Debut PARMA artist J.A. Kawarsky is a sixth-time recipient of the Composer Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the founder of the New Jersey Gay Men’s choir, and is currently an educator at Westminster Choir College. Today, Kawarsky is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the personalities and inner-workings of our artists. Read on to discover what “J.A.” stands for!
First Question should be “What does J.A. stand for?” In truth: Julius Aaron. The name “Julius was naming after my dad’s father.” However, when I was a toddler, my sister who was 13 months older than I was, couldn’t pronounce Julius, and so she called me Jay Jay which continued until Kindergarten when I just became “Jay.” Growing up in Iowa in the 60s and 70s, I feared the beginning of each school year when the teacher would call out for Julius, and the name brought on snickering from my classmates. (That ended with the advent of Julius Erving, Dr. J. — which my first college students called me in the mid-80s.)
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
When growing up my favorite artists were James Taylor, Carole King, Marvin Hamlisch and Stephen Sondheim. I remember wearing out the vinyl Broadway cast recordings of “A Chorus Line,” and “Pacific Overtures” as well as Carole King’s “Tapestry.” We had a trampoline in our backyard and my sister and I would jump, flip, do backflips while blasting “Tapestry” to the neighborhood.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator?
I knew that I wanted to be either an actor, composer and or a conductor (preferably a pit conductor) by age 13. I got the acting “bug” in high school, but if there was a musical being performed, I always wanted to be the accompanist and teach the music…until I learned to conduct in college. As for composing, I started composing when I was 8 years old when I started piano…jazz piano. There was a lot of improvisation and when I was in high school and then college, I finally learned to write down, that which I wanted to express. It was in college that I also learned that I wanted to be a teacher, or better yet, a professor…which I am, Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.
What is your guilty pleasure?
As for guilty pleasures, I collect musical theater recordings (preferably Broadway or off-Broadway) and I love finding those lost recordings, or soundboard recordings of those shows that never got a commercial release. I also collect music theater scores and have in PDF form nearly 3,000!
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
If an artist was to perform the solo part of Episodes with orchestra, I would kindly suggest that he/she stay strict to the tempi and use as little pedal as possible. This composition is difficult but must not sound difficult. It needs to dance. The 7/8 sections should sound as enjoyable as Brubeck’s Blue Rondo `a la Turk.
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?
The moment I found most difficult to compose was the section where all ff, piano playing in octaves, and the orchestra playing in octaves also which alternates between 6/8, 3/4 and 11/8 time. These loud sections alternate with solo strings in a simple 4/4 time playing softly.
When it “clicks” it is a tremendous filling of space alternating with the least filling, save for silence.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
When people listen to Episodes, I want them to tune out the noise of the world about them, and listen to the anger, listlessness, tension and release in the work. There are also points where I want them to smile…for whatever might humor them!