BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Lisa Cheney and Peggy Polias are smashing the stereotype of the “dead white male” composer in their latest venture Making Conversation.
Showing classical music is truly alive and kicking, the two Making Waves founders are fundraising $4000 to build a series of podcasts and vodcasts through which new Australian composers will talk about their creations.
Successful young composers in their own right, Lisa and Peggy have launched a crowdfunding campaign to send arts journalists to major cities in Australia and chat with composers in the hopes of building awareness around “how people do what they do and why”.
We are so excited. Jump the gun and donate here until May 10, or read on to learn how Making Conversation was born.
Lisa and Peggy, you started working together in 2015 via email, never having met. A few Skype conversations later and your regular new music playlist series Making Waves was born. You finally saw each other face-to-face for the first time a few months ago, in January – but what was it like building something like this without having the advantage of living the same city?
Peggy: It’s been kind of cool to not have any past – friendship, study, academic. It’s been fresh. We find our styles are quite similar.
Lisa: I felt like when we did meet, I already knew you. Skypes and consistent Google chats, I felt like I knew you better than some of my best friends. Your motivations behind doing such a thing as the Making Waves series resonated with me.
So tell us about these motivations behind Making Waves.
Peggy: I have a 3-year-old daughter and it means I don’t get out much – nowhere near to as many concerts as I used to. So I tend to catch up on radio, otherwise I miss out. It got me thinking: ‘I am at home, I have a lot of time online, why don’t I start sifting through everyone’s SoundClouds? Or maybe there’s an easier way for people to follow what’s going on around the country? Why couldn’t there be a community venture that’s nationwide and beyond?’.
You launched Making Waves within a couple of months of conceptualising it – but you’ve taken a different approach to Making Conversation and it’s planned as a long-term venture. How’d the idea come to you and what’s it all about?
Lisa: What we offer in terms of the playlist is a really lovely, digestible, accessible way to listen to music in the background or explore 6-7 composers quite well and get a snapshot sense of them. What would be really interesting for us is to now understand: ‘Who is this person who has created these wonderful sounds and put the dots on paper?’.
Do you feel that a piece of music speaks for itself?
Peggy: I feel like the works have spoken for themselves – up to a point. But now with things like reality TV, people are digging for the story behind the thing – whatever it may be.
As composers, what would you like to be asked from an arts journalist in a series like this?
Lisa: It’s a question we should be chatting about more. From my view, if Peggy barged into my home and demanded to talk about things people were going to listen to, [I’d explain that] I’m very much a composer who is connected to myself. I can’t separate ‘Lisa Cheney the human’ from ‘Lisa Cheney the composer’. I’m therefore interested in talking about things that matter to me, pieces of music that excite me.
Peggy: It’s like an experimental process where I mix two ingredients and see how they collide. It’s what I do musically. And I’m not talking about music levels, I’m talking about non-conceptual stuff with a feminist leaning or related to my own personal experience. Stuff that might have a more literary angle. It’s about creating a space to give voice. We’ll have a set 10 or so questions, but it’ll be really interesting to hear what people will want to talk about.
You may have set questions, but evidently(!) there will be so much variation as different people respond. Now, let’s talk listeners – how will this change people’s ideas of the composer’s image?
Peggy: There is a bit of baggage through history and the stereotype of the dead white male composer. It’s like a burden on our shoulders. What we’re going to be showing and presenting is the opposite of that. We’re not restricting it to people who have ‘made it’ – we’re focusing on that earlier level of people who haven’t had that yet, and don’t get to go on radio and do interviews.
Lisa: Another important thing for me is the value of role models. What we can do here is not only add research and value to the field and give voice to composers, but also present these visible artists an accessible way for young people coming through to be able to understand how people do what they do and why. There’s no judgement, there’s only celebration.
If you haven’t already, you can donate to the Making Conversation crowdfunding campaign here.
Disclaimer: After conducting this interview, Stephanie was invited to be part of the Making Conversation interview team representing Tasmania.
Images supplied. Lisa Cheney credit: Daniele Martinie.