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Flay (Cecilia Livingston)
Zorana Sadiq, soprano; Wesley Shen, piano; Daniel Morphy, percussion
Soundstreams Emerging Composer Workshop
April 2016
2a Cecilia Livingston headshot 1 by Dani



I'm Awake from Singing Only Softly (Sara Schabas, soprano and Cheryl Duvall, piano)Cecilia Livingston
00:00 / 01:47
Penelope (Danielle Buonaiuto, Marfa SongsCecilia Livingston
00:00 / 09:02


I specialize in composing for voice and I’m composer-in-residence at the Canadian Opera Company and at Glyndebourne. My music is driven by melody, mixing styles from minimalism to The American Songbook to create work that is lyrical and unsettling. 


Years before I ever thought about creating music, I heard an interview with the painter Paula Rego. Asked why we make art, she said: to tell stories, to make sense of the world. The singing voice is at the heart of my work because voices tell stories. I think a lot about structure, atmosphere, and pacing – about how we listen and imagine, how music unfolds to create opportunities for listeners to experience something profound. This guides my stage work and my concert music. I always think of music as drama, and I’m always looking for the moment that haunts the ear, that lingers in the mind’s eye, that we puzzle over long after we’ve left the auditorium. I’m listening for the sound of an audience holding its breath, the silence before the applause and after.


My music is tonally grounded, playing with musical style to explore the complexities of meaning when language and music interact. I’m seeking the strange made familiar and the familiar made strange: things that are uneasy, half-remembered, sometimes hilarious, sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful, sometimes sinister.


I love writing for voice because singing offers such an electric, intimate experience, and singers have been my champions, bringing my music around the world because its storytelling connects with their audiences. Through working with singers, I’ve come to a deep appreciation of the physicality of all music making, and the importance of breath and harmonic support. I sing everything I write, imagining that performer’s sound, how they use their body, who they are as an actor.


Collaboration is the core of my practice; I relish that push-and-pull, ideas sparking as we figure out what a piece could offer for audiences and everyone involved. Then I find something to begin with – a harmony, a timbre, a line of text, a singer’s favourite note – and build a dramatic musical experience from there. Musicians take tremendous risks in the vulnerability of live performance, and I want that experience to be comfortable and freeing, so they can connect with audiences and each other. In the rehearsal room (my favourite place), I want to learn from the people who perform: if there’s a better way (a more natural rhythm, a more comfortable interval, a dramatic beat that needs more time), then I want to know. The score is an opportunity for communication between the stage and the seats: it’s a means to an end, an opportunity for something honest, lyrical, intimate – person to person, human being to human being – in art’s great conversation about the human experience.

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