5 Questions to Ellen Reid (Composer, Co-founder of Luna Composition Lab)

Composer and sound artist Ellen Reid’s output includes chamber, choral, film, stage, opera, pop, and site-specific works that are focused on immersion and interdisciplinary artistic experiences. Most recently, she was a contributing composer for HOPSCOTCH, an animated opera project conceived and directed by Yuval Sharon; other recent projects include a commission by Beth Morrison Projects of a southern gothic opera called prism and a LA Master Chorale commission called dreams of the new world. In 2016, Reid co-founded the Luna Composition Lab with Missy Mazzoli. Luna is a mentorship program intended for female and gender non-conforming composers, and exists in partnership with Face The Music at the Kaufman Music Center.

Tell us about the origins of the Luna Composition Lab, how its first two years have gone, and about plans for the future.

Missy Mazzoli and I were having a coffee at Konditori near her apartment in Greenpoint, and she mentioned that she’d always wanted to start a young female composer mentorship program. I immediately loved the idea and we decided then and there to do it. We looked for a partnering organization for about a year before Luna Lab officially launched. We found the perfect partner in the Kaufman Music Center and Face the Music. Once we joined forces, the program really took off and has been growing steadily over the last two years. We are hoping to continue to steadily grow the program over the next few years. The support for Luna Lab that the music community has shown has been so generous.

Mentorship by and for female and nonbinary composers is so important, but I wonder sometimes about women taking on so much emotional and logistical labor. Do you have strategies for time management or other issues, when it comes to mentoring younger composers but still working on your own projects?

The mentorship through Luna Lab is effective and also allows the mentors ample time to work on their own projects. The program offers 45-minute lessons every other week to the chosen fellows. My personal experience, and the experience that our mentors have expressed to me, is that the lessons are inspiring and help us feel energized in the creation of our own work.

Luna Lab has key male allies that are deeply involved in the organization. One of our main collaborators is Vasudevan Panicker, the Director of Face the Music, and one of our key supporters and advisers is Alex Sanger. We never feel like it is just women who are taking on the emotional and logistical labor of Luna Lab. It takes a village!

Ellen Reid--Photo by Arnaud Pyvka

Ellen Reid–Photo by Arnaud Pyvka

You’ve worked with younger artists not only through Luna but as a composer as well, for instance with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus’ “Silent Voices” project. Can you tell us a bit about these experiences?

I’ve worked with young people my whole life. I taught public school for 5 years in NYC and LA before committing to being a full-time composer. Working with young artists is invigorating and grounding. With Brooklyn Youth Chorus, I did a project where the choristers interviewed their grandmothers and elder women role models. I worked with the choristers to excerpt those interviews into a libretto. It was so much fun to get to work with the choir on the various parts of the project.

What sorts of mentorship experiences did you yourself receive (or wish you had received) as a younger composer, growing up in a small town in Tennessee?

I didn’t start writing music until I was 20. I was in college by that point. Growing up, it would have been nice to see more (any) female composers who could have been role models. In college, I had 2 very supportive teachers who helped direct my future. I know firsthand how important having a mentor can be.

What sorts of sound worlds and immersive experiences can listeners expect from your upcoming projects?

Next season, I have a sound installation commissioned by the LA Phil that will be on the opening week of their centennial season. It will involve a large chorus, percussion, and video. The theme of the piece is about the passage of time, and what has been on the land where Disney Hall is now. I also have a new opera, prism, premiering with LA Opera in November with Beth Morrison Projects, followed by a run at PROTOTYPE. This piece begins in a new music and opera sound world, then shatters in the second act into something more urban, amplified, disjunct and polystylistic. If you missed Los Angeles Master Chorale and wild Up’s performance of dreams of the new world at Disney Hall, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street will do a NY Premiere of the work in February 2019!