Sunday, October 3, 2021

Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects: A Composer’s Letter by Maria Corley

 Maria Corley

Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects

October 1, 2021

Every year, we invite a Canadian composer to write an open letter for the program pages of the Contemporary Showcase Festivals taking place across the country.  This year’s composer is Maria Corley.

Greetings from Lancaster, PA, where I’ve lived for about twenty-two years. I’m honored that ACNMP invited me to reach out to you. As I write this, the world truly feels crazy, making the arts even more important to our sanity. Kudos to ACNMP for tirelessly championing the new music that is carrying us forward, and kudos to each of you for being vessels through which this music lives and breathes.

I moved to Amish country after six years on the faculty of Florida A & M, a historically black university in Tallahassee; and six years before that in New York City, getting Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in piano performance from The Juilliard School. I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States, but I was shaped by growing up in Leduc, Alberta, a community just outside of Edmonton. My parents are immigrants from Bermuda and Jamaica (where I was born). There were about three thousand people in Leduc when my dad became one of the town’s two dentists. Only a handful of Leduc’s residents were black, and some of the others weren’t always welcoming. My childhood helped me to learn that fitting in is sometimes impossible, and attempting to do so can be personally detrimental.

In my family, playing the piano was mandatory. Luckily for me, I didn’t mind at all. My mom insisted that we study classical music but also exposed us to hymns, calypso and spirituals. My dad’s favorites included Bob Marley, great jazz singers (like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald) and popular music luminaries (like Ray Charles, and Simon and Garfunkel). In addition to the songs we heard on the radio, my friends and I imbibed as much African American popular music as we could. I didn’t dwell on a hierarchy: I remain awe-struck by Beethoven and Stevie Wonder in equal amounts, for the same reason -both of these great geniuses touch my core.

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