My Music, My Life
At the age of 6, I was taken to a concert where I heard Rudolf Serkin play Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata. I immediately decided that I wanted to learn how to do what Beethoven had done.
As a teenager, I fell in love with British and American folk music through the singing of performers such as the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, and Richard Dyer-Bennett. I learned to play the guitar, copying the styles of Baez and Dyer-Bennett, and from there branched out into classical guitar repertoire. I became a huge fan of Andres Segovia and Julian Bream.
As an undergraduate and graduate student, on my way to a master's degree in music theory and composition, I became fascinated by the structural possibilities inherent in Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone composition method. (Schoenberg always insisted that it was a "method," not a "system.") I liked the control it provided over chromaticism and motivic development. I didn't like much of Schoenberg's music (I have since come to appreciate more of it), but I saw the lyric potential inherent in the act of avoiding pitches that you've already used until you've used them all. I found that I did like the music of other twelve-tone composers, in particular Anton Webern and the late works of Igor Stravinsky. I also developed a liking for the impressionists - especially Debussy, Ravel, and the American Charles Griffes - for Bach and his sons, for the orchestral music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, and for John Dowland and the other lutenist-composers of Elizabethan England.
All of this has impacted the music that I write. I strive for lyricism, for clarity of structure, and for purity of sound. I often work from a 12-tone row, but use it to build triads - the type of chords used exclusively in western art music from the Renaissance through the 19th century - connecting them through progressions dictated by the row rather than than the common-practice rules of the past. I like to use unusual combinations of instruments - flute, bassoon, vibraphone, and soprano voice, for example, or piano trio (violin, cello, and piano) with a viola substituted for one of the usual strings. A list of my current five favorite works by other composers may help point the direction I like to go with my own music: it includes Beethoven's op. 111 piano sonata (the "luminous dream"); Toru Takemitsu's And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind; the Sibelius violin concerto, especially its opening measures; Charles Griffes's Roman Sketches for piano; and Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 for soprano and eight cellos. Click on the videos below to see how these influences have played out in my own work.
I also continue to play guitar, and to sing a wide variety of folk songs, old and new.
Lisa Nichols (flute) and Mikiko Petrucelli (piano) play "The Dove in Love with the Moon" - a piece I wrote for them - in recital at Grace Lutheran Church, Ashland, Oregon, March 13, 2015.
"The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls," text by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, performed by the Clavem Lux vocal ensemble in Ashland, Oregon on February 6, 2016
"The Cloths of Heaven," text by William Butler Yeats. Performed by Jeffri Carrington, soprano, with the SyZyGy Ensemble (Lisa Nichols, flute; Lori Calhoun, clarinet; Chris Matthews, vibraphone; and Christopher Bingham, piano), Ashland, Oregon, May 24, 2014