by Danielle Holian
What attracted you to classical music?
I love how classical music can provoke such a visceral reaction, whether you’re accustomed to it or not. There is really nothing like hearing a full orchestra in full-whack. It’s a kind of energy that just doesn’t translate in recordings – like being at any huge live music event. I’m fascinated by all of the timbral possibilities of the orchestra, and the way in which you can train the voice to soar over all of the instruments. It’s kind of super-human.
When did you start composing?
As a kid, composing was always a part of just “playing” for me. Then as you become more self-aware you’re then more conscious of your peers, and then I guess I realised that my friends didn’t “play” like that. So then it became a more private thing, and remained that way until quite recently. Although composition was my major in college, I didn’t share anything publicly until after I’d graduated and became involved with the Irish Composers Collective.
Who inspires you?
Magdalena Casulana, Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini. These women were highly respected female composers and singers of the late-sixteenth century in Italy, although their significance is completely unrecognised by our second and third level education system. Women have composed throughout the entire history of Western art music, albeit under a cloak of invisibility, and their exclusion from standard music history textbooks has fuelled the myth of woman’s innate creative inferiority in music. It was the discovery of the existence of these women, coupled with the encouragement of my compostion lecturers to begin performing my own compositions that spurred me to become involved with the ICC.
How would you describe your relationship with music?
All aspects of my life are intrinsically intertwined with music. High and low points in my personal life are all linked to music, and somewhat mediated by it.
In terms of composing, who influences your work and which score do you love?
Whilst these female composers and singers of the late-sixteenth century certainly influence the focus of my work, my musical influences come from elsewhere. The biggest influence is the female voice in all of its forms – be it opera, lieder, chanson, contemporary classical, pop, jazz, whatever. At the moment I’m going through a big Eric Satie phase, attempting to play through his Gymnopedies and Gnoissiennes. Other works that I love, although don’t know if they necessarily influence my work, are Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorowful Songs, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Firebird, The Rakes Progress, Puccini’s Turandot, all of Poulenc & Wolf’s lieder.
Can you describe the way you compose – how things come to you, what equipment is used, methods you use.
It’s all sort of text and melody driven. Once that’s formed I play around with what I need harmonically, and then I know what instruments I need in order to bring out certain colours in the harmony. I let it settle so that it’s all in my head before I notate it in Sibelius, and sometimes I then import it into Logic once the notation is finished so that I can start playing around with electronics.
What piece of music are you most proud of?
Probably January. It’s my first choral piece which I composed for a Dublin-based female choir called Dulciana, and dedicated to my Grandad.
What are your main challenges right now in your career?
One of the greatest challenges is the lack of financial stability. There is a wealth of talent across all creative industries, but the funding structure isn’t in place to provide the necessary support. Funding tends to be project specific, which is exciting in that it allows for once-off unique collaborations, but it also highly unpredictable. The other challenge is then learning how to manage the downtime between projects, continuing to be productive for the sake of developing a craft as opposed to working towards a specific deadline.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m invested in constantly learning, practicing, and creating things so that the way I express myself musically can advance and evolve. I hope that I can eventually come to a point where I feel I’ve reached my maximum potential. I also hope to collaborate with a diverse range of people so that we can create new things that couldn’t have existed previously.