I am seeing a lot of collaborative love and respect happening between ensembles, both locally and nationally. I think this is exactly the right direction for new music, and I support it wholeheartedly.
For Monica Pearce, composer and founder of the Toy Piano Composers, collaboration is the ticket. So is time management. Find out about some of the many collaborative projects she is currently involved in.
Tell us about yourself. What is your interest or involvement in the performing arts?
I am a woman with many hats—composer, arts administrator, concert presenter, arts advocate, and closet pianist. I am involved in the performing arts in these roles through my work as artistic director of the Toy Piano Composers, my work with the Canadian League of Composers where I am the general manager, and my own personal work as a composer of art music.
Can you tell us more about the Toy Piano Composers? As founder of the group, what was your motivation for starting it?
Now in our fifth season, the Toy Piano Composers is a Toronto-based emerging-composer collective dedicated to putting on curious and engaging concerts of new, imaginative music. Chris Thornborrow and I cooked up the idea in the summer of 2008, also the summer I bought a used 37-key Schoenhut toy piano. We wanted to create an enchanting and convivial concert atmosphere for newcomers to new music, using the toy piano as a frequent instrument but sometimes just as a playful symbol to represent our vision.
We’ve been so fortunate to work with some really stellar ensembles and performers, such as the junctQin keyboard collective, TorQ Percussion Quartet, Sneak Peek Orchestra, the Array Ensemble, Digital Prowess, and so many others. Between the ten composers and 13 concert presentations so far, we’ve premiered over 90 new works—and we don’t plan to slow down anytime soon!
What projects or events are you currently working on?
I’ve got a few things on the go. I am sketching out a piece for the next Toy Piano Composers’ concert, “Artistic Differences,” in February which is inspired by a series of Canadian photographs. The whole concert is inspired by visual art, and we are excited to be collaborating with emerging and established artists.
At the same time, I am currently working on somewhat of a rhapsody for flute, clarinet, toy piano, violin, and cello for the Montreal-based quintet Ensemble Paramirabo. The Toy Piano Composers are collaborating with this group to present a concert threshold in Hamilton, Toronto, and Montreal next March.
I’m also working on a six-hand piano trio with electronics for the junctQin keyboard collective, which will be premiered next May on a stellar program that includes works by Alex Eddington and Hiroki Tsurumoto. I have a few other things on the go, but those are the main projects that have taken over my creative attention.
What do you see as the main challenges for those in the performing arts?
Money. Time. Work-life balance.
Do you have an example or examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself as a composer or event organizer? How did you overcome them?
We’ve been quite fortunate to have a positive and receptive audience base. I think people enjoy how we present concerts in a way that piques their curiosity without too much pretension.
As a concert presenter, it’s really exciting and also sometimes terrifying to work with all new music (almost always premieres), because you don’t know what your program is going to look like until you have a look at the scores and go to the first rehearsal. Since our composers are so diverse, it can be challenging to present and program the works in a way that makes cohesive sense in terms of the concert structure. To work with this challenge, we always have a “concert concept” that ties things together, however loosely, whether it’s instrumentation, a compositional concept, a thematic element, etc.
For our most recent concert, “We Started a Band,” which was the debut of the Toy Piano Composers Ensemble, I suggested “old forms in new ways” as a concert concept. What the composers came up with was astounding—a Sonata for Satan with electronics, a very loud and scary Noise Fugue, and a darkly rich passacaglia called Umbral Revelry. The works were all quite different, but it certainly made for an interesting program!
What would you like to see happen in support of the performing arts, and why should it be supported?
I am seeing a lot of collaborative love and respect happening between ensembles, both locally and nationally. I think this is exactly the right direction for new music, and I support it wholeheartedly. I also see a real “do-it-yourself” mentality happening, which is very energizing and makes for a vibrant musical culture.
What role do you see BeMused playing in supporting the performing arts community?
I think BeMused has a lot of potential to bring new audiences to concerts they may not have been aware of. I know that as an avid concert-goer I would love to have a resource that told me exactly what was happening in my neighbourhood! I am excited to see BeMused develop and become an integral online hub of the performing arts.
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?
I remember a couple of years ago a professor told me that I had to make my parts like a love letter to the performer (i.e. no mistakes, as clear and true as possible). That really stuck with me, and if I had heard that earlier, I think I would have saved myself a lot of grief in rehearsals. Lesson learned!