Sue Smith on Creating Music for Dance

We asked Sue Smith to tell us about her experience working with choreographer Karen Kaeja and fellow vocal artist Shannon Kingsbury on Crave to Tell, the piece the GCDF commissioned for Women’s Voices.
Sue Smith
Sue: Working with Karen Kaeja is a most inspiring process. Working with Shannon Kingsbury is a delight. Together, the three of us are collaborating to weave together music and dance—newly found, original, moving, held, telling.
When the three us met up on a cold December morning, Karen introduced us to her concept for the piece—the exploration of secrets.  She asked us, “What secrets do you crave to tell?”   
Think about that for a minute and you will likely find yourself on an intense personal journey. We talked about the impact of secrets on our lives, generational secrets, how secrets were revealed, when we shared secrets, when we were implored not to tell—and thereby put into the arduous position of carrying a burden of knowledge.  Being alone with a secret.  Oh, the responsibility.  Oh, the emotional work.  Oh, the musical work; the privilege of taking these ideas and transforming them into musical expressions.
The exploration of the theme was a gold mine of sorts,  eliciting many ideas and avenues for musical expression. Along the way, Shannon and I composed musical elements and created structures for improvisation, knowing we would be working with an “orchestra” of 5 female voices. Singing with Louisa Kratka, Monique Vischrschraper, and Mosa McNeilly, our rehearsals have been a combination of  learning set pieces written by Shannon and me as well as improvisational explorations in which the uniqueness of each voice intermingles, responds, cajoles, soothes, harmonizes and blends with the group, creating one-of-a-kind moments and bringing forth music that could never have been born from a page or a solitary composer; a deeply satisfying musical communication.
The process of creating music for dance is fluid and conversational.  Having worked with Karen previously on the scores for “Wedding Threads”,  “Cold Beneath Me” and “Hangman”, I was confident in our process together. Karen creates a magnificent yet delicately held container in which to work—and into which she welcomes the fire of ideas and possibility. Shannon and I observed, created, responded, and contributed ideas, music, and voice, which Karen took into her process with the dancers.
Shannon Kingsbury and Sue Smith at work
The back and forth of:  “Look at this; listen to this; I LOVE IT!;  try this;  what about silence?; more energy required here; I LOVE IT;  a softer approach here; watch for the moving yoga tree,  wait for Kelly’s hand”, intermingle as the ideas grow and take shape and colour. Witnessing the dancers moving to our newly created musical pieces is a marvel—I think I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to do this work.
The absolute inspiration of observing Karen and the dancers at work gives me energy for months to come. Working with Shannon is always an enriching musical experience empowered by wonderful commitment and the ever-present twinkle in her eye. The dedication, artistry and communication that fill the studio during rehearsal is an elixir that moves us all.                                                                                                        
Sue Smith is a singer, musician, composer, and dancer and has performed on stage, on camera, and in the studio as a soloist and collaborator.  27 years ago Sue had the good sense to co-found Hillside Festival and is the founder, Artistic Director, and General Manager of the Season Singers. She has scored several pieces for Karen Kaeja, and has performed with Robert Kingsbury. She is a dedicated music educator, maintaining a vibrant teaching studio in Guelph and Toronto. 
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