Tawnie Olson, composer

Described as “especially glorious… ethereal” by Whole Note, and “a highlight of the concert” by the Boston Musical Intelligencer, the music of Canadian composer Tawnie Olson draws inspiration from politics, spirituality, the natural world, and the musicians for whom she composes. She has received commissions from the Canadian Art Song Project, Third Practice/New Music USA, the Canada Council for the Arts, Mount Holyoke College/The Women’s Philharmonic, the Blue Water Chamber Orchestra, Ithaca College, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music’s Robert Baker Commissioning Fund, among others. In 2017, she received an OPERA America Discovery Grant to develop a new work about Hildegard of Bingen and Eleanor of Aquitaine with re:Naissance Opera (libretto by Roberta Barker), and a Canada Council for the Arts Professional Development Grant to study field recording at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She is the winner of the 2015 Iron Composer Competition, and has won awards from SOCAN and The Guelph Camber Choir/Musica Viva. 

Recent projects include Three Songs on Poems by Lorri Neilsen Glenn, for soprano and piano, commissioned by the Canadian Art Song Project for Magali Simard-Galdès, Summer’s End, commissioned by The Sebastians, an arrangment/recomposition of “Know the Way” (by electronica artist Grimes), commissioned by the Cluster Festival for the Plumes Ensemble, Magnificat, commissioned by Karen Clute for the Elm City Girls Choir and Yale Schola Cantorum, Lyonesse, commissioned by Mount Holyoke College and the Women’s Philharmonic for the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra, Tian Hui Ng, conductor, No Capacity to Consent, for six vocal soloists and chamber ensemble, commissioned by Brian Bartoldus and Third Practice with assistance from New Music USA, Glimmer, Gossamer, Glint, for orchestra, commissioned by the Blue Water Chamber Orchestra, Resurgam, for carillon, commissioned by the Yale Guild of Carillonneurs, and Meadowlark, for marimba and fixed media, composed for Ian David Rosenbaum. 

Olson’s music is performed on four continents; it can also be heard on recordings by the Canadian Chamber Choir, percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum, bassoonist Rachael Elliott, soprano Magali Simard-Galdès, oboist Catherine Lee, and Shawn Mativetsky, McGill University professor of tabla and percussion. Her scores are available from the Canadian Music Centre, Galaxy Music, Hal Leonard’s Mark Foster series, and E.C. Schirmer (O Inexpressible Mystery – forthcoming). Olson holds a doctorate in music composition from the University of Toronto, a Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music, an Artist Diploma from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Calgary. She is an adjunct professor of composition at the Hartt School of Music. 

Something to Say will be performed at Make a Noise! Marathon October 22, 2017 | 4 pm

View tawnieolson.com

Something to Say (2014)

by Tawnie Olson
John Cage once famously declared:

“I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.”

As I was writing this piece, I wondered what the opposite of Cage’s statement would be, and thought it might be “I have something to say, but I am not saying it.” I think the latter statement describes how we often relate to one another. I know that when people say things to me that hurt or upset me, I can have difficulty responding; I might be too upset to speak, or worried about overreacting, and decide to say nothing.

As part of the process of composing “Something to Say,” I wrote down some things said to me by family, friends, and colleagues. Since none of these things were recorded at the time they were spoken, Shawn and I asked friends to read and record these phrases. (For the record: none of these readers believe what I asked them to say!) I used these recordings in this piece, and I also borrowed from a genre of traditional tabla music, called “bol paran,” in which the tabla imitates the sound of human speech. If you listen carefully, after you hear a recorded voice you’ll often hear Shawn reproduce part of the spoken phrase on his instruments.

I am so grateful to Shawn Mativetsky for asking me to write this piece, and for playing it so beautifully. It is dedicated to him and to Equality Now.” – Tawnie Olson