Award-winning composer Meira Warshauer has had her work performed all over the world including throughout North America and Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. Warshauer’s previous Navona Records release LIVING BREATHING EARTH was praised by Hadassah Magazine saying it’s “a shimmering, joyous and soothing ode to the world’s beauty.” Today, Warshauer is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to learn more about Warshauer’s inspiration and her new music on CHÉVERE.
Who was your first favorite composer(s) growing up?
J.S. Bach was my first favorite composer. My small hands could play his music, and my piano teacher challenged me to learn all the Two-Part Inventions. I loved doing that. I must have liked the order and the vitality in the music, and keeping two melodies going at the same time. Later we did some Three-Part Inventions and Preludes and Fugues. But I still remember the feeling of having memorized all the Two-Part Inventions, and how much fun it was to play them. (And it still is—my favorite is the D-minor.)
Later, in high school, I was practicing for my senior recital. One night, I was alone in the house and playing a Beethoven Sonata. All at once, I began to understand the drama and feeling beneath it. A friend called and I remember our conversation about Beethoven and how much I loved his music.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator?
During my undergraduate years at Harvard, my piano teacher at nearby Longy School of Music had urged me to seriously consider music before going forward with my other career plans, such as mental health. After college, I worked for a year as a Spanish speaking interpreter and social worker at Children’s Medical Center in Boston. Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to keep up my piano technique working full time, I decided to apply to the New England Conservatory of Music in the spring and was accepted as a “special student,” which means they really didn’t know what to do with me.
I enrolled in the fall, with Irma Wolpe Rademacher as my piano teacher. Mrs. Wolpe specialized in the music of Chopin and the 20th century. As Stephan Wolpe’s first wife, she premiered his piano works and was in the milieu of contemporary music. When she introduced me to the music of Arnold Schoenberg (Opus 11 and Opus 19, early atonal compositions), and later Webern, Ives, and Georg Crumb, I felt for the first time that I could connect intuitively with what was behind the music. Little did I know that this was my introduction to the world of composing my own music.
In the last semester of my piano performance graduate studies at NEC, I enrolled in a new class: “Composition for Non-majors,” taught by Tom McKinley, a new hire brought in from Chicago by Gunther Schuller. Tom’s class opened up channels of creativity in me that I hadn’t realized were there. The music just flowed, and I haven’t looked back since!
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
I am so blessed to have the found the perfect place for creating music, and it’s right where I spent every summer of my childhood, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. I have a music room with a grand piano and my keyboard for music writing software. The beach is a short walk away, for daily swims in the ocean. A hammock swings under the shade of a black cherry tree, where my thoughts can wander deeply. Then in other seasons, we return to a quiet street in Columbia, South Carolina, where large windows from my music room look out onto a backyard growing wildly.
I’ve loved my times at the Hambidge Center, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and at MacDowell Colony in rustic New Hampshire, with its lovely cabins and no distractions. The natural world feeds my creativity, wherever I am.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
We were recording Akhat Sha’alti and took a break after the first movement. Next up was the lively Otah Avakesh (this I seek), and when I came back into the studio, the chorus was already singing it. I was delighted with the buoyancy of their performance. It sounded just like I had imagined, with rhythms bouncing around like voices dancing. Such rhythmic vitality–only in Cuba!
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
I hope these compositions will provide a safe space to tune into the inner peace and joy we carry with us, but may not readily accessible. I hope this music can be a doorway to the sacred, however, that is interpreted. The Hebrew words come from the Psalms and Jewish liturgy, but they express what I believe is a universal yearning for connection and meaning.
What does this album mean to you personally?
It was very moving for me to hear the Cuban voices singing these Jewish texts with such feeling and expression. I was a Latin America History major in college and traveled extensively in Latin America. But Cuba was off limits most of my life. What a joy to bring my music to Cuba, and to collaborate with these wonderful musicians!
Meira Warshauer’s Akhat Sha’alti (One Thing I Ask) and Oseh Shalom (Maker of Peace), will be released on the next Cuba compilation album CHÉVERE on Friday, October 13th on Ansonica Records. Pre-order the album here.