Artist Statement

Elise Letourneau portrait
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(current as of February 2015)

I am an artist - specifically a musician - and mostly a composer - living and creating in Ottawa ON.

I create beautiful and accessible new music, and I help others find and explore the music within them, building community through sharing music together. As a performer, I look for the songs that people can relate to, and bring something new to them. As a composer, my aim is to challenge but not alienate, testing boundaries while honouring the traditions and forms that I’ve come to claim as the focus of my work. And I love finding the places where traditional and contemporary music can be merged.

“The more we sing together, the happier we’ll be.” I first heard that in preschool, but as an adult I’ve found that it really is true. Choir-building is a form of community building, and group singing is a vehicle for people to connect and co-create something bigger than themselves in real time.

When I’m working with a singing group, it is very important to me to encourage, support, facilitate... and it is magical when the members of a choir produce a sound that amazes them, that we all are proud of. I keep doing this kind of work because it makes good use of special talents I’ve been given and skills I’ve developed, it draws me out of myself, it enables me to create and gives me a vehicle for my creations, and it allows me to give back.

When I work with singers, I am reminded of how personal an instrument the voice is, and how singing is a birthright. At times it can be incredibly moving to work with someone to help them connect with their voice, especially if they are dealing with emotional blocks or personal demons when it comes to singing.

When I compose music, sometimes I feel as though I am simply the pencil-holder for something vast and wonderful that I am blessed to be in the presence of. When my work is going well, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and interconnectedness.

I love poetry. Music and poetry both require an active third party to infuse them with the energy of their own completion. Just as a map is not the land, and a photo is not the person, both poetry and music are ink on a page -- not fully alive until spoken aloud, or sung, or played on an instrument. The loveliest melodies are lyrical even though they may be wordless, and a beautifully written poem contains the seed of its own music for somebody to find.

I’m sure I won’t live long enough to write music for all the poetry that moves me, that I can hear music in... the list just grows longer the more I read. But it’s such a rich journey. When I connect with a living poet whose work I have composed music to, the encounter is invariably charged with life and gratitude. And in the case of poets who have passed before me, it’s the only way I have to deeply connect with them on a personal and meaningful level. And when people sing it, or hear it, they experience the work of two artists. I’m so grateful to all these poets for what their words have brought to me, for meeting me in the place where everything is music - and to the singers and instrumentalists who bring breath and wings to my compositions.

I frequently focus on Canadian heritage in my work. I have composed and continue to write many vocal and choral pieces using the work of Canadian poets as texts, both living and deceased. Lately I spend a lot of time with the poetry of The Confederation Poets, and have written several pieces using their work as texts. I recently composed a choral piece on a poem by Mi'kmaq elder and poet laureate Rita Joe that was commissioned and premiered by The Toronto Children's Chorus, to much acclaim by the Canadian choral establishment. I am currently working on an art song cycle that uses political apologies as texts, as well an opera focusing on Acadian subject matter.

My largest single creative work to date is a concert-length piece (about 85 minutes worth of music) for choir, soloist, chamber ensemble, and audience called "Requiem for Fourteen Roses". I wrote it to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal. I spent over a year working on it. It was premiered on December 6, 2014 to a capacity house that offered multiple standing ovations. It was an incredibly moving evening for performers and audience alike.

The written word is can be very powerful - and singers are unique among musicians in that, in addition to the technical and theoretical disciplines of performing music, they have the words to express. I hope to dedicate myself to creating works of art that honour the word, and that move people for years to come.

- Elise Letourneau