Columbus Makes Art Presents Composer Jacob Reed
Sarah Hixon, Artistic Director of Hixon Dance, sat down with local composer Jacob Reed to talk about her work on their new production A heartbreaking world (March 25-27, 2022) and what it’s like to collaborate with a dance company.
Sarah: What’s it like working as a musical director for a dance company? Can you tell us more about your collaboration with dancers and choreographers?
Jacob: I love working as a musical director for Hixon Dance because it often requires a convergence of my skills as a composer, improviser and educator. Depending on the project, I might analyze a Poulenc piece, create or arrange new music on a certain theme, or teach dancers how to hear form in a Bach keyboard suite. Collaborating with other disciplines always excites me because I’m fascinated by how different media can interact within an artwork and I’m intrigued by the potential creative power that comes from this interaction.
Sarah: You are not only a composer, but also a jazz drummer. How does this influence your composition?
Jacob: Mainly in three ways: harmonic language, rhythmic freedom and the belief that performers’ individual interpretation of music is not only valued but encouraged. I do my best to expand the color palette of the harmonies I work with. As a jazz drummer, my role is often to define and maintain a stable rhythmic pattern while simultaneously layering a contrasting pattern or even disrupting the original pattern.
I often borrow this interaction in my composition to give the solo passages an extra fire and energy. What I love most about jazz is the potential for instant interaction where if a band really listens to each other they can pick up a piece anywhere. I try to bring this openness to my writing. Not all new music composers are interested in the interpretation of performers, but I love the idea that my work may sound different depending on who performs it, and I cherish the individuality and interpretive nuances that different performers bring to my music.
Sarah: Tell me more about the new pieces you’ve written for A heartbreaking world. How to put poetry to music?
Jacob: The two pieces are musical settings of the poetry of Maggie Smith. ‘Harrowing’ for mezzo soprano and theorbo is all about life’s stress, struggle and conflict. There are driving chromatic chords in the theorbo (a lute-like instrument) and angular leads in the melody.
In “Rain New Year’s Eve” for soprano and piano, I play with a lot of Smith’s imagery and try to convey the emotions and state of mind of the speaker of the poem. For me, putting into poetry is one of the most challenging and fulfilling types of composition. Poetry sits on the boundary between direct and indirect language and presents many opportunities for interaction.
I can listen to the rhythm of words or the contours and tone of diction. I can use imagery for inspiration or follow the speaker’s emotional arch. And because it requires the human voice to play, I can use this commonality between the performer and the audience to better engage the listener.
Sarah: What are the biggest influences on your music?
Jacob: I admire the freedom, the raw energy and the brilliant orchestrations of Igor Stravinsky. When looking for creative or innovative uses of harmony, I listen to jazz pianists Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. As a drummer, I spent a lot of time listening to Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes. I love how Jones moves the triplet rhythm around the drums and I’m always fascinated by how Haynes is able to keep his voice distinct as a drummer while fitting in perfectly with any band with which he plays. And I listen to a lot of JS Bach, and I play the chorales as a sort of daily composition lesson.
Sarah: Where do you find inspiration?
Jacob: The beauty and drama of nature is my “destination”. I’ve written a lot of music inspired by different aspects of nature, from the rapids to the wind to the changing of the seasons. But I’m also inspired by great works of art in all mediums. I am often intrigued by the process and structure of other art forms and how I might translate them into my own artistic creation.
Sarah: What’s the best thing about the art scene in Columbus right now?
Jacob: I love the support of the arts community in Columbus. I think our audience here appreciates local and independent artists. There are many opportunities and vehicles for financial support for these artists. Most artists in the community understand that supporting each other is the best way to help the scene thrive.
Columbus Makes Art Gifts is a bi-weekly column presented by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the artistic and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations that create Columbus art. Learn about local artists, organizations, public art and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.