For Luna Lab Alum KiMani Bridges, Composition is a Vehicle for Storytelling and Self-Discovery

KiMani Bridges likes to try a little bit of everything when she writes a new work, and she’s confident she can make all her ideas cohere. The composer’s most recent and most intricate piece, Warmth, written this summer for Unheard-of//Ensemble’s Collaborative Composer Initiative, mixes dance, music, and theater to capture the experience of putting on a performance (while putting on a performance). On a recent Zoom call, Bridges talked about the process of composing Warmth, and as she spoke, words tumbled out of her mouth as if they couldn’t come out fast enough. “It was really fun to write because of how layered and multi-structured it was,” she said. “I don’t want to be cornered to one thing. I want to dip my toes into everything that interests me.”

Bridges, who is going into her senior year at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has already had her music performed by major orchestras and ensembles in the United States, including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and her hometown group, the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. Also a flutist, Bridges composes music that derives from her passion for storytelling, using instruments to convey a narrative arc and connect with audiences through a bevy of experimental techniques.

Bridges credits her early success, and her confidence, to her participation in Luna Composition Lab in 2019-20. Luna Lab is a mentorship program for young female, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming composers ages 13-18 that was founded in 2016 by composers Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid, a Pulitzer Prize winner. It takes place over eight months and provides participants with composition lessons, performances of their new work, and a supportive community.

Kimani Bridges with current and past Luna Lab Fellows at the 2022 festival -- Photo courtesy of the artist

Kimani Bridges with current and past Luna Lab Fellows at the 2022 festival — Photo courtesy of the artist

Luna Lab showed Bridges that composing offers freedom to explore many different ideas, and participating in the program gave her the drive to keep writing her own music. “[Composing has] become therapeutic for me,” she said. “It’s been a way for me to discover [myself] in a way that’s comfortable for me, and also a way to jump out of my comfort zone.”

Although composition has become a large part of Bridges’ life in recent years, she hadn’t always intended to be a composer. She was a precocious child who wanted to try out as many activities as she could find, and her mother encouraged her to survey her passions. She went to acting camp and took jazz and ballet dance lessons; she played in marching band; she learned karate and gymnastics; she joined softball, tennis, and running teams.

But it was the flute that left its greatest mark. She picked up the instrument when she was 11 years old, and something about it stuck — when she played it, it felt like her voice was amplified. She learned how to toy with extended techniques on the flute, playing harmonics, multiphonics, and flutter-tonguing. She could make her melodies twist and turn, keeping listeners guessing. But most of all, the instrument acted as an extension of herself. “The flute became my voice, and it still is,” Bridges said. “It will always be part of my identity.”

Bridges began composing in her junior year of high school because she wanted to gain a better understanding of the classical music she was playing. She enrolled in a composition class at duPont Manual Magnet High School/Youth Performing Arts School, which was taught by student composers from the University of Louisville. They recognized her talent and encouraged her to apply to Luna Lab, which jump-started her work as a composer.

At Luna Lab, Bridges connected with a broad community of fellow composers — and friends — and studied with Reid, with whom she immediately felt a kinship. Under Reid’s mentorship, she composed The Flower, the first piece she had ever written for an instrument other than the flute. Reid helped her understand the process of writing for strings and percussion, and, crucially, showed her how to not overthink what she was writing. Since she was new to composition, Bridges tended to feel anxious about her ideas, but Reid encouraged her to have confidence in her creative voice. “It really solidified the idea that I am the boss of my own piece,” Bridges said.

Now, Bridges is focused on continuing to expand her artistic practice. After writing Warmth this summer, she’s particularly excited about experimental theater and seeing where interdisciplinary art can take her. Writing the piece helped her reconnect with her dance roots, which has also ignited a new fire. She’s been taking swing and salsa dance lessons as a way to get her mind off the stress of being a student and a working composer. “It takes you out of your own mind and makes you just live in the moment,” Bridges said.

Partner dance has also made its way into her music: The colorful rhythms of Warmth evoke the footwork of the dances. Inspiration comes to Bridges from many different types of art, and she makes time to explore passions and keep that inspiration flowing. She’s also searching for graduate schools that will support her interdisciplinary endeavors, and dreaming of composing a large-scale sound installation someday.

KiMani Bridges takes a bow after the Louisville Orchestra premiere of STATiC in May 2022 -- Photo by O’Neil Arnold Photography

KiMani Bridges takes a bow after the Louisville Orchestra premiere of STATiC in May 2022 — Photo by O’Neil Arnold Photography

But first, Bridges is looking forward to soaking up the last few weeks of summer before her senior year begins. She’s been prioritizing her health and taking time to recharge — something she values more and more as she continues along this path. “You can live through your work, but that can’t be the only way that you live,” she said.

This year, Bridges is taking fewer courses and hoping to have more time to nurture all the aspects of life that bring her joy and wellness. In the end, it’s about being open to whichever ideas and experiences capture her fancy. “Where I’m heading towards is where I can feel the most free,” she said.


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