Composer Mara Gibson‘s upcoming release SKY-BORN is her debut album on Navona Records. Gibson has received countless grants and honors, including those from American Composer’s Forum, Meet the Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, ASCAP and more. Today, Gibson is the next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to see what makes SKY-BORN.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator?
I committed to being a musician first and consciously realized I wanted to be a musician in the summer of 1988 at the North Carolina School of the Arts during a high school summer intensive. I had taken piano lessons since I was five and played in middle school band, but my experience at NC School of the Arts was the first opportunity I had to share my passion outside of my local network. I think this is why I advocate for these young experiences for composers so much! I started writing songs that summer and got much more serious about my music moving into more rigorous piano lessons and theory studies. In college, I had formal composition lessons for the first time. Right around the same time, I started having extremely vivid dreams about my music literally dreaming about music I had not yet written.
While I majored in music at Bennington, I also pursued literature and ceramics. In retrospect, these areas of study helped me as much, if not more, than music in finding my artistic voice. My parents were not musicians and they confoundedly recall that as a young child I would lock myself in my room and listen to records over and over again with my dog (perhaps, now it seems like a classical composer clue). The conviction to be a composer truly took shape just before I started graduate school when I realized I could not live without music.
What was your most unusual performance?
The two most unusual and remarkable performances I have experienced both involved violist Michael Hall, one of my closest collaborators and friends who I met in Bangkok Thailand in 2009.
In 2011, Canopy was commissioned by the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art (featured on my first CD ArtIfacts) as part of the unveiling of Roxy Paine’s Ferment. As if composing a piece to accompany a sixty-foot sculpture was not enough, the premiere performance was part of a celebration for museum director Martin Friedman’s career who was among the first to discover and premiere many artists. He transformed a local museum into a world-renowned contemporary art center for art, music, performance, and dance. The champagne reception was absolutely over the top with hundreds of members of the arts community in the gorgeous space outside of Rozelle Court of the Nelson. The experience was surreal because my music and closest friends were on the front line alongside legendary giants. Canopy is still my most performed piece to date, hitting close to seventy performances in 6 years.
The performance of Folium Prime in 2015 for viola and audience (linked here from a recent performance in Chicago) in Udine, Italy was my most profound audience/composer experience. I was on stage cueing the visual prompts for the audience, flipping the role of composer, with Michael in the forefront after Luisa Sello read her only poem in English. The Italian audience responded more purely to the sounds of the music and words with English being a secondary language. This was a humbling and magnificent experience for me as an artist.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
Cafes, amidst artists and collaboration. If I have to commit to a date, I think it would have to be the 1920s in Paris. My experiences in Banff, at Virginia Center for Creative Arts and at the MacDowell Colony were among my favorite experiences, but I fantasize about the conversations that surfaced in this particular time and place. I would love to have been a fly on the wall to hear some of the dialogues between Stravinsky and Picasso!
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
You are a friend, first and foremost. The vulnerability allows you to break down creative walls. While scary, it is also the most rewarding work. Every single person on SKY-BORN and ArtIfacts has held that position in my heart, which in turn has allowed us to create these albums and musical moments openly.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
I have two favorite musical moments on SKY-BORN.
1: In Blackbird, I was inspired by making something extraordinary from the ordinary. Working with the musicians in Cascade, dancers with choreography by Gary Abbott and video by Caitlin Horsmon together helped this piece take shape. All forces came into play is the most diverse collaboration to date for me. I learned so much by working with multiple disciplines!
2: During Megan Ihnen and Micheal Hall’s recording session of One Voice in November of 2016 with Bob Beck at UMKC, the piece came to life after its initial performances It was both beyond what I had imaged and everything I wanted at once. I was working with stellar musicians and friends that were willing to embrace the meaning of the piece before I completely understood what it was. This was empowering on many levels for me. It questioned the role of the composer, which I was always “suspect” of on some level, but more profoundly, my role in all of it.
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose than the others?
Conundrums, the piano preludes, were the most challenging to compose on SKY-BORN These pieces came out of a proposal from Holly Roadfeldt to write for her while I was at MacDowell and already had several other projects underway. I was undergoing a lot of transition in my personal life, and as a consequence, my creative voice was changing. Inspired by six large gestural paintings by Jim Condron, these pieces challenged me to be myself in the most-raw form. It has since given me confidence a trust in my voice, even though they were hard to come out. They came fast but arrived in a new way for me that I will definitely explore them in future.
Mara Gibson’s new album SKY-BORN is releasing on Navona Records Friday, November 10th. Pre-order on Amazon, iTunes, and ArkivMusic today. Keep up with Gibson on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and new music.
By Samantha Granville, Social Media Specialist