Tag: composers in communities

Terrarium: A New Sphere for Growing Art

A glass ball terrarium

I began this four-part series with a vision of my dream composing job, illustrated in three vignettes. This job would be structured like J.S. Bach’s salaried position as a composer. It would capture the directness and intimacy of the village baker making fresh bread each day for his neighbors. My creations could be met with the intensity of the children running around their brand-new playground in Central Park.

As far as I know, no job exists quite like this. So I am on a mission to create it, for myself and others, via two related initiatives. The first, my email series Life in Septuple Time, seeks a new and better form of social media. The second is a new project to bring us closer to the ideal I imagine—toward a place where, as I said in my first post, “the art and its communities are woven around and within each other… where art is not separate.” Such a thing could take many forms; I hope to make it happen in a new kind of community I am co-creating, called Terrarium.

To begin, let me follow up those three vignettes from my first post with two more, to take that initial vision and to draw it more sharply, more precisely.

Vignette 1

“In the fall of 1904, a farmer was stringing galvanized wire between lines of barbed wire fence… building an elementary telephone network to connect his farm with those of his neighbors. [He] was part of a movement of telephone self-connectors, the telecom DIYers of the first decade of the twentieth century. They intuited that the telephone’s paramount value was not as a better version of the telegraph or a more efficient means of commerce [as the Bell company saw it], but as the first social technology. As one farmer captured it in 1904, “With a telephone in the house comes a new companionship, new life, new possibilities, new relationships, and attachments for the old farm by both old and young” [emphasis mine].

Typically, the rural telephone systems were giant party lines, allowing a whole community to chat with or listen to one another… Farmers would use the telephone lines to carry their own musical performances… “The opening of the new telephone line at Ten Mile,” reported the Macon Democrat, a Missouri newspaper in 1904, “was celebrated with gramophone, violin, banjo, french harp, guitar and organ Friday night.”

—Tim Wu, The Master Switch (Knopf Doubleday)

Vignette 2

In the summer of 2019, six people joined a new kind of discussion process called Terrarium. They are scientists, teachers, musicians, lawyers, engineers, psychologists, writers, each wearing multiple hats in life. They are working parents, caring for ill loved ones, studying for a competitive state licensing exam. They are in four states, three times zones, two countries. Most have never met in person and likely never will. During the weekly Terrarium cycle a wide-ranging discussion unfolds, ignited from two short pieces of writing on the topic they’ve chosen to pursue for this particular Terrarium cycle: the boundary between fake and real. One is about professional mourners in Congo who cry at funerals as a paid service. The other is about art forgery in Europe during the Renaissance.

This group is distinctive for two reasons: First, they interact entirely online, using simple tools outside the purview of Big Social Media. (In this case, Trello software.) Second, the group follows a careful process designed to de-Facebook-ize the rhythm of the discussion. There is no news feed and no ‘Like’ feature, no algorithmic advantage given to the speediest or most upsetting expressions of opinion. As a result of this counter-cultural discussion format, the conversation that emerges is slow, deep, wide-ranging, and non-polemic, despite touching easily polemicized issues like climate change, labor exploitation, forgery, and deepfakes. A sense of civil intimacy grows.

Soon, one of the musicians in the group gets an idea for a new piece of music, one that arises from this particular Terrarium group and speaks to their particular discussion: Several members of the group are concerned about climate change, an issue this particular composer does not feel as worried about as perhaps he should. Just as professional mourners do not feel sad about the specific dead person at a funeral, yet they are able to draw real emotion from a communal sense of grief; likewise this composer respects the concern about climate and is able to tap into the emotions around it. So, he realizes, this places him in a unique position: He can serve as a professional mourner for this group by writing a Lament for Climate Change. His music can help the group to experience, first-hand, one of the topics they have been discussing. The art can help them to feel what it’s like to have a professional do the mourning on their behalf.

A 2013 public domain photo of the Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park by Mike Lewelling, National Park Service via Flickr

Yup, that composer is me. This is just one example of the kind of super-specific artwork, tuned to a particular group and a particular topic, that emerges naturally within a Terrarium group. Writing this piece feels very different from any commissioned piece I’ve done. When the piece is finished I will be able to say to my small Terrarium community something deeply special: I made this. For you. I will know exactly who the ‘you’ is, why I wrote this piece for these humans, specifically. If I do a good job, the music will touch my listeners in a direct way, or at least it will deepen our discussion. If my music fails on any level I will be able to ask why, and hear honest answers. Then I’ll have the chance to rework it or try again. I will feel that I am getting closer to the kind of artistic meaning and context I’ve been longing for, and that I suspect other composers—and artists of all kinds—long for, too.

Together, these two vignettes show the special kind of close-knit, human-scale community that can be built across distances of space and schedule that are otherwise too difficult to span. The vignettes show people using basic telecommunications technology that requires no special skill to set up. They show communities free from the colonizing interference of telecommunication monopolies (like Facebook) that extrude our best human raw materials (emotion, relationship, dreaming, longing, making) and then use them to create morally vacuous products for advertisers. And in both vignettes the artistic encounters arise spontaneously; the music has a home and an audience before it is even made.

A close up image of an old wooden telephone with metal ringing bells, a speaker, and a receiver

An old telephone recently encountered by the author in rural Maine.

Let’s Put Art in Second Place… Where It Can Do Its Best Work

The key to bringing art into its most powerful role is to place art-making second in importance to other elements of the community.

One of my key goals is to move art-making down the totem pole, to place it second in importance to other elements of the community. This might sound odd, but it is, I believe, precisely the key to bringing art into its most powerful role, where it can work its magic most deeply. So in this article I will focus more on the Terrarium community itself—how it fosters connection and understanding broadly, beyond the realm of artistic creation—and less on the specific art being created within it, because if the community is working as it is meant to, then the art-making will flourish naturally.

In my work as a composer I feel a painful separation from the human beings I write for. Often, I don’t know who exactly they are, and I don’t feel sure why or even whether they need or want the music I create. It’s wonderful to fulfill commissions and sell my scores to performers; I meet great new friends and people tell me they enjoy hearing my music. Yet I feel disconnected from my listening audiences, and I long for something different. I want small communities where I can live my life in an ongoing everyday way, alongside friends near and far, new and old, learning together about the big issues facing our world—political, economic, scientific. In that context I can tune in deeply to the desires and cares of those humans and make art for them, specifically. As I described in my first post, I believe this works best when I, as artistic creator, can act in the role of servant to the served. And as I discussed in my second post, my long experience making community online tells me that a good place to do all this is on the internet, if we can find better ways of using it, well away from current forms of social media.

So this is a call to action. We don’t need to cultivate an audience, we need to cultivate communities with a larger purview than art alone. Then our music and audience can grow organically from that. In this article, I invite you to help us build this new kind of community and I propose a way to do it: Terrarium.

A Process for Small-Group Discussion

So, what is it? Terrarium is a new process for deep, high-trust, small-group discussion online, structured as a weekly practice. This is a project I’ve been co-creating with Erin Jeanette, my wife and partner in everything. In addition to conceiving many of the fundamental elements, she also came up with the name, which captures the spirit and shape of the project beautifully.

Like my email series Life in Septuple Time, which I described in my third post, Terrarium seeks smaller community, more trust. But whereas my email series is still a form of social media because it’s about broadcast—one person (me) posting outward to a group—Terrarium is, instead, about the group itself. A Terrarium group has a leader who invites the members and serves as coordinator and host. That person’s presence helps to build trust among those who may not already know one another. But the group is not about that person; it’s about the gathering of co-equal members in active dialog with each other.

A stacked hexagonal twists tessellation

A Terrarium group is six people. Their interaction creates a seventh point of energy, the fire at the center, the unique energy and collective insights of that particular group. (Image by Kerstin via Flickr)

Terrarium puts small on a genuinely human scale: Each group is just six people.

Terrarium puts small on a genuinely human scale: Each group is just six people. And unlike most social media, including my email list, the process relies on full participation from every member of the group. Here is what Erin Jeanette, my Terrarium co-creator, has to say about the reasons for this:

Group relating, even in its in-person form, is a strange and unwieldy beast. But group relating online…oh, boy! Here’s how I see it: There are some basic ways we ‘show ourselves’ to a group—we say something, we show up, we are silent, we are absent. All of these are valuable communications. In in-person groups, the latter two (silence and absence) are often as evident as the first two (speech and presence). In online relating, silence and absence are still powerful communicators, but it is difficult to notice or mark them in the same way. Consider this—if you had a backyard barbecue and one of your friends lurked outside your garden gate, staring at everyone intently but not coming in, you would notice. It would probably prompt you to ask some questions, both about that person and about you and your barbecue. Yet, on Facebook, people lurk outside your barbecue all the time—that might be the majority of what they do, in fact—but it is harder to mark this and consider its meaning and impact. Some of my contributions to this project are structural and procedural, and are motivated by my desire to invite those shadow-side communications, absence and silence, back into the purview of an explicit meaning-making process.

Terrarium works because it is highly structured. Small-group interaction online is already in the zeitgeist lately, with many people leaving newsfeed-based social media to interact more via Facebook Messenger, SMS group text, WhatsApp, you name it. Even Facebook is re-orienting its main interface around smaller groups. Although small is better, it isn’t, on its own, magic. Even small groups, without deliberate practices and methods to guide them, tend toward the sporadic and superficial. When it comes to getting deep thinking done as a group, grownups need structure. Two places where structured small-group discussion already happens on the internet are in online education (42-page rubric, anyone?) and the small online bible study groups in some megachurches. (No surprise that both arose in communities that value learning and discernment.) But these two types of small group cover limited kinds of content: the course subject matter, the scripture.

By contrast, in Terrarium the topics of discussion are wide open. A Terrarium group can tackle whatever issues or questions its members choose (for example the boundary between fake and real that we are exploring in the group this month) and they can draw material from any source. The topics that tend to interest Erin and me are those with many sides—social, political, artistic, aesthetic, scientific, ethical—all subjects that can become dangerous when some facets are negated or neglected. Or, a Terrarium group could take up a complex problem facing an organization or multi-stakeholder project. Terrarium is a vessel, ready to be filled with the ideas, the cares, and the aspirations of those in a particular group.

Terrarium’s structured process has two core aspects: There is a steady, regular rhythm to all interactions, and that rhythm is very slow. In Terrarium the communication moves, as my partner Erin puts it, “no faster than the speed of human relating.” Joining a Terrarium group means committing to one brief reading and writing task per week, for a pre-set number of weeks. We start with a prompt: two or three pieces of writing, music, or visual art that ignite a theme or topic. Then we each react and respond to each other, following a carefully laid out schedule. We follow the principle that ritual, method, structured practices—liturgies, therapy sessions, rehearsals, classes, and so on—set special conditions where special kinds of thinking and human relating can take place.

Convenience and access are also key.

Convenience and access are also key. Terrarium members can complete their reading and writing task anytime during the week, from any handy device. We are using Trello with its free, user-friendly website and mobile app, though other platforms could work too.

All the other specific details of the Terrarium process (please reach out to me to learn more) also serve to reinforce that slow regular rhythm. For example one unusual detail of the Terrarium process, borrowed from online education, is that all responses are hidden until a designated day and time each week, whereupon they all become visible to the whole group at the same moment. This gives each person the time and space to think their own thoughts without influence from whoever would otherwise have happened to post their response first.

A Spherical Conversation

So, what does it feel like to participate in a Terrarium group? To me, the conversation feels three-dimensional, spherical, like a glass terrarium; the ideas seem to spread outward in all directions. Every thought someone expresses stays present and active within the group’s consciousness. This contrasts with more typical discussions, both online and off, where a linear thread dominates, pushed forward by the more forceful personalities and the more attention-grabbing ideas, while ideas that are less immediately compelling—though often just as valuable—are left aside. How many times have you been in a conversation waiting to present your thought, and by the time you have a chance to speak the topic has moved on?

This inclusive, three-dimensional quality of Terrarium can feel overwhelming. When each set of individual responses is revealed, all six at the same moment, we find that each writer has gone in their own imaginative direction, drawing diverse ideas into the sphere. As a reader it is hard to take them all in, precisely because ideas have not become lost or sidelined; it’s not easy to keep so many things in one’s mind in order to prepare one’s own next response to the group. (There is no obligation to respond to every idea that has been raised, but I personally feel a desire to address as many as I can.)

That added effort is the point. Pondering all these ideas at once and plenty of time to do it, with no one forcing one’s attention toward one idea or another, helps seemingly disparate thoughts connect in one’s mind in unexpected ways, yielding surprising insights. Then, further along in the process, there is a mechanism for reining the conversation back in as a group, to refocus the group understanding via slow consensus-building—perhaps ending up in very different places than any of us expected.

Random pings are bad for calm, bad for focus.

Terrarium’s regular rhythm also improves focus, permission and sharing. In the current internet’s infinite web of nodes and spokes, each pulse of energy—a post, a comment, a share, an email, a blog, a news item—fires at a random moment in the day, rarely predictable. That’s why we use alerts and notifications. But those random pings are bad for calm, bad for focus. This is why I gave my email series Life in Septuple Time a steady beat in 7/8 time, with emails arriving only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, always at 6am. Terrarium likewise follows a steady, scheduled beat. You don’t need notifications when you know exactly when each communication will arrive. Then, at the moment in which you make yourself vulnerable by sharing, you already have the welcome and permission of the group. Your contribution is expected, on schedule; you are not interrupting anyone. Your reward is the true attention of the group. Rather than sending your energy out into the frenzied cacophony of a busy street, you send it into your peaceful back garden.

So. The Terrarium process cultivates depth, self examination, complexity, and nuance. It helps group members sustain equal interest in candor and civility, and to discern the boundaries between productive and destructive honesty. Terrarium brings the benefits of the small group, the ancient home base of human interaction, to the internet, to overcome the barriers of distance and schedule. It’s a structured home in which to build relationships and carry on deep conversations with anyone, anywhere.

Looking Ahead

There are a few options and questions we hope to explore as we continue. Although Terrarium is an online process, it can serve as a parallel online component for in-person groups like choirs and business teams. I believe such groups often lack a place to have certain difficult conversations, to seek understanding in ways that are not possible in person. A Terrarium group can also be closed or open—either remaining completely private to its six members, or finding ways to share insights and materials with others outside the group.

In the future, I imagine a large network of these tiny six-person groups. Terrarium can bring people together from anywhere in the world around a given topic of inquiry, whether or not they already know each other. Groups can remain very small but could be interconnected, for example via individuals rotating from one group to another, getting to know each new group deeply before moving to the next. In a large network like this, ideas and learning would gradually pass from one group to another, spreading insight and knowledge across broad swaths of society.

An Apis florea nest closeup image (showing linked hexagonal structures).

A beehive of interconnected six-sided groups. (Apis florea nest closeup image by Sean Hoyland via the Wikimedia Commons.

I don’t know yet how creative artists will be paid.

Another important question is artist compensation. In my first post I left aside the question of salary, like the one Bach was paid in Weimar for his work as a composer. If art flourishes within an online community like Terrarium, I don’t know yet how creative artists will be paid. So far, it feels more like those free Friday-night telephone party-line concerts 100 years ago. But I believe that the organic nature of the art-making in Terrarium, and the felt need for art within such a community, will eventually lead, as the project expands, to the kind of funding needed to support professional art-making.

Finally (for now), if Terrarium communities exist entirely online, then the model of live encounter with art—seeing visual works, hearing aural ones—becomes complicated. Real-time musical performances over the lines can work, like those rural telephone party lines circa 1904, or radio, or today’s live-streamed concerts. Digital images can be vivid. But what kinds of music, what kinds of visual art, thrive best and most naturally on the web? Will visual art created digitally work better than reproductions of paint on canvas? Will recordings of live music satisfy? Do we need to rethink the experience of listening within such online communities, and even the kind of music that works well? There is an excellent article about this on NewMusicBox.

Why We Need This

I am on a mission to help find better ways to build community online—partly out of a sense that we need better communities, and partly from my feeling that with these better communities comes a beautiful new place where artistic creation, including musical composition, can grow. Recall that farmer in 1904:

With a telephone in the house comes a new companionship, new life, new possibilities, new relationships, and attachments for the old farm by both old and young.

Those words beautifully capture the value of the internet, too. The hope I have tried to express in these four NewMusicBox articles this month is that we, like those farmers, will roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves using the simple tools available, instead of relying on big companies whose actions are often guided by incentives other than helping regular people to form genuine connection and community.

For me, new music sometimes feels like that old farm before the telephone came along. We have the internet but we are relying on social media, which is a massive misuse of the internet. Our musical work is the gorgeous farmhouse, the barn, the silo, the fields, the brook, the smell of cut grass, sunset on the creaky porch. But it is also the abandoned wreck, the leaning structure that cannot bear its own weight, the property for which it sometimes feels that there may just be no new use.

Audiences and artists still need better ways to reach each other.

Despite all the outreach efforts we in the arts make, audiences and artists still need better ways to reach each other. Too many composers, myself included, work in abstraction and isolation, telling ourselves our work has inherent value and that an audience—by which I think we mean a community—will materialize if our music is good enough. I don’t think it works that way; that is not how artists and audiences truly connect. With many lovely exceptions, most of what we musicians in the new music community create reaches other musicians more than it reaches ‘lay’ listeners. We don’t speak often or urgently enough outward, from within the circle of our new music community, to the lay people who might value and love what we create.

A fundamental reason for this problem is, I believe, that there is currently an “in” and an “out” at all. At its most connected and vital, art is the nourishment that flows naturally and easily within an ongoing community where artists coexist with those who do not specialize in a given art, but who appreciate it. Think once more of that village baker in olden times, handing a precious piece of craftsmanship from one human to another, fulfilling a direct need: I made this. For you. This is the elemental interaction in which art plays its greatest role and shines its brightest. It is the quality I feel in writing this new piece, a Lament for Climate Change, for my Terrarium group this summer. This kind of interaction happens, of course, in everyday life in many ways. But our world of organized art-making seems to have come unglued from that core interaction.

I want to reclaim that simple act for new music. I think it’s time for us to get out our old telephone wire, rig up the internet in ways that work best for regular people, and bring the party back to this old farm. Not for a concert once in a while to hear a precious song or two, but to come and live and work and learn together every day, communing around big, vital topics that concern us all. Then, on a Friday night, we can make noise together, musicians and non-musicians side by side, all warming ourselves at the same fire.

Let’s capture and cherish whatever independence and humanity we still can, and ensure that artistic creation and encounter keep a place at the center. That’s what my Life in Septuple Time email series is about. It’s what this Terrarium project is about.

Terrarium is just beginning. If you’d like to join or lead a Terrarium group, or learn more about what we’re doing, please reach out to me. I could not be more excited to see where this can go.

I made this. For you. Anyone. Anywhere. No barriers. Everyone is welcome.

Oklahoma: New Music North of the Red River

This week’s tornadic events in Moore, Oklahoma, brought back more than a few memories for me, as I lived and taught in the Sooner State for two years before I moved up to western New York. The topic of Oklahoma comes up from time to time in discussion and, more often than not, the reaction is surprise and disbelief that there is anything musical going on in that part of the country. To that end, I would like to take this opportunity to shine a light on a few of the notable composers, conductors, performers, ensembles, and presenters that make sure that there is a healthy dose of contemporary music north of the Red River.
Composing in a flyover state like Oklahoma has its share of challenges and several of the composers living there have addressed them by finding both local and national musical collaborators with which to work. Emmy Award-winning Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate incorporates the music of his own people (he is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation) into his concert works. These range from a recent recording of two pieces for flute and orchestra with the San Francisco Symphony and Taloowa’ Chipota (Children’s Songs) with the Dickson Middle School Choir as part of the American Composers Forum ChoralQuest program to a premiere of a work for baritone and orchestra in the Lakota language with the South Dakota Symphony to future ballet, oratorio, and opera projects in Oklahoma City. Edward Knight often collaborates with the Brightmusic Ensemble (more about them below), as well as his colleagues at Oklahoma City University; just last week his wind band work Peace and Light Rising was given its Asian premiere at the All-Japan Band Clinic in Hammatsu, Japan, by the Oklahoma State University Wind Ensemble. Sam Magrill has written for large and chamber ensembles throughout Oklahoma and has collaborated extensively with his University of Central Oklahoma colleague, cellist Tess Remy-Schumacher, who has recorded two albums of Magrill’s chamber works for cello.

As in other parts of the country, the educational institutions in Oklahoma tend to foster strong new music performance and pedagogical opportunities. Wind bands are just as popular in Oklahoma as they are with their neighbors to the south, and conductors such as William Wakefield at the University of Oklahoma, Matthew Mailman at Oklahoma City University, Brian Lamb at the University of Central Oklahoma, and Jacob Wallace at Southeast Oklahoma State University are constantly premiering and performing new music. During my year teaching at the University of Oklahoma, I was lucky enough to see a brilliant performance of Louis Andriessen’s De Tijd by the OU Symphony under the direction of Jonathan Shames as part of a week-long minimalism festival curated by flutist Christina Jennings. Ed Knight oversees Project21 at OCU, a top-notch student-run composers’ collective that helped to prepare me for my own student group. While I lived in Norman, Oklahoma, I had the chance to see Jerod Tate teaching composition to pre-college students from many different Native American Tribes at the Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy in Ada, Oklahoma; I’ve worked with many students in that age range myself, and I’ve never seen students so elated to hear their new works performed for the first time.

There are two notable presenters in Oklahoma that consistently and unabashedly feature new music. The OK Mozart Festival might sound like it would focus entirely on traditional fare, but this presenter has been surprisingly willing to bring new works by living composers to the festival on a yearly basis. Founded by Christina Jennings before she left for Boulder, Colorado, the Brightmusic Chamber Ensemble is one of the strongest chamber ensembles in the state; co-directed by clarinetist Chad Burrow and pianist Amy Cheng, they have commissioned new works by composers throughout their ten-year history. (Last weekend they premiered Quasi un Fantasia by Christopher Theofanidis with guest clarinetist David Shifrin.) Speaking of clarinetists, an Oklahoma native, Christina Giacona, recently moved back to the state to teach at the University of Oklahoma. As Giacona continues to be the founding director of the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble, one wonders if she may begin a similar venture closer to home.

Before I close, I must give a shout-out to Brad Ferguson at KCSC-FM in Edmond, Oklahoma. I contacted Brad during my first year in Oklahoma and asked him if he’d be interested in a show that focused on living composers and new music. It turned out that he had been an undergraduate composition major back in the day, and he loved the idea. His generosity allowed me to start my show “The Composer Next Door,” which ran for almost three years and was, in many ways, my introduction into the new music community. While it was a lot of fun working with composers from all over the country, it was extremely satisfying to know that there was a large audience of listeners who had never had the exposure to new music that audiences in New York or Chicago would have had.

My first introduction to Oklahoma was driving up I-35 in 2003 in transit from Austin to Chicago the day after a previous tornado had hit Moore; I’ll never forget seeing the flattened shops and houses on either side of the highway and, to be honest, those images flashed through my mind when I found out I’d be teaching there years later. When I left, however, my impressions were not of windswept plains but of a surprisingly strong community of musicians and audiences who are open to performing and hearing new music.

Ann Millikan: On The Move

At the home of Ann Millikan, East St. Paul, Minnesota
June 15, 2012—12 p.m.
Photography and video recording by Philip Blackburn
Video presentation by Molly Sheridan
Transcribed by Julia Lu

Oversimplifications about the kind of music that composers write based on where they live have persisted for centuries. The age-old myth of a clear dichotomy between French and German composers still lives on in many people’s minds, as do even quainter notions such as the idea that all Italian composers write operas or at least are always lyrical. A closer look reveals a landscape in which it has always been impossible to make generalizations. (Music history is littered with composers like the “Italian” Francesco Antonio Rosetti, an 18th-century composer who briefly worked in France and was later a Kapellmeister in Northern Germany, but was actually born František Antonín Rosety in Bohemia.)

Here in the United States we continue to talk about East Coast vs. West Coast composers, and then there’s “Minnesota nice.” But a composer such as Ann Millikan, who grew up in California and is now based in East St. Paul, writes music that completely defies such one-dimensional geographical typecasting. That said, she does acknowledge that her relocation to the Midwest has had a profound impact on her capacity to write the music she wants to write:

I think the biggest difference is the ability to not juggle so many things as I had to do in the Bay Area, because the cost of living is a lot higher out there. So what’s changed is the amount of work that I’ve produced. The intensity with which I’m doing it has really changed, because I’m working full time as a composer here. [But] I don’t think my voice has really changed that radically. I think I’ve deepened it, though, because I started writing for orchestra since I’ve been here. I wasn’t doing that out in California. I didn’t even really have a desire to at that point. I was very focused on chamber music.

Since her move in 2004, Millikan has created four orchestral works. Her first opera—based on the true life stories of immigrants in St. Paul’s Swede Hollow neighborhood—was produced earlier this year. She has also released two CDs devoted exclusively to her music on Innova. The first disc, a collection of music she created for the E.A.R. Unit, offers a great introduction to her aesthetic range. In the six compositions contained therein, a keen sense of timbre combines with influences from Brazilian and many other world music traditions as well as a rhythmic punchiness coming out of jazz (and even funk on the uproarious 221B Baker Street), no doubt the result of her many years of work as a singer and jazz pianist before devoting herself exclusively to composition. The second disc, featuring three orchestral works, expands her palette without sacrificing any of the idiosyncrasies of her compositional vocabulary. For example, in Ballad Nocturne—commissioned by Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino for Italian virtuoso pianist Emanuele Arciuli (who loves jazz but who is not an improviser)—she wrote a solo piano part that frequently sounds as if it were being improvised even though it is completely written out.

Before she jots down a single note for a composition, Millikan typically constructs a prose narrative outlining her basic conception of the piece. As she explained when I visited her home in June, “Colors, shapes, sounds, durations—I describe everything as if I’m doing a review of a concert, and I listen through it. I describe it as clearly as possible. Then, by the time I’m actually composing, it goes really quickly.” Sometimes, these narratives emerge directly from her dreams. Each day she wakes up at 5:30 in the morning and jots down the unconscious narratives she remembers from the night before. “Internally, I think in story form, whether it’s instrumental, opera, orchestral, chamber, choral—it doesn’t matter” she acknowledged. Such a process means there’s always a story behind her music even if it isn’t always sonically apparent to listeners.

What she does hope listeners are always aware of, however, is that composers can be vital contributors to society at large. Since establishing herself in the Twin Cities, she has set herself the goal of escaping what she describes as “the new music ghetto.” In works such as her opera Swede Hollow and the House of Mirrors project, she has made overtures to local people who initially had no idea about what composers do but who are now engaged fans.

I think our whole view of the composer is so limited. It doesn’t need to be that way. I think being involved in the community is a really important thing to do, because of the way we think. We’re problem solvers. You know, we solve puzzles: thinking things backwards and forwards and forming all these different angles. That’s kind of what our job is as a composer. So I think we can be involved in the community in non-traditional ways.

How she and other composers interact with the public where they live and work and how those local audiences respond to their music is perhaps the most viable way to assess the significance of a composer’s personal geography.

Frank J. Oteri: All of your pieces, even the instrumental ones, have wonderfully elaborate narratives that inspire them. These pieces all tell stories. One piece, Red Migration, is about your coming to live in the place we are in right now, Minnesota. You’ve been here now for a number of years, but you spent most of your life in California. You were a California composer. Now you’re a Minnesota composer. Do those geographical associations mean anything to you? Do you feel that moving has changed your music in any way?

Ann Millikan: Well, I lived in California my whole life until I was 40, and moved here in 2004. It’s much more of an academic-oriented scene in the Bay Area, a lot of the things going on are connected to what’s going on in the universities and the conservatories and so on. Whereas in Minnesota, it’s a lot looser; there’s a lot more independence. And the weather here is a lot more intense in the winter time. But I think the biggest difference is the ability to not juggle so many things as I had to do in the Bay Area, because the cost of living is a lot higher out there. So what’s changed is the amount of work that I’ve produced. The intensity with which I’m doing it has really changed, because I’m working full time as a composer here and I’m devoting many hours a week to it. I’ve been able to focus and produce a lot more work.

FJO: It’s interesting to me that you haven’t mentioned the music changing in any way, just the amount of it that you’ve been able to create.

AM: I don’t think my voice has really changed that radically. I think I’ve deepened it, though, because I started writing for orchestra since I’ve been here. I wasn’t doing that out in California. I didn’t even really have a desire to at that point. I was very focused on chamber music. But coming out here, that was something I wanted to have an opportunity to delve into and develop. So I wrote a grant application to the Contemporary Music Fund out of the Argosy Foundation to do an orchestra CD—that was three years ago—and then I wrote only music for that. Those were actually my first orchestral compositions, starting in 2008. So that’s probably the biggest change, having the opportunity to develop that aspect of my voice since I’ve been here.

FJO: Returning to Red Migration, that’s a piece that exists in two versions. The original is for chamber ensemble, which is how it’s recorded on your first disc with the E.A.R. Unit. But it also exists for symphony orchestra. Did you start writing for orchestra by re-working that piece?

AM: Yup, that was the first thing I did.

FJO: But you didn’t include it on your orchestral CD. I’m very curious to hear how that sounds compared to the chamber version, which is how I know it.

AM: Well, it’s very dense. It actually hasn’t been premiered. I just did it.

FJO: But it’s interesting that it was your starting point for orchestral music, since it is also a piece about your coming to Minnesota. I always wonder when composers attach programmatic associations to pieces how much of that is perceptible to an audience. Sure, people can read the booklet notes for the CD, which is how I first learned the back-story, and I think this information is also on your website. But how much of this could people intuit if they didn’t read the notes? Does it matter to you? The narratives seem to be central to your own creative process, but how important is it for listeners to know the narratives behind your music?

AM: You’re right that a lot of my music has a narrative because that’s the way I work. Internally, I think in story form, whether it’s instrumental, opera, orchestral, chamber, choral—it doesn’t matter. There’s always that element for me because my process comes from a written background. When I set up to write a composition, I’m often spending a great deal of time writing on paper.

Millikan Composing Studio

Millikan in her composition studio

I get up at 5:30 in the morning, and that’s when my ideas just start coming, and I just write, write, write, write, write, write, write, and then go compose. They come to me very much in a descriptive form. So narratives are a very natural extension of that. A composition being a specific duration of time and how you’re taking the listener through that journey is of great interest for me. So I always like to share what that is for me because for each composition, it’s really different. And if the person gets that, I’m very happy. I think they exist on their own without them, but I do like them to have program notes.

FJO: One piece of yours that has a particularly amazing story is Trilhas de Sombra. In your description of the story behind this piece, you wrote about music coming from a sound that’s hidden in the earth under the snow. It’s a wonderfully rich metaphor. I guess it’s from experiencing a Minnesota winter, although there are all these Brazilian influences in it and I know that Brazilian culture has been very important to you formatively and still is. So I’m curious about that story. Is that your own invented story? Is it a folk tale? Where does that story come from?

AM: I started writing Trilhas de Sombra in 2008. It’s based on this whole series of snow-related dreams I had when we had this massive amount of snow in December of 2007. I started writing this story based on that, and very much wanting to think of it in terms of a composition eventually because it was a whole sound world that this character entered into. My relationship to sound is very physical, so when I create sound worlds, I’m thinking almost three dimensionally when I hear it in my head and when I’m trying to create it orchestrationally. So in a way, that story is sort of me as a composer. You know, it’s really the journey into that world, and where it comes from. It’s sort of allegorical on one level, and very personal on another.

From Trilhas de Sombra

A page from the orchestral score of Ann Millikan’s Trilhas de Sombra, © 2009 by Ann Millikan and reprinted with her permission.

FJO: Another personal level is that it ties to your niece Gabriela who lives in Brazil; several pieces of yours have been inspired by her. What’s her story? Is she a musician? Is she musical?

AM: Well, Gabriela and Pedro are my niece and nephew who live in Brazil, and I don’t get to see them very often. She just turned 18. They’re really amazing kids. It’s a way for me to connect with them through my work, and she’s very musical. I remember sitting down with her at the piano when she was about five or six and improvising with her, and she was just picking out things. And she would direct me to what to do. Their dad is a jazz guitarist, but they’re not musicians.

FJO: You started out as a jazz musician. On your website, you state something like: “I used to do jazz, but then I decided to be a classical composer, so I no longer do that.” Whenever I see something like that, I think: Why give up one and do the other? Why not do it all? I’m curious about if there was sort of a transition period, where you were doing both. Why did you feel you no longer wanted to be involved with jazz? Of course, jazz still surfaces in your music in other ways. I’m thinking of your Ballad Nocturne, which sounds somewhat like jazz even if the performance practice for it is not jazz.

AM: I made that leap to becoming a composer really because I was spreading myself very thin. I was playing piano, I was singing contemporary music and early music, and I was composing. I was sort of jumping between them from the time I graduated—my undergraduate was 1986—to the early ‘90s. I made a decision basically to go back to graduate school and focus on composition because I wanted to catch up with what I was hearing. The sound worlds that I was hearing in my mind compositionally didn’t fit into jazz at all, and I wanted to further my training and develop my skill level so that I could write what I was hearing. I stopped playing pretty much because I just didn’t have time to do everything. So I kind of gave up piano, and I was singing a bit for a while, but I gave that up, too. It’s an odd thing, but in terms of the worlds themselves, they’re often separated artistically. In the Twin Cities, the jazz musicians here are very open to crossing over, and I’ve worked with a lot of them in my House of Mirrors project, which was really fun. So that’s probably the closest I come to continuing to use that. But my sound world, the way I hear rhythm, the way I hear harmony, all of that is very much influenced by jazz. It’s the language that I come out of. I didn’t grow up in classical music and then learn about jazz, it’s the other way around, so it’s very indigenous to how I think.

FJO: You used to play the piano all the time, but unless it’s hiding somewhere, I don’t see a piano here.

AM: I know. I sold it when I moved here. I didn’t drive it across the country, so I don’t have one.

FJO: Do you miss it?

AM: I do. If I had a grand piano, I would play, I promise you that. I do miss it.

FJO: Although I guess it would be somewhat problematic to be banging on a piano at 5:30 in the morning, although early in the morning is a great time to compose.

AM: It just sparkles.

FJO: The phone isn’t ringing; nobody’s trying to get you to go out somewhere. But since you’re not banging things out on a piano, what’s your process? Is it all in your head? There doesn’t seem to be a physical intermediary. What is the process of getting from the sounds you’re hearing to the notated form?

Millikan Working

Millikan at work

AM: It goes straight from lines on a paper notebook to Sibelius. But the written process is very, very important for me, because it’s the opportunity for me to really describe what I’m hearing in my mind as clearly as possible. Colors, shapes, sounds, durations—I describe everything as if I’m doing a review of a concert, and I listen through it. I describe it as clearly as possible. Then, by the time I’m actually composing, it goes really quickly. Whereas if I just went straight to composing, I would just think, “O.K., what note comes next?” I like to think through a composition so that I really have a sense of it in its entirety first: Beginning, middle, and end. Where does it rise and fall? What are the high points and low points? Where are the cadences? It really feels like an organic whole before I write a single note.

FJO: It’s interesting that you do this as soon as you wake up in the morning, because you’ve just talked about one of your pieces as coming from dreams. I know on your site you talk about many other pieces coming out of dreams. So dream is an important element in your process and, of course, the best time to capture a dream is when you first wake up, right?

AM: Yeah, because it’s a time of day before you get the onslaught of emails, and news, and so forth. Your ability to listen internally is at its height, at least it is for me. So that’s a really important time. The first few hours in a day kind of set the whole rest of the day in motion. I can interrupt myself at any point, but if I’ve already done that, then I can come right back to it, whereas if I start the other way, it would be very hard to get to that concentration.

FJO: So how long does it typically take to compose a piece?

AM: It really depends, especially on the deadline. I mean, this opera, I had so little time to actually compose it. I wrote it in seven weeks, the entire thing, libretto and music. It’s a forty-minute opera. That was not a very comfortable pace, but it varies. For my orchestra CD, I wrote all of that music in eleven months.

FJO: Aside from ideas that will carry over from your dreams once you’re awake, there might be something that’s in your head when you’re out somewhere and you want to get back and get it on paper. Maybe you have these ideas for a line, or a harmony, or a timbral combination.

Millikan Washing Dishes

A musical inspiration can happen anywhere for Millikan, even while she’s washing dishes.

AM: Those things I can hear at any moment. Like the middle section of the Ballad Nocturne, where it has the bass melody, I wrote that washing dishes. That’s when it came to me. I just hear it in my head, and try to remind myself of it, until I can go upstairs and get it on paper. Things can come at any time, and I have to just be diligent about remembering them. I always try to keep that awareness open. That’s an issue. That’s one of the most interesting things I think about being a composer. Those feelers that you have are always alert, and so even when you’re taking time, going for a walk or whatever, your compositional mind is still working. It’s still coming up with things, pulling ideas from the environment.

FJO: I’m curious about how you structure your music. How important are structures for you? Do you work with structures? How much is intuition?

AM: It depends on the piece, but I think structurally, and that’s definitely part of my process. I can get very heady and techie about it, but I don’t tend to put that into my program notes.

FJO: You can get heady and techie with us. We want to hear it.

AM: Well, I’m very interested in the way timbre works, and intervallic relationships like stacked ninths, and how they can create layers of sound, clusters, the way they poke out. Creating those dimensionalities between things is something I mess with a lot, and the expansion and contraction of time, moving durations that way. That’s all part of the pre-compositional process for me. I think through that stuff really carefully. Just sort of intuiting my way through something doesn’t work. I get blocked really quickly. I know some composers just sit down and they write. But I really have to plan it and have what is going on structurally in my mind really clearly.

FJO: One thing I find really interesting is that these narratives that inform these pieces don’t necessarily lead intuitively, at least to me, to where I think they should go in terms of the sound world. I’m thinking specifically about 221B Baker Street. I love that piece. I listen to stuff before I read the program notes, usually, but then I always read the program notes afterwards. But after that first listen through, the last thing I probably would have thought of was Sherlock Holmes for that one. It was sort of a funk, jazz, rock, kind of sound world, and there’s all this quintuple versus duple stuff going on. So what’s the connection?

AM: Well, that really was just plain fun. It was basically writing an encore piece for the album, something that would be really playful. So, in terms of why I did it, or how I thought about it, that one was definitely more intuitive. That one was something more fun to write. I wanted to do something that used electronics and it was a fun vehicle for the E.A.R. Unit to put an octave divider on the cello and use sound manipulators on the woodwinds and so forth.

FJO: Now in terms of writing for that ensemble: E.A.R. Unit is a quasi-Pierrot-type ensemble. They have two percussionists, so it’s not exactly the official Pierrot plus percussion instrumentation, but it’s pretty close. Anything written for them could easily be done by another one of the many Pierrot groups actively performing; just add an extra player. I find it interesting that despite all these groups, and the richness of that combination, so many composers write only one Pierrot piece. So it’s nice that, because of your residency with them, you were able to really develop a whole repertoire. Yet you tweaked the instrumentation in slightly different ways in each of the pieces; you never did the exact same thing twice.

AM: Right. Well, when we were together for that residency in 2001 at the Berkeley Arts Center, and I had a chance to work with them that whole week and write a whole bunch of new material for them, part of it was wanting to think about creating an interesting program that wasn’t always the same, and also wanting to highlight the ensemble in different ways and bring out different aspects of them and the way they interact.

FJO: And of course the danger in writing for a very specific ensemble is that it’s so tailor made for the group it was written for that no one else can ever do it. While that’s not necessarily true for the E.A.R. Unit, because their instrumentation is ubiquitous, not every other group would probably be willing to work with electronics or even know how to do so. Have other ensembles picked up those pieces?

AM: Trens Coloridos para Gabriela has been performed by several other groups. So has Three Reflections. But Baker Street hasn’t been performed by anybody else. The Woodcarver & The Blacksmith they did in L.A. So some of them have had other groups do them.

FJO: Of course these questions always come up when writing for the orchestra. Orchestras theoretically are equipped to do anything that is written for them, yet ironically orchestra pieces tend to be the ones that get done by one orchestra and then never done by any others. You talked about initially thinking of yourself as a chamber music composer and thinking that the orchestra was out of your reach. The orchestra is out of reach for most composers. But you had a change of heart on this and not only wrote several works for orchestra, you got them performed and recorded in Bulgaria of all places. That’s a bit of an odyssey.

AM: Well, I tend to have these huge ideas, and then I just find a way to do them. That was just one of them. I wanted to give myself that challenge, and the combination of funding, Innova support and foundation support, and my desire to go into it all lined up. In a way, it was my Ph.D., but I didn’t get a degree for it. Typically what people do in a Ph.D. program is they focus on writing for orchestra. So I just had to do it on my own.

What was really exciting for me was having the opportunity to write the things that I’ve wanted to write for a good 20 years, in terms of my sound world. [As a member of the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus] I recorded [Morton Feldman’s] Rothko Chapel with New Albion in 1990 and that was really my introduction into contemporary music. It had an enormous impact on me: those sonorities and the sort of melody within those sonorities. It just stayed in my mind for years and years. And it wasn’t until I got to really focus on the orchestra for that year that I had a chance to go as deep into those sound world possibilities as I had been imagining for a long period of time. People say, “What do you mean Morton Feldman’s an influence on your music? I don’t get it. You’re all over the place.” The rhythmic punchiness of my music is much more connected to jazz. But the textures, the layers, the way he orchestrates, those are all things that I spent a lot of time studying in the early ‘90s and then kind of developing my own style around. It’s really across all my music if you follow the thread. I’m working with rhythmic juxtaposition and layering. That interdependence of modal line and melody within really dense textures is something that I’m very fascinated with. So getting to do that with full orchestra was just—wow—it was incredibly exciting. I loved it!

FJO: But of course the other side to this is that it’s very different from working with E.A.R. Unit or other chamber ensembles, which are more often willing and able to work with somebody, allow pieces to gestate, and rehearse them a million times until they’re right. Orchestras all over the world function on a clock. If you’re lucky, you get two rehearsals and then you get a performance which might not be ideal. Good luck ever getting that composition done again, unless it miraculously finds its way to other orchestras. Some recent pieces for orchestra have had such luck, but there are so many other terrific pieces in addition to the ones that get played. How was it working with the Bulgarians? Did you have an opportunity to interact with them individually, or was it a situation like so many composers have where they only get to talk to the conductor for a few minutes in between run-throughs?

AM: It was pretty much a traditional recording session set up. I had a chance to meet with the conductor, to go through the score and trouble shoot. But then, you know, the clock’s running and they’re just doing it. They rehearsed and recorded at the same time, so they were running stuff and then doing takes. So that was not the most ideal situation in terms of getting a chance to really hear the pieces as a whole live. It was done in chunks. But they did a terrific job, I thought.

FJO: I imagine all the music you wrote for them is completely notated out and there are no graphic notation elements or indeterminate elements in the scores, even though that has been an element in other pieces of yours.

AM: I think when I first started graduate school, coming from jazz, I was used to giving a certain amount of freedom to the performers that I was working with. But over time, especially working with classical performers, who are less comfortable with improvisation, I tended to just write it out if I knew what I wanted. So more and more, I was through-composing absolutely everything that I did. There have been projects where there was some sort of aleatoric element. Then it was sort of a different process, like with the House of Mirrors piece. Ballad Nocturne was commissioned by the Torino Orchestra for Emanuele Arciuli. He’s not a jazz pianist, but he appreciates jazz very much, and so I wrote it to sound as if it were being improvised, to sound like the piano soloist is developing something very organically. He’s actually championed that; he’s performed it with a couple of different orchestras in Italy.

FJO: You’re working in theater and opera now, that’s another whole world. I’m curious about how people in that community are responding to your music. How willing are they to take chances and how much are you trying to push the envelope with them?

AM: Your primary objective as an opera composer is to tell the story. The story has to come first and you want to always make sure people can understand it. So in terms of the way the recitatives are written, the way the singers are interacting, the way I orchestrate, all of that is very much in service to making sure that it’s coming across. It’s simplified way, way, way down. I didn’t take risks. But I still enjoyed what I did. I didn’t by any means cheat my voice or anything, but I kept it as simple as possible, so that we could actually do it. There are so many factors when you enter into the opera world. You’ve got singers who not only are having to learn the music, and memorize the music, they’re also acting. And that’s a tremendous amount of processing that the singer has to go through in a very short period of time. It’s remarkable to witness: to see them on book, and the next night they’re off book, then to see them perform it where they just become those characters. I have so much respect for them in their ability to do that, because that’s a very tall order. If you’re a chamber musician you’ve always got a score in front of you. But they’re learning blocking, and they’re having to be in character, and they’ve got to listen to the conductor, and they’ve got to follow what’s going on, and they’ve got to remember everything. So you want to be as giving to them as you possibly can be. If you’re doing big tonality shifts, make sure they’ve got things to listen for. You know, create cues. If I create dissonances, I’m always backing it up with something that they could anchor with. You always have to be aware of that. You can’t just be as completely free as you are with instrumental music. With a chamber piece, you’ve got somebody who’s going to sit down and really study your score. If you’ve got crazy intervallic relationships, they can take the time to learn that. The opera objective is very different.

FJO: Now in terms of writing with texts, I know you’ve done some choral pieces, too. I wonder how much working with a text changes what your process is. In the case of your opera, you’re setting your own texts, so you have different liberties than if you’re setting, say, Rilke or scripture. Those are texts that you can’t really mess around with that much.

AM: Exactly. Yes. That’s a nice liberty of writing your own text: if you don’t like the scansion of something and you want to change a word, you can. But when I worked on the libretto, I was always thinking about how I was going to set it. So I was pairing that very closely together. When I’ve written choral music, it’s often been a very separate process: be a writer and write the text, come back to it as a composer and look at it fresh. The opera was much more simultaneous. And it was very character driven. It was very much focused on who these people were, how they would express themselves, how they thought, how they felt, what their motivations were, what their arc was in the story. So that’s very different than just writing a choral piece. A choral piece is much more one dimensional. You’re just telling whatever that message is for that piece. It is less nuanced than if you’re writing for a particular character.

FJO: So, now that you’ve gotten your feet wet in both the opera and orchestra worlds, are these places you want to return to? Where does it go from here?

AM: Well, opera’s been a goal of mine for a long time. I think it comes naturally to me, because I’ve been a writer and think about story so much. It’s just part of how I’m oriented, so it was a natural. To me there’s no deeper connection between classical music and theater than opera. You asked about why I decided to write for orchestra, that’s really one of the main reasons why I did it because I wanted to write an opera. The way that the orchestra can express itself can really come alive with opera. So, yeah, I want to do more. Absolutely.

FJO: I’ve gotten to know your music through these two fabulous recordings on Innova, but I’ve never heard any of it live. Luckily we’ve got these great technologies that allow us to hear much more music than we ever could if we could only hear it in person in a live performance. But with opera, you really need to be there. So I’m hoping that these pieces get picked up by lots of ensembles so that people will have an opportunity to hear them live. At the same time, I hope it’s all being well documented with audio and video recordings that will be available for people to see and hear.

AM: Thank you. I would love that. Swede Hollow, the opera that I just did, was very well received by the local community, and there was immediately talk that we should do this every year because it’s indigenous to this place. It’s a fascinating history, and I was amazed that people didn’t even know about it. Between 1839 and 1956, immigrant populations came in waves through Swede Hollow. It’s a ravine in the eastern part of St. Paul, and it was an area sheltered from the wind. It was a place where people could live very cheaply, if they didn’t have any means. So starting in the 1850s, immigrants from Sweden who were escaping the famines and pressures that they had under their agricultural system were starting to come to Minnesota. As they settled and could do a little bit better, they would move north and they would start farming; that was the pattern. Waves of immigrants came. In the first 50 years, between 1850 and 1900, it was mostly Swedish. Then around the turn of the century, it was mostly Italians. Railroad barons would go to Italy and get workers to come over. It happened in Sweden a bit, too. So you had all of these communities that settled there for periods of time and then would move on. The last wave of immigrants was from Mexico. They came here to work the farms.

For the past two years, I’ve been very closely aligned with the community around Swede Hollow and have gotten to know some of the people that lived there. I interviewed them, worked with them, and did this little series of concerts and storytelling with them. So writing an opera based on their story was sort of the next thing that I wanted to do in that process. For a good five months, I did a lot of research at the historical center, did in-depth interviews, read books, went online, and was just compiling this wealth of experience from over the 117-year period of this evolving community. People that lived there [many years ago] are still around today. They still know each other. People have portrayed it as a slum, a ghetto, and that people were evicted, and then there was this whole finding that there was contaminated water. There are all of these things that have been perpetuated over the years. But the truth is very different than that. These were very close-knit communities. Everyone looked after everyone’s children. People worked and had different odd jobs. Sometimes they were actually doing quite well. Their homes are actually quite nice. They did have electricity. They did have telephones. They did have water pumps in their homes. There was a lot of misconception about it; I was hoping that in the opera I could tell some of the other side of the story. So I brought all of these things together with fictionalized characters that told different aspects of the story.

FJO: So to bring it full circle, it sounds to me like you’ve now internalized being a Minnesota composer.

AM: Well, I’ve certainly gotten very local in the last two years. I’ve planted myself very much in the east side and am even growing the native plants of Minnesota here on my land. I’m getting to know the community in a very personal way. Getting out of the new music ghetto was something I very much wanted to do, to interact with people that really had no idea what I was doing. I think our whole view of the composer is so limited. It doesn’t need to be that way. I think being involved in the community is a really important thing to do, because of the way we think. We’re problem solvers. You know, we solve puzzles: thinking things backwards and forwards and forming all these different angles. That’s kind of what our job is as a composer. So I think we can be involved in the community in non-traditional ways. That’s something that’s very interesting to me, integrating my work as a composer with the work of the community that I live in.

Millikan In Garden

Millikan in her garden among the native plants of Minnesota