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Art & Life with Derrick Spiva Jr.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Derrick Spiva Jr.

Derrick, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
My introduction to composition resulted from constantly searching for a type of music that I was sure someone else had created—but only getting impatient that I had yet to find it. So, I started writing it myself. I was very lucky in that I had a lot of encouragement from my family, even though I was pursuing a career in a style of music that did not have a history of supporting black and brown artists.

That’s not to say they didn’t think it was a peculiar career choice, as a lot of people didn’t understand how I could make a living as a composer, particularly since I wasn’t interested in film and television work. But my family, friends and community always supported me.

I never second-guessed what I wanted to do, even when I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. During my undergrad at UCLA, I worked as an usher, seating people for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts. I would watch LACO perform and think “someday they are going to be performing my work up there on the stage.” Today, they do perform my work, and I get to serve as the first-ever Artist-Educator for LACO, which is just wild.

Please tell us about your art.
As an artist, I’m driven to challenge norms and conventions and make people take a proverbial second look, by looking deeper into the meaning of my particular art. The intention behind my compositional style is rooted in the desire to create musical works that surprise, delight and challenge listeners to take another listen, through interweaving sounds of distinct musical cultures, and exploring ways that music can connect our increasingly diverse society.

In addition to my training in Western Classical music, American folk music, jazz, and sound design, I have intensively studied elements of West African, Eastern European, Balinese, and Indian classical music. The ascetic that I strive for can be best described as a form of musical code-switching.

All of these musical structures influence my compositional style in harmony, rhythms, melody, and form. The traditional meaning of the term code-switching is associated with language, pertaining to the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in a conversation. Musically, code-switching works the same way. It involves engaging with the musical language of two or more musical traditions within a single composition or a collection of compositions.

How do you think about success, as an artist, and what do quality do you feel is most helpful?
I feel successful when someone who isn’t necessarily a huge fan or isn’t super familiar with Classical music, hears my music and gets something out of it. When people who don’t normally go to Classical concerts come to a show and connect with something I composed, that feels like success to me. As far as traits that are essential to success are concerned, I think the single most important characteristic is to be willing to work harder than you’ve ever worked. Get to know your community, and I don’t just mean other musicians or die-hard fans of your particular art. I mean, look into opportunities for support from outside of the artistic community, and from the individuals in your area who can support your ideas. Expect to work tirelessly, and then do it. That’s been my experience.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I have a lot of upcoming performances locally in the 2019/2020 season. An organization I founded, Bridge to Everywhere, will be performing at the opening of  Phillip K. Smith III’s new installation 10 Columns on October 12, 2019. We will be performing again on October 19, 2019 at Boston Court Pasadena.  In addition, Salastina Music Society is premiering my String Quintet, “As I Heard When I Was Young” on November 23, 2019, at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music.

In 2020, I have two premiers the same night in Los Angeles! The Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra are both premiering new pieces on May 17, 2020. I also have a premier with Berkeley Symphony on May 14, 2020. It’s going to be a really exciting year.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Hannah Arista

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