Voices of change: Composers you should know

From Laurie Anderson to Ash Fure, these seven Interlochen alumnae are some of the strongest voices in music composition.

Ash Fure speaks with Arts Academy composition students

Ash Fure works with the Arts Academy composition students in 2016.

Molly Monahan and Dr. Cynthia Van Mannen

Molly Monahan with her Arts Academy composition instructor Dr. Cynthia Van Mannen.

A 2018 study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 1.4% of all film composers are female. Similarly, a recently released study by the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy (WPA) found that of the 21 American orchestra’s 2019-20 seasons, just 19% of composers featured will be women, and only 8% of works being performed are composed by women.

Across the industry, and within arts education, there’s a lot that can be done to help move the needle. So, in the spirit of optimism and inclusion, here’s a list of seven female composers—all Interlochen Arts Camp and Arts Academy alumnae—you should get to know:

Laurie Anderson (IAC/NMC 62-63)
“I’m a sculptor who began to make music,” polymath Laurie Anderson told Wired in 2015. “When I was 16 years old, I had an epiphany: I’m not a very good violinist. But I was playing a lot and going to Interlochen...It was wonderful because, for me, the beauty and complexity of nature and music are very linked.”

Since that epiphany, Anderson has been recognized the world over for her avant-garde approach to the arts: from writing to composition, painting, directing, inventing, and more. Over the years, Anderson has collaborated and worked with the likes of Philip Glass, Frank Zappa, The B52s, Peter Gabriel, Spalding Gray, and NASA, where she served in 2002 as their first-ever artist-in-residence. She even crossed over from the art world to mainstream success when in 1981 her song “O Superman” hit no. 2 on the UK Singles Charts.

There’s so much more that we could say about Anderson, but we’ll end on this: In 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed parts of Anderon’s home. She told NPR, “All the things I'd carefully saved for all my life, becoming nothing but junk. And I thought, how beautiful.” Instead of being devastated, she transformed that loss into “Landfall”—a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet that would go on to win a 2019 Grammy Award.

Dr. Laura Karpman (IAC/NMC 70-74)
Emmy Award-winning composer Dr. Laura Karpman has lived a life immersed in music education, from Phillips Academy at Andover to Interlochen Arts Camp. She eventually graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. She also holds masters and doctorate degrees in Music Composition from The Juilliard School. Karpman has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera, Czech Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall, where she collaborated with fellow alumna Jessye Norman (UNIV 68) and The Roots on "Ask Your Mama,” a multimedia presentation set to the Langston Hughes’ poem of the same name.

Starr Parodi (IAA 76-77)
Parodi serves as the President of the Alliance For Women Film Composers (AWFC), an organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of female composers working within the film, media, and game industries. The AWFC was co-founded by Parodi, Miriam Cutler, and fellow alumna Laura Karpman. As an active composer herself, Parodi is no stranger to the industry with extensive credits to her name, including the television series The DivisionThe Starter Wife, and Transformers: Rescue Bots. Her work scoring movie trailers includes hits such as The Last SamuraiRogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Dreamgirls, to name a few. In September 2019, Parodi’s film work was featured at a Lincoln Center multimedia presentation called “Women Warriors: Voices of Change,” which celebrated female activists and artists both past and present.

Paola Prestini (IAA 91-93, IAC 91, IAC/NMC 90)
While still studying at The Juilliard School, Prestini understood the need for artists to create their own opportunities, and so she co-founded the nonprofit production company VisionIntoArt. Through this collective, Prestini was able to showcase the work of talented artists and composers in addition to her own creations. Eventually, Prestini would go on to co-found National Sawdust, where she serves as Artistic Director.

Prestini has been recognized for her artistic achievements by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), American Composers Orchestra, Musical America, and NPR. This year alone, Prestini is set to premiere commissions by the Minnesota Opera, Atlanta Opera, The Kennedy Center, the Zagreb Opera with Opera Comique in Paris, and more.

This February, a piece by Prestini will also premiere as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19—an ongoing initiative to commission and premiere 19 new works by 19 female composers—at Lincoln Center.

Ash Fure (IAA 98-00)
In 2015, Interlochen Center for the Arts commissioned Ash Fure for a piece that would go on to be premiered in New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the 2016 NY Phil Biennial. Ahead of its premiere, Fure returned to Michigan to work with the Arts Academy Orchestra on the piece.

“It was bizarre how many ghosts there are,” Fure said about her first visit back to Interlochen in a decade. “How vivid the memories are. The smell was the same. It’s not uncommon to hear this, but many of my best friends came from my time at Interlochen. So I was busy sending them snapshots of my time back on the homefront.”

Fure spent her childhood playing piano at her home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before enrolling at the Arts Academy.

“The first day of English class, I had tears in my eyes just to be around students who were eager and engaged and were challenging and challenged each other,” Fure said. “Both intellectually and artistically—Interlochen was deeply satisfying.”

Fure’s composition “Bound to the Bow” would go on to make its premiere with conductor Christopher Rountree leading the Arts Academy Orchestra. That performance was recognized for its artistic achievements by The New Yorker and The New York Times. It also earned Fure a spot as a finalist in the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Fure holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University, and did her post-doctoral studies at Columbia University. Fure also teaches music at Dartmouth College. In September 2018, Fure returned to Lincoln Center as Jaap van Zweden chose to play one of her compositions as his inaugural piece as the new director of the New York Philharmonic.

TJ Cole (IAA 10-12, IAC 03, 06, 08-09)
When we profiled Cole back in 2017, she shared a memory from her time at Interlochen. She and her friends would go to the music library and ask the librarian for a random CD and its matching score, then, “...we’d sit there looking at the score, listening to the music, and talking about it. It’s something I haven’t experienced anywhere else.”

From Interlochen, Cole would go on to earn her bachelor’s degree in composition from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Danielpour, David Ludwig, and Jennifer Higdon. Cole also recently studied Music Composition at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University where she served as artist-in-residence with the Wind Orchestra. Since her time at Curtis, Cole has completed commissions with the Cincinnati Symphony, the string trio Time for Three, the Baltimore Symphony, and her alma mater, Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Molly Monahan (IAA 14-16, IAC 14)
When asked what advice she would give female artists currently studying at Interlochen, Molly Monahan suggests one should disregard the notion that luck determines success. Instead, “Make the honest art that you want to make, and foster the real connections that you make with people. Doing what you love will take you on the path that you need to go on. You are already in the right place at the right time.”

Monahan’s approach to honest art began getting recognized during her senior year at Interlochen Arts Academy. In 2016, Monahan was named one of the nation’s best young composers through the American Composers Forum’s (ACF) NextNotes High School Competition Awards.

Since graduating from Interlochen, Monahan has studied at the Oberlin Conservatory, the Boston Conservatory, and La Schola Cantorum in Paris. She is currently studying Technology and Applied Composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where in 2018 she self-programmed and released her first mobile VR game, “Finding The Malicious Snowman,” on the Apple App and Android stores. Monahan also recently orchestrated a piece for the National Latvian Ballet titled Three Comrades. Her next app, a music remix game called “TopMix,” is due for release later this year.

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