03 Dec Modern Classical Music: Zoë Keating
Zoë Keating lives on the edge between imperfection and perfection. It’s there where she says her music feels “alive and breathing.” It’s where she finds her danger and makes her music. It is there that she shows what is possible when we let our musicality run free.
Zoë grew up playing classical music, and anyone who has done the same knows how daunting it can be to play in a genre that has come to be associated with perfection. The pressure to be perfect led her to develop severe stage fright in her late teens, and it wasn’t until she joined Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts university in New York, that she began to overcome that. It was also there that she was really able to find who she was as a musician, learning how to improvise and develop her own style outside of the classical genre.
In an intimate artist’s showcase she did for Chase Jarvis Live, she stated that the perfection expected from classical musicians taught her the craft, but she had to move away from that to really create her music.
Zoë’s approach to music marketing is far different from mainstream artists. She does not have a label or a manager; she does everything herself. This DIY approach is incredibly encouraging for musicians who don’t want to go the mainstream route. She has proven that it is possible to make a living doing music without following the rules of anyone else or compromising individuality.
Her newest CD, Into the Trees, was released in 2010. It is a stunning mixture of modern classical music and avant garde, engulfing you; it should never be background music. At a live show, her compositions are impressive, and intentionally incomplete to leave space for her creativity, so each song continues growing and morphing. In fact, when playing live, she usually has at least one piece that is completely improvised so that she can discover new things.
Her songs generally have a main theme, from which she builds, moves away, and then revisits. Into the Trees is a perfect example of this. She uses a variety of textures which create an interesting feel. It is a song of exploration, and aptly named. It shows her love of the dangerous. She is definitely not one to shy away from risks.
Zoë’s musical risks pay off in that she is able to really let go. This means that her pieces are full of emotion. From The Last Bird, a piece full of overwhelming harmonies reminiscent of Romantic era compositions, to Hello Night , a soothing, calm piece that left me feeling as though I was out in the woods at dusk, her songs are full of contrast and show her to be a master of both the intricate and the simple. She melds the two together seamlessly to create rich, full pieces in which you can constantly find new things to appreciate.
While I really enjoyed the whole CD, I have to say that my favorite piece was Lost.
It was written during a time in her life when she was facing several big changes and going through some personal turmoil. The melody aches and when I first heard it, I ached with it in the best way possible. Rich bass notes mixed with soaring high notes left me wondering briefly if she hadn’t snuck in a few violins. Then I was right back in, lost in the beauty and humanity of the song.
This CD is definitely worth listening to through a good sound system with doors closed and distractions eliminated. I also encourage you to watch Zoë’s live performances. She is a dynamic musician and performer; one I aspire to be like.
Listen to her music. Get lost. Be inspired.