Composer of the Week: Emma Rogers
Tell us a little about your background?
Growing up my dad always had classical music playing and I remember lying on the floor by the heater in winter just listening, trying to name all the different instruments. Sometimes I found the foreign languages frustrating adding only layers of confusion. I felt like I was being robbed of an essential part of the piece but works like Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, Smetana’s ‘Má Vlast’ and Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ made me feel alive. I remember being around seven years old; everyone had gone out except Dad who was sick in bed so I sat down at the piano and simple started ‘playing’ composer. I’d never had a lesson I just thought it would be fun. It was here I discovered for myself the idea of thirds, stepwise motion and leaps, although I knew not what they were called.
I grew up in the hills an artsy tourist area. Our main street was lined with murals and buskers. It was here I remember seeing and hearing a live flute for the first time. Everything about it was beautiful. We were not a wealthy family but I was fortunate enough to get involved in the school music program at age 10. It was here I fell in love with the flute and discovered the wonders of Finale (although I now see its limitations). Since then I never stopped playing or writing. Music was a privilege, a family member and friend.
As high school invaded, classical music became more of a private practice. I read and completed theory books for fun, continued ‘playing’ composer and driving my household crazy with my incessant flute playing. At school I taught myself piano and guitar so I could play in bands with other students. Outside of school I melted into the warmth and richness of a church choir and community orchestra. But I had this strange fascination with bass instruments.
In my final year of high school I attended a young composers concert at Monash University. It was here I found the missing piece to my puzzle: Peter Sheridan and the low flutes. They were beautiful, rich and full of emotion. I had never seen or heard one before but had this overwhelming desire to know more. And so, after a slight detour I commenced my musical studies at Monash University.
What have your career highlights been so far?
I am still quite young and it’s only my first year out from university but extracurricular activates have helped to morph education and career into one. It’s hard to pick one or two highlights between performances, being picked for special projects, recordings and scores being published; each one is as exciting as the other. But I think the most significant moment was the moment when I realised I could. Growing up I was always viewed as being academically challenged and thus I was frequently told what I couldn’t do, ‘can’t finish school, can’t go to university, can’t achieve much’. But when I was 15 I wrote a piece for full orchestra. I waited until I was 16 (for I was too young to enter) and then entered it into a summer school program where only one piece would be chosen to be workshopped by the Percy Grainger Youth Orchestra. They chose mine. I remember working closely with an experienced composer for the first time in my life, making the score and parts appropriate for real instruments. And then I remember the sound as the orchestra played, as they breathed life to everything I had envisioned. And I sat, in front of an entire orchestra who became my voice. The complexities of my thoughts that I could never express with words were voiced and heard and no one in the room could say I couldn’t. It was this moment that launched me into my more serious composition practice and studies.
And something about your current work?
Too many ideas not enough time to pursue them all! As a student, projects are enforced, there are deadlines and so many different people's expectations placed on you that one of the easiest things to do is loose what you want. What music do you actually want to write? What is your style? There is suddenly a maze of possibilities to navigate. Do you remain strictly tied to your classical training or traverse through the many different musical genres? Consequently I’m just experimenting with lots of different ideas. Its only early stages at the moment but the two areas I’m currently looking at is flute and electronics and the relationship between music and words and how each express something that the other can’t.
What are your future projects?
I have many projects that I put on the back burner that I hope to revisit. I’d like to write a serious of studies for bass flute, a duet for piccolo and hyper-bass flute and various other small ensemble works.
Can you introduce us to one of your pieces?
The Big Picture is a series of etudes for alto flute that I wrote for Peter Sheridan. Peter was very excited when he approached me about the pieces and I hope that excitement is expressed in the work. I wanted these pieces to be more than just technical studies that would aid people with transitioning from C flute to alto. I wanted them to excite students and be filled with emotive expression. A technical exercise can seem meaningless and boring but if you play it with purpose it has a life, energy and a character all of its own.
How would you recommend someone gets started on learning one of your etudes?
Break it down into smaller section, slow it down enough so you can play it and use a metronome. It’s important to feel the movement of the piece right from the start. It’s always more than just pitches and rhythms. It’s the performer's responsibility to make the music come alive and share its untold story.
Can you give us details of any performances of any of your works in 2016?
I decided to have a quieter 2016. There are lots of things you have to work on as an artist, musical and otherwise and it can be hard to find the right balance. I’m still working on a few projects and developing a collection of ideas but the main focus for this year is more just experimenting with ideas than publicly presenting my work but that will happen again in the future.
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