As we celebrate Pride throughout the month of June, check out the third installment of our Queer Composers to Know series. Their identities as Queer artists comes out in the work of each of the following four composers, whether it be at the forefront or more in the background. The results are unique pieces that speak to the human experience. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series to get to know even more amazing Queer composers making waves in music!
Ahmed Alabaca is an American composer, conductor, songwriter, and pianist. Born and raised in San Bernardino, California, they understand the value of handwork and perseverance. Alabaca moved to New York at the age 22 with hopes to expand their musical palette and experience. Over the course of several years, Alabaca finished their BA in music from Hunter College and wrote the scores for three plays and composed a musical. They believe in the transformative power of music—growing up in an underserved inner city neighborhood, music provided them with peace and a sense of hope. Now living in Chicago, Alabaca has scored several web series, television shows, short films, and concert music.
Alabaca describes The Crown Suite, featured below, as, “a musical journey reflecting the emotional and physical weight of living through a global pandemic.” Composed while they were residing in L.A., Alabaca put out an ask on Facebook for suggested instruments they should write for. Within a short time, they received a list of over 40 suggested instruments. “Initially the decision was for the sole purpose to stay busy and creative, but then [I] got to thinking, ‘This would be a great way to showcase not only my music, but also showcase all the Black and Brown musicians that are out there, along with educating communities on all the different instruments that exist.'”
Evelyn Ruth Anderson was born March 21, 1928, in Kalispell, Montana and was a composer of orchestral and electronic music. Her extensive education spanned two decades and eight different institutions. Throughout this time, Anderson was the recipient of a multitude of awards and grants, including two Fulbright awards (1958–60) to study composition with Darius Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. After completing her education, Anderson spent time as a freelance composer, orchestrator, and choral arranger for NBC-TV and later for Lincoln Center Theater. She was a respected electronic composer whose works have been released on the Opus One label, Charles Amirkhanian’s pioneering LP anthology New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media (1977), New World/CRI, Arch Records, and Experimental Intermedia (XI). Further work was released on Arc Light in 2020.
Conversations is a 19-minute work from her album Tête-à-tête. In an article for Pitchfork, author Joshua Minsoo Kim describes Conversations as the centerpiece of the album and a testament to the love between the Anderson and partner and fellow composer Annea Lockwood. Kim describes the work as “a joyous 19-minute track built from phone calls they had while living more than 200 miles apart: Lockwood teaching in New York, Anderson away on sabbatical in Hancock, New Hampshire. For nine months, Anderson secretly recorded their calls, and in 1974 she pieced them together into a longform sound collage…Anderson made Conversations as a private gift for Lockwood, and until now, no one else had heard it in full. While only they could fully appreciate everything it contains, the rhapsodic honeymoon phase on display overflows with emotion…To hear it as an outsider, decades removed from its conception, is to marvel at the way love is sensed in smaller details of speech. Conversations is not really the sound of anything in particular: It’s just two people who are madly obsessed with each other, who struggle to hang up the phone because every second is a chance to listen and understand someone in all their mannerisms—every plosive and fricative, every chuckle and creasing smile.”
TJ Cole is a composer and synthesizer performer, originally from the suburbs of Atlanta. They are currently in a yearlong residency with the Louisville Orchestra, part of the inaugural year of the Louisville Orchestra Creators Corps, where Cole is writing new large-scale works for orchestra and organizing community engagement projects throughout Louisville. TJ studied at Interlochen Arts Academy and received their Bachelor’s degree in composition from the Curtis Institute of Music. Their mentors include John Boyle Jr., Jennifer Higdon, David Ludwig, and Richard Danielpour. They have also been a singer-songwriter, producer, and engineer in the fully electronic synth-pop band, Twin Pixie, which focused on making music at the intersection of Queerness, pop culture, and the supernatural.
Cole’s work, Those Moments, was commissioned by Nashville in Harmony, an ensemble created for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, and their allies. Cole remarks that the work is, “inspired by the members of Nashville in Harmony who shared their personal stories and perspectives on the topic of gender.”
Francis Poulenc was a French composer and pianist. His compositions include songs, solo piano works, chamber music, choral pieces, operas, ballets, and orchestral concert music. He studied with the pianist Ricardo Viñes, who became Poulenc’s mentor after the composer’s parents died. Poulenc also made the acquaintance of Erik Satie, under whose tutelage he became one of a group of young composers known collectively as Les Six. In his early works Poulenc became known for his high spirits and irreverence, but during the 1930s a much more serious side to his nature emerged, particularly in the religious music he composed after 1936. In addition to his work as a composer, Poulenc was an accomplished pianist. He was particularly celebrated for his performing partnerships with the baritone Pierre Bernac and soprano Denise Duval. Poulenc toured in Europe and America with both singers and made a number of recordings as a pianist. He was among the first composers to see the importance of the gramophone and Poulenc recorded extensively from 1928 onwards. In his later years, and for decades after his death, Poulenc had a reputation as a humorous, lightweight composer, and his religious music was often overlooked. In the 21st century, more attention has been given to his more serious works, with many new productions of Dialogues des Carmélites and La voix humaine worldwide, and numerous live and recorded performances of his songs and choral music.
John Henken, the Director of Artistic Planning for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, wrote about Poulenc’s Violin Sonata, observing that “a sonata as intense and deeply felt as this one—and for a solo string instrument, at that—is something of an anomaly in Poulenc’s output. An urbane master of musical sarcasm and sentiment working happily in miniatures and parody, Poulenc was one of the last century’s most inspired songwriters. Writing for solo winds also proved congenial, but Poulenc acknowledged his unhappiness composing for solo strings. Indeed, he had written and then destroyed two violin sonatas (in 1919 and 1924) before completing the present work in 1943 (revised in 1949). Poulenc remained in occupied France during World War II, expressing his political opposition musically, through the choice of poets he set and in the dedication of this Sonata to Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet shot by fascists at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. In that context, movement headings such as ‘Allegro con fuoco’ and ‘Presto tragico’ are understandable. Those passionate outer movements express both grief and fury over the tragedy of Lorca’s murder in terms of pointed rhythmicality, abated occasionally by softer sentiment.”