Hope Salmonson on her Independent Summer Research Grant Project

In Hope Salmonson’s Independent Summer Research Grant (ISRG) project, (Trans)Gendering the Musical Score: Exploring Transgender Identity Through Composition, she “explored the link between the meaning of a piece of music and the identities of the composer, performers and audience. Through a mix of reading, listening, self-reflection and dialogue with loved ones, [she] navigated the ways in which we are all connected by the music we compose, perform and listen to, and how our perceptions of each other affect the way we understand the music.” This already seems like a lofty project to tackle in one summer, but that’s not all! Hope’s research culminated in and inspired a large-scale composition, titled Et tibi miserere: semi-sacred cantata for high and low voices, two solo singers, clarinet/bass clarinet, horn, and piano.

“This work stemmed from a broader desire to divest from restrictive conceptions of what new music can look like, in favour of conceptualizing a rich musical landscape that amplifies, rather than assimilates, underrepresented voices,” Hope explained. “My research ultimately served the goal of exploring music as a tool for self-representation by the composer, performer and listener, and harnessing that representation to initiate conversations within conservatory and professional music environments.” Hope is a queer, trans composer, so their research began when they started contemplating a question they were often asked, “if my music itself is transgender.” Hope thinks: “this understanding of [her] music is based entirely on how people view [them]. Treating that tokenistic question as a starting point, [they] started to examine the way that our bodies and identities influence the way we construct meaning in music (as composers, performers and listeners). That’s what really helped [her] research take off.”

The biggest challenge Hope faced this summer was the sheer scope of her project, as “this is a complex topic that has the potential to become far larger than anyone could approach in a single summer.” They ultimately limited their focus to live (in-person) performances of music written by living composers. “I could have examined performances of works by deceased composers, recordings of music that we listen to on our devices, or even the way all of this relates to the virtual performances that have grown in popularity during this pandemic,” said Hope, “these and more are all avenues I could go down as a continuation of my research in the future, but at first glance it was an overwhelmingly large subject.”

After months of reading, writing and composing, the final product was well worth the effort. Hope is definitely most proud of the composition that emerged from her research. Hope told me: “I was inspired by the ideas of music, identity and community that I had found, and so I decided to write a piece of music that represented my love and need for those around me. I engage with themes of queerness, love, death, and religion to construct an idea of community that was unique to me, but the piece could certainly be interpreted differently by others, based on their own understandings of togetherness. It feels really rewarding to present such a personal expression through music, in a way that invites other people to express themselves as well.”

Hope and fellow music student Emma Cameron presented their ISRG projects to the Mount Allison Music Department this past Monday, and Hope’s piece Et tibi miserere will be premiered in Brunton Auditorium later this term. “I’m just hopeful that this research initiates dialogues within our academic, conservatory, and professional music environments,” Hope concluded. “I’m nowhere near the first person to talk about these ideas, and I certainly won’t be the last—the work is out there, waiting to be done. Already since my research talk I’ve engaged in meaningful conversation with so many people who were able to relate the topic back to their own experiences or areas of expertise. That only proves that this work is worth doing, and we can all contribute.” Hope’s research is pivotal to the constantly evolving discussions around music and identity, and if their previous compositions are anything to go off of, their piece Et tibi miserere is sure to blow everyone away.

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