Welcome back to “Composers Corner.” In this edition, we’re chatting with composer – and conductor – Leanna Primiani as she talks about what she’s been doing during Covid-19: working old-school with pen/pencil to paper as well as using technology, being a woman in a traditionally male field; writing film scores, and balancing a family in challenging times as a “homeschooling housewife that writes music in-between virtual math camp…”
S: How has Covid-19 impacted your work?
Primiani: That’s an interesting question. In some ways, nothing has changed. I still lock myself in my studio putting pencil to paper (yes, I still compose that way) and twist the knobs on my modular rig that is ever-growing. On the flip side, I’m a homeschooling housewife that makes three meals a day, keeps the house tidy, and makes sure my daughter stays on her Zoom calls and doesn’t drift off onto YouTube, while I write music and help with virtual math camp, Ancient Greek and Latin classes. (Calculus for fun, anyone?) That bit is new. Having my entire family in the house all day is very strange. Everyone knows that when mommy is in her studio it is DO NOT DISTURB!
S: Have you been able to collaborate with other composers/artists during the lockdown?
Primiani: I’ve been composing music for a few films, so that has been nice. We have been able to communicate through various apps. The concert music is really business as usual, the caveat being when the music will actually be performed in public. Right now, I have three works ready to be performed with no performance date in site. That’s frustrating not just for me, but for the performing ensembles.
S: What technology have you used to continue to working in a virtual world?
Primiani: The same as I always have: Sibelius, Cubase, all my gear in the studio, my analog and virtual synths…the list is endless. The pandemic really didn’t slow down my composing output. The only thing that does slow me down is my family and my motherly duties. Motherhood without help is hard!
S: You have worked on many projects in your career. Do you have a favorite?
Primiani: That is a difficult question. I love creating a sound world and telling stories through my music. That could be for a visual project like a film, or a commission with a specific program and instrumentation. The projects that are the most fun for me is when I work closely with the Music Director/conductor to create a sound world that is totally unique for that specific commission or project. In the end, no matter how ‘unique,’ it always ends up sounding like me. That’s the most fun!
S: Has it been a challenge for you being a woman in a trade that has been dominated by men?
Primiani: YES! (duh!). I don’t know of a woman in classical music, or in Hollywood, that hasn’t been through something ‘challenging’. I admire the women who have had the conviction to come forward. Especially in the classical music world, some amazing women have come out against some heavy hitters with their experiences. I think it’s incredible that we can even discuss these misdeeds openly, and then have actual consequences. It is an incredible change.
S: Can you tell us a little about your process of composing a film score?
Primiani: Since I’m the same composer writing orchestral music as I am writing electronic music or music for film, the process is always the same. The blank page is always daunting. Creating a sound palette is always the most challenging and time consuming, but it is the most enjoyable. Once the sound is created, the music flows fairly effortlessly.
S: You are a master at creating a connection between classical and electronic music. How have you been able to marry these distinct mediums?
Primiani: When creating music for the concert stage that involves electronics, my goal is to extend the stage into the audience. I mean, when one sits in the hall and listens to 1001 for example, the electronics brings the listener closer to the stage, like they are in the middle of the music. I try to compose music with electronics that envelops the audience. I’m not interested in the audience as listeners or observers. I want them to be immersed in the music itself. The way I use electronics is the technique I’ve found that works.
S: As a composer, you get to see many of your works in performance. Has there been a moment in your career that surprised or inspired you while watching one of your pieces being performed?
Primiani: It had to be when Leonard Slatkin premiered Sirens with the Nashville Symphony. I think that was the very first time I had a top-level orchestra perform my music, and it was life-changing. Up until that point, I didn’t know my music could sound like that other than in my head! I had just graduated from USC. I had had some terrific performances of my music up until that point; but to have my music played by the ‘big boys’ was an experience I will never forget.
S: What would you say to other artists/musicians that are craving ensemble work and to continue performing as part of their mental health during this pandemic?
Primiani: Keep composing and keep creating. Make sure you schedule a time to ‘do music’ every day and then schedule time NOT to do it.