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Tiny Works Take Center Stage During Quarantine


Music is hurting right now. With our concerts cancelled, performers stuck at home making due with lessons over Zoom, and Mayor Marty Walsh suggesting that concerts may not return to Boston until 2021, the future admittedly looks very, very bleak. And new music’s place in the mix looks even bleaker. Already four premieres of my newest compositions and three revivals have been cancelled just through June, with seemingly more to be cut.

Yet some intrepid performers continue to make music through at-home internet projects. One of these that has really been helping the new music scene comes from soprano Stephanie Lamprea, who has taken to Facebook in a new series of premiers of what she has coined “tiny-works” for solo voice. Running around a maximum of two minutes they give concise looks into each composer’s identity and musical interests, highly controlled miniatures usually with a text that run the gamut from narrative works about wishing impatiently for plants to grow to Neo-Gregorian chant to highly avant-garde syllabic stuttering. Every few days, Lamprea posts a new video of her performing one of these tiny-works from the corner of her practice room, performing for the camera with the same energy as if she were playing to a full audience. It’s a rather refreshing series to watch, given how, right now, we hear nothing but continued postponement or cancellation of our concerts and extended stay-at-home orders.

Even more exciting is that Lamprea has begun releasing these tiny-works as albums. Recently on Bandcamp, a distribution platform where performing artists can sell their recordings for their own prices on their own terms, Lamprea released the first volume in a series of albums called Unaccompanied: Tiny Works for Quarantine. Volume I of the series represents some of the first examples written for her, including the one that started the project, “I. Boston, MA” from Matthew Kennedy’s Miniatures for One. Other composers represented on this first release include James Banner, Anthony Donofrio, and Caitlin Cawley, among many others. More volumes in this series are expected in the future representing even more pieces from this series, including my own, I Am, I Was.

I had the pleasure of asking Lamprea several questions regarding her endeavor.

How did you come up with the idea for the Facebook videos for these tiny-pieces and Unaccompanied: Tiny-Works for Quarantine?

It actually all started when Florida-based composer Matthew Kennedy began writing miniature works. He put a call online for performers, so I signed up to sing his first miniature. The day after I posted my performance, another composer contacted me to write me a miniature, and when I posted that, more composers contacted me. After performing a few such items, I decided to put a call-for-works out on Twitter, and my inbox blew up, so I decided to go back and audio-record everything to provide professional-quality (as one can produce from home) for the composers, and when I had enough audio, I released an album!

This living and growing entity carries me through quarantine. It reminds me of my college days, when I was unsure of my voice and my identity in opera, and I felt lost and almost quit the business altogether. However, when my composition classmates exposed me to their latest scores and to the idea of singing new music, I suddenly felt like I knew how to use my voice and how to emote through my voice; this revelation brought me out of the depression and put me on a path towards finding my artistic joy. Now that we’re in a pandemic when it’s very hard to find joy, I find myself reaching back towards those who have supported me and lifted me up: composers.

How does “tiny-work” differ from something like a miniature or character piece?

I created the term off-hand as I wrote descriptions for my video postings. “Tiny” was the cute term I chose to reflect the short length. Looking back, I don’t believe my term is any better than “miniature” or “character piece”, but I liked “tiny-work” because it lowered the stakes. I don’t want composers to feel they have to compose a certain way to create a “tiny-work” … I want the process to feel cathartic and like a free exploration or experiment. In that way, the pieces I have received have all been so different: theatrical, virtuosic, poetic, minimal…. while some of these are “character pieces” and some are “miniatures” to feature the voice, they all are created by the broad direction of a work that is “tiny”.

Your enterprise is no ordinary commissioning projects.

A difference I’m very proud of is the quick turn-around time. I have a great ear (perfect pitch helps) and high-level sight-reading skills, so I felt it would be useful to composers to hear their work in real time.

For me personally, I’m also using quick turn-around to combat performance anxiety that’s often brought about by perfectionism. I’ve found that when I don’t try to be absolutely perfect and I record these videos like a live performance, my artistry is able to grow and thrive. I even find I’m becoming a better technician – with limited time and small pieces of music each day, I’m learning how to better troubleshoot my voice and trust my technique.

Do you find any specific challenges to performing these vocal solo works?

Switching gears day by day through to reflect the sound world of the composer, requires that I use my voice a little differently with each one of them. In doing so, I make sure to check in with my instrument and find a healthy balance between technique and my artistic choices.

Have the participating composers worked with you before?

I’ve known most only through social media before, so this is so exciting! 

How has the pandemic affected you and your work?

Like many artists, I lost all of my performances and the income. I’ve scrambled to apply for grants and federal aid, and I’ve also marketed my current services to be able to teach and perform from home. While the isolation has been daunting, it is nice to have more time on my hands to reevaluate, take stock, clean up my website and marketing materials, and outline new goals. I’ve also developed a good practice routine, which balances tiny-works, larger contemporary bucket list pieces, and some good ol’ classical repertoire to perfect my technique.

Are you helping new music get through this world-wide crisis?

I absolutely I am helping new music come through. For those who choose to create in this time — and I believe the choice to NOT create is also valid and good — I feel that since my Facebook page allows composers to produce small and receive a lot of validation. Creating product can reignite purpose and vigor. Without the pressure of singing in large dimensions right now, it has been satisfying to be able to serve so many members of the artist community in this unique, low-pressure way. It truly fills my heart with vigor and joy.

How many volumes of Unaccompanied: Tiny Works for Quarantine do you think there will be?

I’m not sure how many albums there will be, since we’re not sure when this quarantine will end. Short answer: I want to make as many albums that will fit all of the submissions.

How best can we support you and your enterprise right now?

Listen to the album and the future volumes that come out on Bandcamp! If you have the means to purchase the album(s), great, or if there’s a composer you enjoy in particular, send him or her a note of support, or propose a commission

You can find Unaccompanied: Tiny Works for Quarantine on Bandcamp for the extremely affordable price of $5. Submissions will be released on Lamprea’s Facebook page every few days. Contact the respective composers about purchasing the sheet music if you wish to perform any. 

Ian Wiese is a doctoral student composer at New England Conservatory of Music studying under John Heiss. He has contributed his new solo I Am, I Was to this project

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