5 Questions to Clarice Assad (composer, performer)

Clarice Assad is a GRAMMY-nominated Brazilian-American composer, performer, and educator. Her prolific work ranges from unique concerti (including one for scat singing, piano, and orchestra) to works for theater and ballet and significant contributions to the classical guitar repertoire. In March 2021, she released the collaborative album Archetypes on Cedille Records along with her father, the renowned guitarist Sérgio Assad, and the Chicago-based ensemble Third Coast Percussion. The project explores seemingly universal themes and characters in 12 musical vignettes, each with their own sound world.

All of the performers involved with Archetypes also had a hand in composing. Can you tell us about the collaborative process between yourself, your father, and Third Coast Percussion?

The collaborative process was one of the most exciting features of this project. Open discussions and workshopping the ideas was how we approached everything. For the most part, my father and I brought basic themes and ideas to the rehearsals and were given many options for sound, instruments, and timbre; thus, we both hugely benefited from Third Coast Percussion’s input. The same is true for Third Coast Percussion concerning us as a duo and the colors we could bring into the mix with the guitar, bass, piano, and voice. Another aspect of this collaboration is that we purposely wanted every piece to have its own character and sound world, so we crafted the pieces according to our musical voices, being mindful of the combinations of instruments to create variety.

While the figures and themes in Archetypes can be found embedded across so many different cultures (and share similarities), are there specific stories behind any of the 12 tracks? Did you pull any inspiration from your own cultural background or identity?

Not so much my native cultural background if one considers I was born in Brazil. However, “Jester” is an excellent example of a piece inspired by a class that I developed called VOXploration, where participants learn about music by immersing themselves in embodying sounds, using mainly the body and the voice to create music. In VOXploration, there is a vital element of theater and many moments of guided improvisation. “Jester” is exactly that. I guide Third Coast Percussion, my father, and audience members through a predetermined improvisation piece where we each play a different character.

Sometimes when artists focus on bringing out a specific character or quality in a project, they discover things in their work or process that normally aren’t present. Do you think anything was revealed to you by exploring these different themes, or through this style of collaboration?

I learned so many creative things in the process. Because I was not highly familiar with each of the composer’s voices, it was fascinating to see how they individually approached composing for the archetypes they decided on. And how funny it seemed that it matched some of their personalities, the more I got to know them. I would have composed a completely different piece for the same archetype. It shows that each human being rarely experiences the world through the same perspective.

Clarice Assad--Photo courtesy

Clarice Assad–Photo courtesy

Along with yourself and your father, your aunt and uncle are also musicians. What was it like growing up in such a musical family?

Families are complex social constructs that inevitably shape who we are. Within familial relationships, we rehearse our first responses to the world and the environment, according to their beliefs and behaviors, so to me, music became profoundly tied to emotions. Because making music was so common in our family, I saw it as an outlet for self-expression, and I discovered that I could express myself more easily through sounds and compositions than by speaking. Likely, I would not have had this experience if I had been born into a family of doctors. I believe I would have found my way into the arts because I am drawn to it, but not necessarily at such a deep level. I am grateful for this gift in my life.

How has your approach to education and social action shifted over the course of the past year, in light of the pandemic and global anti-oppression movements?

I worked tirelessly to have a more significant online presence when the pandemic happened. It was quite a challenging year for us. After an initial panic, I pushed myself to stay positive and creative because I could see that so many people worldwide needed to feel some connection, even if behind computer screens.

So I began looking for ways to take a workshop based on such a high level of live interactivity into the virtual realm, and thankfully I did find ways to keep the spark alive. I developed an online class on extended vocal techniques hosted on Skillshare, and began producing a podcast where I interviewed dozens of vocal artists.  I am currently working on turning VOXploration into a nonprofit organization.


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