Turning Up the Volume: Adeliia Faizullina (composer, multi-instrumentalist)

Turning Up the Volume is a collection of interviews that focuses on the individual stories of up and coming musicians in American classical music. These interviews explore topics of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and disability as they apply to historically underrepresented artists. But most importantly, Turning Up the Volume is a platform for these musicians to share their experiences in their own words.

This ​Turning Up the Volume interview is with Adeliia (Adele) Faizullina. Faizullina is a composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist – with accolades ranging from being a recipient of the Cynthia Jackson Ford Fellowship of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music to winning 1st prize in the 2018 Radio Orpheus Young Composers Competition. Additionally, her works have been performed by Invoke Quartet, The University of Texas at Austin’s New Music Ensemble, Density512, SoundSpace of Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art, State Academic Choir of Tatarstan, the State String Quartet of Tatarstan, and Kozjevnicov’s Moscow Choir. Adeliia Faizullina is at the intersection of multiple identities–being Tatar, visually-impaired, and female has given her a unique perspective unlike any I have encountered before. In this interview, Faizullina talks about her culture, her challenges, and her music.

Can you talk about some of the themes you explore in your music?

I am blind, but the world of music and composition allow​s​ me to imagine color. It allows me to experiment with musical shadows, to create the space of sounds and volume of musical form, drawing on the musical landscape of nature through instrumental timbres and human voices. I love the freedom that composition offers me.

I am also interested in combining Tatar folk music traditions and poetry with Western contemporary music by experimenting with extended instrumental techniques, the overtone series, and instrumental colors. I experiment with vocal colors and voice abilities, rarely using text, but mostly working with syllables and using extended vocal techniques and vocal sonority.

My music talks about nature. It speaks to our human nature and to our feelings. It sounds like the beauty and the power of nature.

How has moving (Uzbekistan to Russia to the USA) informed your compositions?

I think Tatar culture has influenced me the most. I was born in Uzbekistan, and we lived there for 6 years, so I have a lot of Asian influence. I am influenced by spending evenings sitting outside talking to older generations, learning to respect your family, parents, and muslim culture, learning about the relationship of yourself, and dedicating your life to God. Things like that.

When we moved to Tatarstan, it continued. Tatarstan is in Russia, but it kept its traditions, becoming a great mix of cultures. Additionally, I grew up I listening to Tatar folk music and my grandma singing her prayers. I was always listening to little small details.

When I went to Moscow, I didn’t have any solid composition foundation, so I mostly trained with classical composers. I was listening to a lot of Russian composers and basic study for history classes. But in terms of my music, I don’t think this is what it influenced me the most. I think my teachers influenced me–mainly through the way they taught: working on details, developing compositional techniques.

Being here in the USA, I don’t think I found a completely different world in terms of people. I was surprised by how similar we are–maybe small differences in food or lifestyles, but generally, people are the same. I think what influenced me here was a lot of performance opportunities. Something is always going on. Just flashes and flashes of new music. Just open your eyes and ears and observe. And I was observing.

Yevgeniy Sharlat (composition professor at UT Austin) is a great teacher. I think he tried to open up more of my identity of being Tatar. He told me it would great if I focused on my culture more: to be more open and have more freedom in it, and to bring Tatar culture and folk influences in music. They exist in my compositions naturally, but in Moscow–because it was so conservative–my music had this Tatar intonation/feeling, but I had to write in a concert style. But Tatar influence will come out anyways.

Adeliia Faizullina

Adeliia Faizullina

What are some struggles you’ve faced in classical music?

I have struggles in classical music because I am blind. I cannot read musical scores. I can only listen to the music and understand it by hearing. I know that I could get so much knowledge and great ideas if I could look at the scores of other composers. Sometimes I ask my assistant to explain me things from the scores, but I think it’s not enough.

Additionally, when I started, no one could advise me on how to get my music played. Most teachers that had doubts about me weren’t sure I would capture the requirement for big ensembles. In my studies in Moscow, the teacher who finally decided to teach me sat with me for many hours with other composers’ scores and explained everything to me. It’s hard to explain–with all the graphics. For me, it’s really hard, and it doesn’t always make sense. It’s hard to imagine things like that, but I think I got 70% of those scores.

The process takes time, even years, but I was trained and trained. Also, my ears help me a lot. I​ have to dictate my music, as well. My compositional process involves three steps: I compose my music, I work on my Braille score, and then I dictate my music to my assistant, who works in the program Finale. ​Anyways, it works now.

Adeliia Faizullina

Adeliia Faizullina

What is one of the most significant events in your career?

I think hearing my symphony project in Moscow for the first time, because it was scary and I worked on that piece for a long time. When the ensemble started the composition, the fear that I had fought all that time came back to me, saying “oh you can’t do that, you can’t compose for this ensemble.” But for the culmination of my studies, I had to write for orchestra. However, when this composition was performed, it was the most important point and showed me I could.

Why is diversity important to you in music?

Every tree in the world has different leaves. There is no leaf that repeats and reflects another leaf exactly. How boring world that would be–if in the world, we had exactly the same leaves and every tree was ​exactly the same? It would be a terrible world.

People with different backgrounds impact music culture differently, and there is nothing more important than that. Diversity in music is the energy that develops music culture. It brings fresh wind, making it competitive and alive.