May’s Artist of the Month is the dynamic composer, pianist and vocalist Clarice Assad. Join her on Friday, May 4, when she curates and hosts a NYFOS Next evening focused on Brazilian song.
You are very active as both a composer and a performer. How do you balance those different disciplines as you move through your career?
I am 100% musically obsessed and I love sharing this passion with people both as a creator of music and as an interpreter.
Do you approach composing any differently when you write for yourself versus composing for other musicians?
When I write for myself, I am aware of my own qualities and limitations as a performer. Also, I know what makes my heart soar when I listen to a piece of music. When writing for other musicians, I want to learn everything I can about them, to find what they love, and what comes naturally to them.
You are particularly known for composing for voice. How do you approach vocal writing? How does it differ from how you write for other instruments?
Being from Brazil—a country with such a vast history of songwriting, has influenced my writing from the beginning. Melody and song are a vital part of me, and these show up on my writing everywhere, even symphonic works, which I think of as a series of abstract, thematically integrated symphonic songs.
You come from a family of remarkable musicians. How has that influenced your development as an artist?
My family has been such an inspiration to me. My father and uncle for their amazing chops and interpretative genius; my father’s arrangements and compositions never ceased to amaze me—and my aunt’s rebellious, unapologetic musical persona has always lifted up my spirit. I have naturally absorbed quite a bit from all of them over the years, though always keeping in mind (and being encouraged by them) to always keep an eye on developing a musical character of my own.
Your NYFOS Next evening on May 4 is particularly focused on Brazilian song and its diversity of styles across the country; how did you choose what to include in your program?
Brazilian music is so rich, I spent months thinking about how to approach it for this one special concert. In crafting the program, I thought about two main elements: pioneers & legacy. Pioneers like Luiz Gonzaga who popularized musical styles such as forró and baião; Gilberto Gil, one of the first songwriters to set forth a musical style blending songs with traditional African, like afoxé. Regarding legacy: All the women composers in the program have been somewhat influenced by the female composers who preceded them; women who had to fight to break free from certain rules of their times in order to be recognized as ‘composers.’ Chiquinha Gonzaga (early 20th century), influenced Dolores Duran (40’s-50’s), who influenced Sueli Costa, Joyce and Ana Terra (70s – present) who influenced composers from my generation and beyond.
Are there any popular musicians of today that you listen to or who you think are doing interesting work?
There are many of them, and one in particular who is in the program. His name is Thiago Amud, a fantastic songwriter, singer and guitarist who has a very unique, fresh composing language. This is not the first time I am playing his music, we have also performed other works of his. What a talent.
What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?
I was listening to a beautiful song by a Brazilian singer-songwriter called Ilessi. The song is called ENIGMA. She is also another huge emerging talent in the Brazilian music scene.
When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
So many things… I love eating out, going to movies, take long walks listening to music or audiobooks and every summer I try a something for fun, this year will be skating around Chicago when the weather is nice enough.
NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?
When I think of songs I think of many things. I feel its melody, harmony, I think of singers, faces and voices. I also think of them as these short, memorable, concise pieces of music that are self-contained, where two worlds come together to become one. It’s the perfect marriage of words and music.
What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)
I have many favorite songs! I think I might have a favorite song every week. My current favorite song is Red soil in my eyes, by Somi.