We recently connected with Amy Scurria and have shared our conversation below.
Amy, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on?
What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on? Tell us the backstory so we understand circumstances/context and why it’s meaningful to you.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a new collaboration had already been put on hold once after the passing of my father. I had partnered with soprano and opera producer, Kelly Balmaceda and we were excited to create and produce a new opera based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Then the pandemic shutdown occurred. Kelly stopped singing publicly. All of my music composition projects were halted immediatly. We found ourselves with nothing but time. In the midst of grieving along with the rest of the world, we decided to utilize the time while simultaneously keeping our spirits afloat. We began working daily on the new opera.
At three years old, I fell in love with Lewis Carroll’s book. At the same time, I fell irrevocably in love with music. By the age of eight, I figured out that I could get the closest to music through creating it and I began composing. Flash forward to 2020 and I’d managed to create a decades long career as a professional composer. During the difficulties of the pandemic, there was tremendous joy and comfort in composing the music for ALICE, An Operatic Wonderland.
We gathered our cast, pianist, director, stage director, costume designer, choir members, etc. We secured a hall and began to share our plans with a community in the Northeastern corner of NC. The residents of Elizabeth City, NC showered us with support, providing us with funding (through the NC Council for the Arts), houses for hosting the principle singers and other travelers, journalists ready to cover the event, and volunteers to help build set and create props. It became a community event that so many of us craved throughout the pandemic.
As I collaborated with Kelly on the opera, our creative roles shifted. Kelly and I decided to bring in my husband, a writer, to co-create the libretto. The three of us met around ALICE in some combination, daily. Our daughter helped to add comedic moments and gave us suggestions about what might be compelling to watch and hear. My husband and I included a reference to our daughter in the opera and she performed as an extra during the staged workshop.
While creating the music, many aspects of my father were being woven into every note. A self-taught musician himself, he mostly played Scott Joplin rags by ear at the piano. A military officer and world traveler, he discovered music from around the world which aired daily in our home. An opera based in Wonderland affords itself to limitless creativity. The sounds that I have woven into the score include ragtime, hints of Gregorian chant, Eastern European folk music, Mozartian waltz, and lush melodies.
I worked closely with each principle opera singer, got to know their particular voices, and created their parts especially for them. Each member of our cast is wildly talented, experienced, but also down-to-earth and deeply kind. I had the best of both worlds.
After postponing the project once again due to the Delta variant, we finally gathered in Elizabeth City, NC in January of 2022. We spent one week rehearsing, marking, and completing the set. Unbelievably, we put together a two hour full opera over the span of one week together. In retrospect, I think we would all agree that it was insane to attempt this, but we would also agree that there was deep joy in the process. We performed the work twice in what we called a staged workshop, with full costumes. Both performances were sold out. Both performances received standing ovations. Alice, An Operatic Wonderland, in every respect, from every angle, and at every moment, was truly a labor of love.
Amy, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I fell irrevocably in love with music when I was three years old. I started composing at eight years old. And I’ve enjoyed a decades-long career as a composer. While earning my Ph.D. at Duke University, I read a revelatory book by French philosopher, Catherine Clément: Opera, Or the Undoing of Women. Clément’s book validated something I had long known: that opera, historically, was not created to uplift women or other minority groups. I had fallen in love with opera at the Houston Grand Opera while I was a student at Rice University. I attended the premiere of an opera about Harvey Milk by composer Stewart Wallace and my life was irrevocably changed. I was determined to figure out how I could lend my voice to this incredible medium.
I’ve been honored to work on several projects that uplift the music composed by women, most notably, I was hired to copy music by Florence Price to make it available for orchestras. She is quickly becoming a mainstay in concert halls, which is exactly where she, and so many other women, belong.
I’ve worked with orchestras, choirs, and individual performers, but my greatest love is creating opera. I create works with the purpose of shifting the paradigm written about by Catherine Clément. With deep gratitude for the women composers before me, I write her story.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being creative?
Togetherness and connection. We all yearn for love and connection in our lives. For me, I’ve found that most deeply through music. When we gather for a performance, there’s an energy in the room that is palpable and at times, unforgettable. Specifically, creating opera cannot be done individually. It requires collaboration with many creatives and this place is the most rewarding to me.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
I can’t think of a time when I haven’t had to pivot. Life in the creative arts is unpredictable and ever-changing. It requires a deep love and commitment to one’s craft. It requires more hours than I’ll ever have (have we invented the 30-hour day yet?). And it’s been my absolute love of music that has kept me going in this sometimes unforgiving industry. Pursuing a life as a music composer means being willing to reinvent myself as steadfastly as I hold on to who I am as a composer. What I mean by that is that working as an independent composer has meant that there were times when I earned enough from my compositions and times when I didn’t. To support my composing, I’ve done everything from shredding paper (no joke) to working as a litigation paralegal. The former was a great job because I could mentally compose while I shredded and then write down my ideas after work. The latter was more involved and was during a time of few music projects. I know one thing for certain: no matter what, I’ll be composing until my dying days. I know how to reinvent myself, if needed, to support my goals. And I know that perseverance always pays off.
- Website: www.amyscurria.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amycscurria/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amy.scurria
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-scurria-composer/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/AScurria
- Youtube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLo0jDZP_p5vzlZxhZEEYwEfp7-dWWXWtj
Photos 4-8 from the staged workshop of Alice, An Operatic Wonderland. Photos by Holly Johnson Luther.