Updated: Aug 7, 2021
Luke: Why do you think it's important for composers and guitarists to collaborate?
Natalie: There are so many reasons. I think collaboration is fundamental to music making no matter what, especially from the standpoint of composers. I grew up playing piano and singing in choirs, but before my collaboration with Ken (Meyer), I had never played the guitar before. There are certain considerations for individual instruments that you can read about and study in scores, but it's really helpful to talk to someone who plays the instrument. They can give you immediate feedback about what works and what doesn't work or even possibly (offer) suggestions. I prefer these days in my writing to have this collaborative dynamic. I think it's more fruitful for the piece and for me, and (I can use) what I learned going forward while doing work for those instruments in the future. It’s also just fun to have someone else in on it with you. So much of the composing is done alone, so it's really nice to collaborate.
L: What has been the most gratifying aspect of writing for the guitar as you worked with Ken?
N: The guitar is a really unique and special instrument. Because it’s so quiet, it asks the audience to listen in a different kind of way. The music can be more spacious. I think of that as a gift. I felt like I was willing to take more time with my ideas for guitar because I knew the echoes in the air would sound great. The guitar has timbral aspects that are really exciting like harmonics. I fell in love with harmonics when I was working on the pieces for Ken because they have such a beautiful sound.
L: How do you approach a new piece either in general or for a personal project?
N: It depends on the piece. Obviously if you're writing a piece with text, then you'll need to think about setting the text. For my creative process, I have certain things that I do repeatedly, but it depends on the length, the scope, whether or not it has text, etc. All of these considerations can affect how I start to think about it from the beginning. I'm a harmony person, so I tend to look for harmonic nuggets that I find interesting, whether that's a chord progression or a relationship between intervals or a melody. Pitches are my entry point, and then I often spend a lot of time stretching whatever idea I have through transpositions, inversions, developments or transformative developments of the harmonic nugget.
I then try to figure out how that might be sewn into a piece. There’s also a lot of zooming in and out for me, starting small with a block that I really like and thinking about how the large-scale structure might work for this piece. Then, I go back and forth between the micro and macro levels as I continue to draft. Drafting is huge for me. I increasingly feel that is the most important part of getting a piece going. I’ll often have something like (24 drafts or even more), so I can feel free to experiment at every stage of the process.
L: What do you think was the coolest part of the Twisted Spruce Symposium last year since you were part of it?
N: Ken and I came in to talk about our collaboration, and it was a really wonderful experience. It was great to be able to share more about that collaboration, which was still pretty new when we presented. I was in the middle of finishing the first two movements at the time, and then I was going to write the last movement in the fall. So the collaboration process was fresh in my mind, especially how important it is for composers and guitarists to work together. In general, I was really impressed with Twisted Spruce and how they are bringing in outside people to give a window into what this type of collaboration is like. It was a very positive experience!
L: Alright, one last question: if you could have dinner with any three composers, living or past, who would they be?
N: I would love to have dinner with Stravinsky, Meredith Monk and Debussy. I would love to meet all of them sometime, but of course I won't ever be able to meet (at least two) of them. That would be amazing!
L: Thank you so much!