of your audience, they still matter. They come to your stuff, they support you. So just trying to encourage other people to take big swings with contemporary music in general. But then also, you know, I go into these opportunities with the knowledge that I am a largely marginalized person. I am girl. I am black, I am queer. And all of these, like, hotbed topics, organizations are like, "wow, look at us." I'm like, all right, cool. I mean, fine. This is like... yes, I want to be here. I'm so thrilled that you've invited me.


But also, just remember that you can't just do stuff like... you can't just program marginalized people and then expect a cookie. And be like, "look at us. Look what we did." I'm like, that doesn't... You know, that doesn't really- If you're genuinely trying to change the field, that doesn't mean you should be only doing it for the validation of other people and, like, the validation of your audience. Like, "wow, look at how diverse they're being." And then, like, do it once and then never, never do it again. Like, that does not count. If you just program, like, one woman on your entire season and then never, never do it again. Like, that is a person who is filling out a checkbox. Like, "we got our one girl. Now we're done until next year." Like that. Nope, that does not count.


TK:

Yeah, I remember after a lot of the Me Too stuff in, I think, 2016, and seeing orchestras - I won't name names - but seeing orchestras finally program women composers that following season, and then the following year, just back to business. And it's like, come on, y'all... Like, that's- let's not tokenize this.


SW:

That is impressively tokenizing. And then back to business for you. "Well, the audiences only want to hear Mozart." Like, you are completely, underestimating your audience. And while you're doing that, also being really lame. Don't do either of those things. But, yeah, it's true. In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, it was very trendy and very popular. Like, well, you know, Black Lives Matter, and we're gonna program Black people, and then, like-


TK:

The bare minimum.


SW:

Edgy, right? Yeah, the bare minimum. Like, well, that's cool in the moment because, yeah, the people that are being supported should be supported. Their music is excellent. They're doing amazing work. Not, by virtue of them being marginalized, they're making amazing work. The person that they are may or may not affect the music that they make. Whatever they make is theirs, and their experience is also theirs.


These institutions should not capitalize on the fact that the person that they're bringing in is marginalized, which sometimes happens because they're programming women for one season after it became relevant and then never doing it again like that. No, that is- It feels close. You're getting closer. but the way that you did it was only so you would look good, and it... It sucks. I'm like, y'all, please don't. Just do not do that.


TK:

And to be fair, there's plenty of organizations who have taken the reigns and done it right.


SW:

Yes. Oh, my gosh, yes.


TK:

-been champions of composers of all kind, you know, underrepresented composers, living composers in general.


SW:

Yes.


TK:

That's not really a thing. Orchestras typically do not celebrate people who are alive.


SW:

Yeah, it's true. And there are some incredible institutions, organizations who are doing that great work. And I'm like, this is an amazing example of a group that is doing... I don't want to say the right thing, but they're out there representing music, and it includes greatest hits of, like, Beethoven, Mozart, but also, they're including the next greatest hits of the generation, and they're introducing people to music they've never heard before, and they're lifting up the community as a whole and striving to make our field an equitable, good place.


And there's groups out there that, you know, all hat, no cowboy, where they are saying, "we are doing this one thing," but then they don't actually mean it. It's very frustrating. And I figure if I've been invited into this place, trying to make sure that I've been invited for the right reasons, and while I'm there thinking about, is this an organization that would be open to discussion on this kind of stuff? Like, how are you, as a group, striving to make the field of classical music more equitable? How are you doing that? What are some things that you can do to do more? How can you swing for the fences a little bit more? What are some potential resources that you could use to help you on your journey? That kind of stuff.


So figure out, are they even receptive to this kind of conversation? Sometimes they might not be. And if what I'm saying falls upon deaf ears, that, you know, it's not a great feeling, but I'm gonna try. Cause I'm there. They wanted me there, so I'm like, well, I'm- You're gonna get it. I'm here now.


TK:

'm so thankful that that's something that you do, because I'm sure there's a lot of composers who have these opportunities and could be doing that, and just for whatever reason, they don't. Maybe it's no fault of their own.


SW:

Yeah. Because, I mean, it is scary. It feels like a risk because, you know, if you're difficult, they don't want to work with you anymore. But then also, I'm like, I don't know if I want to work with a group that would just be, you know, openly tokenizing people from marginalized communities. That feels very icky and inauthentic to who I am as a person.


Also, I don't want to work with organizations that are doing that intentionally. You know, there are some groups that will give themselves awfully big pats on the back like, "we did it." I'm like, yeah, okay. Bless your hearts. In a very southern way.


But, like, thank you. I'm trying. Again, you can only do your best and, you know, say your piece and then hope that it is interpreted not as a direct criticism, but as a, hey, you're. You're doing your best. Here's some other stuff you can do.


TK:

Yeah.


Shifting gears quite a bit and getting into this final round of questions that I have for you... What do you think you'd be doing if it wasn't your art, if it wasn't composing or even making music at all?


SW:

What would I be doing if I wasn't making art? If I go back in time and never discovered being a composer? I've always been involved in music my entire life, so if not a composer, happily teaching band or... my education practicum, I did elementary school, and I loved teaching elementary music. It was so much fun working with little kids. They're great.


TK:

Makes total sense to me. Knowing who you are, that's awesome.


SW:

Just, like, kindergarten, first, and second grade was my favorite. And also conceptually very similar to working with grad students... like, teaching at the collegiate level, because it's just like, okay, so you're figuring out at different levels- You're figuring out who you are and where you fit into society. You're offering up these aspects of your personality and seeking validation, and just like, all right, cool. How do I nurture all of this? Everyone loves a little treat. Everyone loves a little sticker, and everyone needs a little... you know, everyone needs that kind of validation.


But also, you know, we have when we're super, super little, and then as we're older and we realize that, "wow, a lot of these social norms are really stupid, and I don't want to do that anymore." It's like, all right, cool. We're getting back to our core self, and it's way more fun. So I love teaching little, little kids, and then older, older kids, I guess all of them are fine with learners at all stages. But, I love teaching elementary school. It was so much fun.


But if I wasn't doing music stuff at all, I would love to be working in fashion. Fashion is my passion. It's creative. I love the feel of different textures and textiles and just how do I put stuff together that's fun? A different expression. I love working with animals. I could go back to my... maybe every kid's desire of, I wanted to be a marine biologist. The chokehold that profession had on Midwestern kids...


TK:

Yeah, there's no ocean. I mean, well, I guess maybe Kansas was an ocean at one point.


SW:

It was! The Fish-Within-a-Fish fossils. I love that fun fact. Oh, my gosh. Rocks. Actually, I don't know, maybe working with rocks and archaeology.


I've always been a rock person. My collection of rocks is extensive. And because Kansas and Missouri used to be a very shallow ocean, the state fossil of Missouri is the Crinoid, which is a spiny sea plant, and you can find them everywhere. And so I have a pretty big Crinoid collection of fossils that I found, and some, like, little fossil fish that we didn't have the tools to dig them out of the rocks, but we found them. It was very exciting. So, I don't know, working with dinosaur bones, collecting rocks, being geologists, I don't. There's so. I like a lot of different things.


TK:

Shelley, you're so cool that it's no surprise that everything you're saying is, like, cool things, like rocks, clothes. Yeah.


SW:

Working with kids, I don't know, there's a lot of things that I think are just really fun, and it also just means there's stuff everywhere. Being an eccentric collector of trinkets, bits, and bobs, that would be my chosen profession. Who knows? I could still become that, probably. It's not too late to retreat into the cabin in the woods and just be a little witch. It's not too late. It's never too late.


TK:

Is there a tool that you use in your practice that you think everyone should know about and that everyone else could benefit from?


SW:

I suppose, born of the era we live in... And a lot of people, yes, handwrite their music, and a lot of people write at computers, but our decrepit little bodies... we didn't do a great job of evolving, and so our spines, we could have done better. We will all eventually become crabs again, which is thrilling as a concept. And we can retreat back into the sea.


Regardless, different kinds of ways you can stay healthy while we are trapped at desks. And, like, the very composerly, "I'm hunched over my music by candlelight," like, if that's writing with paper, pencil, or at computer. But making sure that you're being kind and gentle with your body is very, very important.


I have a permanent spine injury. I herniated a couple discs in my early twenties. And according to the state of Missouri, because it happened on the job, I am 20% permanently disabled. That is a very specific number. But that just means I live with a somewhat tolerable, sometimes intolerable amount of pain every day. And so making sure that I have tools and, like... My creative area is set up to help myself not become more of a decrepit little creature. so that means a desk chair with back support.


I also have a kneeling stool, which is great. It's good for your posture. It helps, you know, settle your body weight in different ways so you don't feel like, "I've been sitting at this desk for 6 hours. Everything hurts. I hate music now." It's like, no, no, we want to keep those things separate. So, like, anything that you can do to keep your physical, corporeal form happy while your brain gets to do all, like, the fun, fun stuff, trying to connect these things and making sure that you still like music is very helpful.


So the thing that is very... And has become more important to me as I spend more and more time, you know, composing and sitting is just making sure that my environment and my little enclosure is something that's gonna be supportive to my body so I can keep allowing my brain to focus on music and not on being in pain, little creatures.


TK:

So I will also say without being- what did you say, 28% disabled?


SW:

20.


TK:

Okay, 20. Okay. Not quite as bad as 28, but-


SW:

Yeah, it stinks. Regardless, any amount is not ideal, obviously.


TK:

-to my knowledge, I'm not 20% disabled. But that being said, I think there's something about being in our 30's that you're trying to, like, figure out.... Like, yeah, I went through the same kind of phase. Like, "the chair is not working anymore. The desk isn't working. Nothing, nothing in my life is serving me the way it did before."


And maybe I just didn't think about it. Maybe my body was a little more resilient. I think you're speaking about yourself in a specific way. But I think there's something... there's something about it that I think- if you're listening to this podcast and you're 25 years old, just wait, you'll get it.


SW:

You'll understand our waning youth. I'm like, I don't think of anyone as old. We live for a very long time, and I think I'll be old at like 80 something. I don't know. I mean, I still feel quite young, but then my little meat puppet. The encasing, yes, my encasing. My flesh prison does not agree with that.


I'm like, well, yeah, of course I could be hunched over my computer, my desk, like a little goblin in my twenties because I... you know, gravity hadn't caught up to me yet. So that's, again, something I try to tell all of my students. Like, do not sit two inches away from your computer in the dark with the brightness at, full blast, you, you will sizzle your cute little retinas. Don't do it. So, lighting is important.


TK:

The blue-blocking glasses that don't mess your brain up.


SW:

Yeah. I'm like, "try to get some sleep." I'm a very nocturnal person. I let myself be. That's just what it is. I've tried in vain for years to try to be a morning person. I haven't, and it's fine. I love nighttime. It's also when I'm coincidentally left alone so I can do my creative work. But I'm like, nighttime, it's quiet. There are fewer distractions. I like it.


So with that realization, like, work with yourself and try to get to know your physical, mental tendencies, and then let yourself be yourself and work within that and maintain health. Even if I'm going to bed hours later than most people do, I still try to get eight or 9 hours of sleep. That does mean that my day starts later than a lot of other people, but also that's how I'm keeping myself healthy.


So, I teach private lessons. Therefore I tend to schedule my lessons later in the day. I'm like, "I am so sorry. Mornings are not something that work for me." That's my sacred time of just, you know, starting my day off, but also, I'm probably asleep. So sorry. I am asleep. While you are starting your first class. We are not having lessons at eight. I can't. I've tried. I'm so sorry, but I- At this point in my life, I can't do it.


TK:

Yeah, I think it's such a beautiful lesson for us all to learn how to work with our energy flow, because I'm the opposite. And this is, like... flipped for me, where I've recently discovered that if I can get up at 06:00 a.m., 07:00 a.m, and power through all of my work for the day, that's much better than what I was doing, you know, maybe five years ago, which was - and this is in the context of having a day job - you know, getting off of work and then working throughout the evening hours, because I find now that working in the evening, I can't go to sleep at night. And it just perpetuates this cycle that I don't love. So I think, do what's best for you, as much as society will allow you.


SW:

Yes, it is the external stimuli of, everyone else does it. I'm like, "but it doesn't work always for everyone else." It is unfortunate. A prison of capitalism. Dag nabbit. It's fine. Gosh darn. We won't get into that now. Nope, nope. Avoid.


TK:

We'll do that another time.


SW:

Yes, separate podcasts.


TK:

Ah. but that is a perfect segue, though, because we have covered so much ground. And, I just have one last question for you that might allow us to cover just a little bit extra ground that we haven't yet.


And that is, what is something that you've never had a chance to say about your art, your music, that you've always wanted to share with people?


SW:

I guess the biggest thing about the music I've written is that I stand by all of it. I really like it. And if I like something enough, obviously I'm gonna share it with the world. And if I don't like it, for whatever reason, I'm not gonna share it with people. So the things that I have out there to share, I really like that music. And there some older pieces that I write- And of course, older is relative, because I've written everything in ten years, like Middleground. That's one of the very first pieces I really ever wrote. It was for a class at NYU, and it was a string quartet class that was in your first year, and so that's one of the first things that I ever really wrote. And I love that piece, and it's probably my most performed work, and I can't write that music anymore. It's, you know... there's aspects of that or like the energy that I still infuse in my work, but that sounds. That's like super folky, like Heartland Americana. I'm not sure if I can do that anymore. It's not something I've done in a really long time.


But I love that piece. I really do. I love that music. And it is a nice reminder of where I came from, I suppose. And, I just make sure that the music that I'm writing, whatever form it may take, is something that makes me happy and is a good representation of my current self in whatever form that takes. And I've changed a lot, a lot over the last ten years. And again, we live for a very long time. I am 32, so relatively, according to some, you know, the- The youth. Gosh, one of my... my youngest student is 18, and from time to time, I feel a sense of ancientness. And then to some other people, "oh, my goodness, you're so, so young for what you do."


I'm like... so I don't really know where I lie on the social perception timeline of age, whatever, but I have changed so much musically and just as a person, how I feel about myself in the last ten years. And whatever music I'm making at my present state is the most true representation of myself and what I like. And so the only music that's out there is stuff that's really inherent to who I am at whatever given time. But that means it is the most truthful representation of me.


So what I have to offer is just, it's a little slice of who I am, you know, and everything that I write is kept close to my heart. You don't have to like it. If you don't like it, that doesn't mean you don't like me personally, I hope. I don't know. It's fine, whatever. But, like, I don't know, it's just like a little slice of where I am in my present, even if the music doesn't have to do with me, like, conceptually.


I'm writing an opera right now. I'm not involved in that story, but I'm writing the music. And by that respect, I'm not necessarily a character, but it's still my story in a way, I suppose.. So I don't know. I mean, it's a slice of who I am. And it is always going to be honest, in whatever respect.


TK:

That's such a poetic way to end this conversation. So we'll stop while we're ahead.


SW:

Great. No ramble.


TK:

Shelley, this has been great. I really appreciate your time. And hopefully, we can do it again someday.


SW:

Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I have enjoyed this immensely.


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