Would you say your music is accessible or inaccessible?

I don’t think of my music in these terms – and the reason for that is that I’m thinking not of how many people I might reach, but rather I’m thinking about how to best reach that one person. For me, it’s about the honesty of somewhat complex emotions. We are complex people and our emotions, our situations, and our humanity are all very complex. I only feel comfortable writing music that speaks to that complexity, as anything else seems a bit drab – I don’t feel a connection with simplistic things. I’m just me, writing about me, and writing for you. It’s as complex and subtle as the interaction between any two people: very.

This is a bit difficult to discuss – a constant problem – which is why I at first didn’t know what to make of your question. When I look, for example, at the press release that the Canada Council for the Arts made for the Jules Léger award for Bel Canto, it says that the piece was inspired by a lazy afternoon in Greece. Yes, I guess that’s true – I approved this press release, it makes sense in context – and when I look at my own program notes for the piece, it does seem to say that as well, a lazy afternoon of sorts.

But what I was actually getting at was a specific moment of realization – on that afternoon I had been almost hypnotized by all this beauty and all this singing – each phrase sighing downwards – and then after hours of that, the one with the most beautiful voice swooped up subtly – and it was as if the whole earth tore apart, as if my spinal cord lost its structure, turned into water and immediately evaporated, as if for just a second I could see that the world was not how I’d thought it to be all along, and the joy gave me a kind of terror, or perhaps the terror gave a kind of joy, or desperate sadness, or something. I knew I could not make this moment happen in my piece, but the piece was a hymn or poem written about the strangeness and complexity of that day. So, yes, I suppose it was inspired by a lazy afternoon – but it was never ever about laziness.

To ask a composer if he or she is trying to be accessible or inaccessible is a bit like asking, “do you play hard-to-get like other women? where do you see yourself on the spectrum of hard-to-get versus easy?” … there’s just no good answer to a question like that.

In any case, I certainly do not make my music to be accessible or inaccessible, and I don’t think anyone does. This is an important point, as it can be a common misconception about artists in general. To ask a composer if he or she is trying to be accessible or inaccessible is a bit like asking, “do you play hard-to-get like other women? where do you see yourself on the spectrum of hard-to-get versus easy?” … there’s just no good answer to a question like that. Relationships take time, and no I don’t know if that audience member is going to get me on the first date, or if it will be the standard three date timeline. Frankly, I didn’t even know it was a date, I was just trying to have a conversation.

I think in my interview with you I’d said that, although I don’t think on these terms as a composer, I do think this way as director of Innovations en concert. But on second thought, that’s not true either. With Innovations, as with any arts organization, there are two parallel streams that I direct at the same time – first, the artistic path, second the business path. When I run the business side of things, yes I count audience statistics, that can be very interesting. But when I run the artistic side – no, I am not thinking about accessibility or inaccessibility. There is always something I want to communicate, usually something subtle and complex and appealing and interesting, and I communicate it in the best way I know how. And that is, I believe, how all artists work. The rest is business. And fortunately, I don’t think about business when I compose.