MEET THE COMPOSER: LJ WHITE
LJ White's music serves ideals of direct, focused and socially relevant expression, assimilating an unrestricted array of influences through unpredictable-yet-contagious rhythms, strange and evocative sonorities, self-evident gestures, and apposite forms. He has worked with some of the most exciting players in contemporary music, including Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble SIGNAL, Ensemble Dal Niente, the JACK Quartet, the Spektral Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Volti, and members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, Roomful of Teeth, the Talea Ensemble, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars. We’re so excited he took the time to talk with us
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from?
I’m from Longmeadow, Massachusetts – it’s a small town in the western part of the state. I lived in Boston for seven years – I went to college at Boston University, for trombone and composition, did a master’s degree at NEC in composition, and then taught for a year in the Boston public schools – then spent two years in Berkeley, CA, and then moved to Chicago to do a doctorate in composition at Northwestern University. Now I live in St. Louis, where I teach at Washington University.
How did you meet Ally and Ben?
I met Ben at the Banff Centre for the Arts in summer 2017, and then Ally through Ben – we first met in person at Pushback’s debut in Houston last fall.
Pushback’s mission is to commission music that engages beyond the concert hall. How did you envision your piece connecting to that mission?
My piece is a setting of excerpts of a poem by Franny Choi called Notes from “A Guide to Drag Kinging.” As a trans man, I connected to the poem strongly – it conveys the visceral excitement of finally embodying a gender identity that feels empowering. It also talks about the circular, difficult-to-reconcile thought processes of figuring out one’s all-day, every-day identity as a gender-nonconforming person, in a way that I really related to. I saw the commission as an opportunity to share this story, which isn’t one that’s usually told from the concert hall stage, at a time when cisgender understanding of trans issues is evolving rapidly, but the transgender community is also facing a lot of adversity.
Out of all the cities Pushback is touring to, which one will we catch you at?
I’ll be in New York, Philly, Boston, and Chicago! I have ties to most of those cities, so I can’t wait to share the piece in those places.
Most mind-boggling concert you’ve been to lately?
The most amazing recent concert I’ve been to was Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer tour last summer. She just slayed – she’s an incredible performer, and I love her music and think that it’s really important right now. It felt like all of queer St. Louis came to that concert, and she just radiated love and inspiration from the stage for everyone marginalized by the current administration – it was so affirming and powerful.
What would like you to see change the most in our industry?
I’d like to see classical and contemporary classical music become more inclusive, at every level. It should start with access to a great, rigorous, and broad-minded music education for all kids, so that they can compete for music school admission (which also needs to be more affordable,) allowing our field to become more diverse, and audiences as well. It also needs to include expanding access to concerts and events, making them more welcoming and economically/geographically accessible. And the music itself needs to evolve – genre barriers need to be broken down, and “music education” should no longer just mean “classical music education” that upholds the work of dead white European men as the pinnacle of musical achievement. The inherent quality of all genres needs to be honored, which means that professional classical musicians will need to enhance their skills, learn to pay closer attention to details that connote style, and become more open to a bigger variety of ways to collaborate with others. Crucially, we need to find a way to convey to audiences that they’re allowed to honor their own reactions to what they’re hearing at our concerts – that if they don’t like it, it’s not just because they somehow don’t understand this rarified thing that’s happening. They’re part of a communal experience with us when they attend a concert, and their opinions matter and are valid. I think this will also lead to more critical consideration of repertoire – like maybe the texted works that uphold old-fashioned, heteronormative, classist, sexist, racist cultural mores can start to be performed less often, for example. There’s a lot that can be said, but I’ll stop here for now…
Come catch LJ’s “Shuffled Notes” with us this upcoming weekend!