LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, April 06, 2009

"How I Work": Composer Virginia Pike

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm fascinated by how artists work so today I'm focusing on Virginia Hart Pike and her creative process. Virginia is a composer, piano teacher, and musical director living in New York City. She is cofounder and Artistic Director of Music for Skylight Dance Theatre.

LeAnne: What is your composing process like?

: Well, it always starts with prayer. In fact, the process is similar to praying, because I start out trying to listen to God's still, small voice. From there it depends on what stage of the process I'm at. If I'm just starting a piece, I first have to decide what I'm writing exactly and what I'm trying to convey through each movement, or section.

For instance, in the song cycle I wrote entitled First and Fairest, I knew the overall work was about the journey of a woman who had just come off of a painful rejection by the man she loved, and finds herself in the arms of God by the end. It was told through a setting of six poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, set for women's choir. Each movement was a different stage of the woman's healing process. So in beginning writing for a particular movement, once I'd established what the movement's role was in the overall piece, then I'd start out by exploring different sounds on the piano, accompaniment patterns, musical phrases, etc. that might convey the particular emotion I'm after at the start of the movement. Or I might start out by finding a melody first (which is always easier when there are words to set - I prefer writing music for voice for this reason), which I generally do by saying the words out loud to myself and listening to their cadence. This gives me an idea of the shape of the lyric, or poem in this case. 'll often find a part of the poem where I feel like the whole song kind of lands or leads up to, and I'll shape the rest of the melody around that moment.

From there I'll establish a form for the piece - deciding where the music should be repeated, where it should change, and about how often I want the harmony to change. Then I'll start putting together melody and accompaniment patterns and harmonic colors and do a section at a time. In the case of First and Fairest, some movements took a couple of months, and others took a couple of weeks.

To find out more about Virginia Pike, Skylight Dance Theatre, and First and Fairest, click here.

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