Performing piano music is not simply playing notes on a page. It’s getting into the composer’s head, learning their inspiration, understanding that a section of music should sound like water, or that the piece must evoke the same emotions as the poetry that influenced it, said Dr. Margaret Lucia, professor of music and theatre arts.
Thanks to a Fulbright award, Lucia spent the spring semester in Madrid, Spain, working directly with female Spanish composers. She is one of sixteen Ship professors to earn a Fulbright, which is an international educational program that allows faculty to research abroad in their area of expertise and act as a cultural ambassador. Lucia, who focuses on the work of women composers, performed and collaborated with faculty, students, and composers at the Conservatorio Teresa Berganza.
When she arrived in Madrid in February, she hit the ground running, performing three consecutive concerts. Over the course of the Fulbright, she has connected with fifty female piano composers. “I look at the music and see what it’s like,” she said. “Then I interview the composers to determine what brought them to this place, how they became composers, and how they work.”
Lucia first became interested in this area of research when she was asked to perform music composed by Spanish women and found that request hard to fulfill. “That bothered me. It was a catalyst for me.”
Although she said women composers have a more challenging time rising to the top in most parts of the world, it seemed particularly true in Spain. “The common theme was that it’s hard to get commissioned for large pieces,” she said.
When Lucia performed during a festival in Cuba in 2011, she met Spanish composer Mercedes Zavala. The two became friends and kept in touch. At one point, Zavala came to Ship to watch a performance of her work. Zavala is the head composer at the conservatory and helped Lucia connect with many Spanish composers during the Fulbright.
“By understanding the music of a different culture and how they compose it, you begin to understand their culture,” Lucia said of her work. “The Spanish culture has a great body of literature, and a great percentage of this (music) was inspired by poetry. Their literature, poetry, and music are extremely important to them.”
As she practiced each piece, she found she had several questions for composers. Although she said it was a wonderful process to go back and forth with each composer, she admits it also was “…a little scary. I wanted to play it the way they wanted it played. I wanted them to like it, and wanted it to be right.”
Most of the changes were in small, precise details, she said. The composer might ask for a certain touch or sound, or provide a particular reference that the music should resemble, such as the sound of wind. The process could sometimes get very complex and demanding, but she said that’s the way music is.
“Even with a Beethoven sonata, it’s totally new every time you play it. You play it again and gain more, getting more comfortable with it each time.”
Although Lucia returned home in June, she will continue the work that she initiated through the Fulbright. In addition to completing interviews with female Spanish composers, she has been asked to write articles in both US and Spanish publications and hopes to compile a book with the responses to her interviews.
Not only did this work provide a greater understanding of compositions by Spanish women, it created opportunities to connect with these talented women, Lucia said. “These pieces are extensions of the composers. I bonded with the composers and had wonderful interactions, which I hadn’t expected.”
Lucia had previously visited Spain for a conference, but she said the Fulbright presented the chance to fully explore an amazing country. “This is the way I always wanted to do it—to completely immerse yourself in a culture and learn deeply about it in one place. …Madrid is a wonderful city.”