Saxophonist Kendra Emery is a musician I very recently met in the audience at this year’s Bang On a Can marathon in NY this past June, and at the time I had no idea she was going to be selected as one of the fellows appearing at the Summer festival at MASS MoCA the following month. During that period, I noticed lots of interesting activity in music and clips being posted online from the events that took place, and suddenly it seemed that she was among lots of great influences, and was becoming one of the most up-front individuals participating at the festival. An article that was picked up by Rolling Stone even covered this event, which surely must have attracted some audience members from outside the culture. Since then, she has updated her website and she’s commissioning new works, and even recording her own improvs (You can hear them either on her webpage or on her Soundcloud page).
Kendra had a few minutes to talk about her experiences at Banglewood (The nickname Bang On a Can adopted for the Summer festival because it usually coincides with the Tanglewood festival, which is also held in Massachusetts).
CM: So can you please talk about how one gets a fellowship in the Bang On a Can Summer Festival?
Kendra: There’s an application process with personal essays about your history in music and your personal philosophy, your plans and ideas, what you want, what you believe in, and I think that’s how they end up getting these like-minded people together. I mean, you can’t tell everything from what a person writes, but you can sort of tell if they’re genuine and honest, and what they really love. And you also have to submit recordings, and from there, they pick who they want. And it’s cool because they don’t have a set group of instruments they want every year. They check out what they get, and they pick the people they want, and then pick the pieces off of that.
CM: Well, they must have liked what you sent them…
Kendra: Well, they must have liked it because I got to go! [laughs] It was a complete dream come true, I never thought I’d get in, it was a longshot application because these were my gods and my legends and people I’ve been inspired by my whole musical career, and I got to spend 3 weeks with them.
CM: Please talk about your experiences at the festival–From the clips and the photos published and posted online, it looks like it was a wonderful time!
Kendra: It was! It was completely life-altering! I don’t even know where to start, there was so much stuff all the time. The faculty was amazing, all of the performers, all the fellows were great! Everyone was so talented, hard-working and humble at the same time. It was wonderful to be surrounded by all these gifted musicians who were really in tune with what they wanted.
CM: It’s such a large community of musicians that–it seems like a lot of these people are like-minded in terms of where they want to go, and how they want to approach it. In terms of working with other musicians, you get the sense that everyone is on the same page, and everybody just appreciates what each other is doing. I’m not entirely surprised that you made friends with these people, because they are wonderful, and I feel that they were able to sense that you were made of the same stuff.
Finola Merivale ~ “Stuck In This Spiral of Corners”; Featuring a bunch of people, and KE is in there somewhere; Bang on a Can Summer Festival in July 2013; conducted by Nicholas Photinos.
Kendra: I think everyone there was made of the same stuff. I don’t know how they do it, but they attract or select all of these people who are pretty much of the same mentality. Even though everyone had different kinds of projects going on, they were appreciative and really supportive.
CM: What is the festival itself like? There’s so many activities happening, and it looks like there are many exercises and experiments with connection before the music portion begins. It kind of looks like a day camp for experimental musicians.
Kendra: Yeah, I guess if you want a break-down, everyday there was yoga to start the day, and that was great! I stuck with it the first two weeks, but then the last week, I started sleeping or practicing in the morning. I feel bad, I wish I had kept going, but it was really great. After that, we always had some group class where we’d learn something really fun and incredible like African drumming with Amadou Lamine Touré–he was such an amazing artist and instructor, and person. That was the first week, and then the 2nd week, we did Latin music with Gregg August, and after that, we had the sound painting with Todd Reynolds, and then orchestra of original instruments. Mark Stewart had told us that he thinks “everyone should be making noise in music”, and I agree. He doesn’t believe it should be this elitist thing only for those trained.
The Orchestra of Original Instruments: Bang on a Can Summer festival Marathon 2013
CM: Will there be any future projects with any of your colleagues from the festival?
[Photo left courtesy of Jerome Stallings]
Kendra: Definitely! For starters, I am working on a commission with all ten of the fellows who are composers there, and they’re writing pieces for loop pedal and voice for me, because I want to sing. It’s been one of my greatest regrets about choosing the saxophone, I love it, but I was envious of these string players who could play their instrument and sing, but enter the loop pedal, and the problem was solved! The first two of those pieces is by Alex Dowling and Emma O’Halloran, the Irish couple that were there, and I will be premiering these pieces in November at Princeton University. After that, the deadline for everyone else is until April, so we’ll see when they start rolling in, but they plan is to play it everywhere as often as possible, and hopefully record an album out of it.
Finola Merivale ~ “In a Day” (Kendra Emery, saxophone and loops; There is also a waterfall in the background…)
CM: I look forward to the album!
Kendra: You know, I never thought of recording one until this happened. The festival really made me dream a lot bigger, and it gave me a lot of self-confidence in ways I didn’t have before. It was such a nurturing environment.
CM: Are you thinking about putting together an ensemble?
Kendra: That is a good question! I would love to put one together! Honestly, that was one of my goals, coming to the festival because I love chamber music, that’s always been my biggest passion, and that’s why I was so excited about this festival! It’s all about chamber music. So many groups have formed out of it in the past–A lot of my friends that went there in previous years are in groups now. I would be honored to play with any of them. Everyone there was such an amazing high-caliber musician and person, and it’d be wonderful to work with any of them, I just don’t know yet who or what, but I’m sure things will come up!
Kendra Emery ~ “Track Y”