As we finish out the final days of March, we are very pleased to announce our Entrepreneur of the Month: Leigha Amick!
Leigha is a composer and JSoM alumna who draws inspiration from nature, mathematics, and stories. Her compositions have been performed by ensembles including the Boulder Philharmonic, the Orlando Philharmonic, the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, the Playground Ensemble, NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and the Ars Nova Singers. She is currently writing a chamber opera based on an excerpt of the Mabinogion, a collection of medieval Welsh legends, which has been selected by New Voices Opera for their 2022 production. Amick is a post-baccalaureate diploma student at the Curtis Institute of Music.
“Regardless of your next steps, take some time to consider your priorities as a whole person: consider what matters most to you in life, not just in music!”
– Leigha Amick
Project Jumpstart: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming project with New Voices Opera? What excites you most about this production?
Leigha: On April 9th, NVO will be premiering a project the seeds of which began in Sven-David Sandström’s opera composition class in my sophomore year at IU! The piece is based on a portion of medieval Welsh legend in which a queen gets accused of murdering her child. I was drawn to the legend because of the queen’s strong character and her attempt to remain strong even amidst the confusion and horror of the accusation against her. While in my undergrad at IU, I got a Hutton Honors College Creative Activity Grant to take a trip to Wales to visit the site of the legend and to attend a writer’s retreat and work on adapting the legend into a libretto. I have since rewritten the entire libretto, since I learned a lot in the first attempt! This is the first time I’ve ever written a piece this long and also the first time I’ve worked in such a collaborative art form, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the soloists, music director, production team, and I can create together!
Project Jumpstart: What is your creative process like? How do you combine inspiration from nature and mathematics in your work?
Leigha: My creative process changes with every single piece! That said, I love looking for patterns (either from math or the natural world) that can lend structure to a piece such that I can fill the structure with intuitive material. Then, composing becomes a game of finding the sounds and materials that fit into the structure such that they feel natural to me. This process reminds me of older principles of counterpoint, but on a meta-level. However, when setting a story to music, the structure that the story provides is often driven more by feeling than by pattern, so in the chamber opera I attempted to set the feeling of the story rather than comply with any particular pattern game.
Project Jumpstart: Do you have a favorite food?
Leigha: (At the risk of sounding basic!) my favorite food is probably sourdough. After three years of moderately successful sourdough attempts, I recently discovered the joys of using a Dutch oven for sourdough. (Thanks, Mom!) My starter’s name is Bubbles. (And I’m not the only composer who named their sourdough starter.)
Project Jumpstart: Are there any entrepreneurial strategies that you’ve found especially useful in your own career?
Leigha: In undergrad, I would seek out all sorts of calls for scores and opportunities and apply for them until my schedule was full! I liked that that process introduced me to ensembles and musicians whom I might not have otherwise met, many of whom gave me perspectives on musical worlds outside of the conservatory/university environment. There can be so much vitality and intensity of engagement with music in community and student ensembles, and I think it’s important to remember that as a conservatory student. The “apply to everything” strategy only worked to a point, because eventually I found myself with more opportunities for pieces than I could write. Now, I’m inspired by a model that I heard composer Rene Orth discuss. She decides whether or not to say yes to an opportunity depending on whether it fulfills at least three of the five things an opportunity could provide: money, fantastic collaborators, creative passion, artistic control, and career advancement.
Project Jumpstart: What was most challenging about continuing your career after graduating from IU?
Leigha: The most challenging thing post-graduation has been learning to manage my compositional pursuits without the structure of a busy undergrad program. After taking a gap year, I started graduate studies at Curtis, where coursework requirements are minimal but compositional requirements are more involved. In undergrad, I would compose during whatever breaks in my schedule I had. Now that I have fewer classes, but more to compose, I have to find ways to manage my creative time! I’ve had to create my own routine and structure for each day, figuring out when and how I compose best.
Project Jumpstart: What advice do you have for undergraduate students who are about to graduate?
Leigha: If you’re not heading to grad school right away but you’re staying in music, try to find a part time source of income that doesn’t take away too much time from your art. Regardless of your next steps, take some time to consider your priorities as a whole person: consider what matters most to you in life, not just in music!
Project Jumpstart: What’s your favorite book?
Leigha: It’s difficult to choose a favorite book, but a top contender for my favorite novel is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino (Prof. Aaron Travers recommended it to me!). Also, I’m currently reading Breaking the Alabaster Jar, a set of interviews with poet Li-Young Lee, and I love hearing his perspectives on art, creativity, and life in general. I’ll be setting one of his poems for Sara Dailey and Julia Bentley to perform at NATS this summer for the first ever Grand SongSLAM!