We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin Graham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
Something that I hear a lot and tend to react (perhaps a little too strongly) against is the advice to “always try to keep a positive outlook”. I’m aware that this is a controversial opinion, but I think that while this advice is well-meaning, it encourages burying and denying negative feelings which in turn causes them to accumulate and grow into something worse over time. It also sometimes facilitates a kind of indirectness of communication which stems from a taboo regarding certain types of honesty which is often unproductive, and can also inhibit identifying and tackling problems in the name of productive change! I think that there’s a huge difference of course between valuing optimism (which is certainly healthy) and forcing optimism as a mask for underlying problems.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’ve answered previous iterations of this question and focused more on the past and reminisced about elements of my journey – now I’d like to talk a little more about the present! As I finish my second year as a PhD student in Music Composition here at UC San Diego, I’ve been focusing a lot of my creative energy as a composer on collaborating with some of my performer colleagues. I find writing for solo instruments (as opposed to chamber ensembles or even large ensembles like orchestra) to be immensely challenging, and wanted to push myself to gain experience working not only on writing for solo instruments, but for instruments that I personally find extremely intimidating such as flute, trombone, cello, and bass. Luckily, my colleagues have been extremely generous in being willing to collaborate with me on these open-ended, experimental projects – not only sharing their insights about what constitutes a satisfying solo for their respective instruments, but also divulging all kinds of fascinating extended techniques! So far, I’ve learned quite a bit and am really excited to see how each collaboration will develop! On an ideological level, I’m always most interested in creative partnerships where each of the collaborators have equal creative input and are able to synthesize ideas rather than taking near complete control as the ‘composer’. People work radically differently, and this is certainly not to disparage others who prefer other forms of collaboration! However, I feel most energized and inspired whenever I’m able to keep an ongoing dialogue of feedback and brainstorming going throughout a project. I feel really lucky to have already had one such collaboration with percussionist Lee Vinson several months ago – we worked together on a piece for four snare drums and I think we ended up with something that felt far more fulfilling to us both because we were able to talk one another through the process!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh wow, this is intimidating seeing as I’ve only lived in San Diego just over a year! I think it would be a mix of places that I discovered and enjoyed since moving here and places that I haven’t yet visited that are on my own list to check out. One of my absolute favorite things to do here is hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve – that would certainly be one of the first activities on the list. I’d also try to include an obligatory Balboa Park trip – I’d been meaning to visit the Museum of Us prior to the pandemic, but haven’t gotten a chance. Of course, I would have to show them all my haunts on campus as well – ranging from some of the secret hallways in the music building to the graduate student lounge! In terms of restaurants, my two current favorites are Smack’n Guamanian Grill and Flavors of East Africa – these would definitely be among the first places I’d take anyone who was visiting!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
It would be so hard to list everyone I’m thankful for and grateful to within this short paragraph, so I will do my best to summarize! First of all, I’m particularly grateful to two faculty members at UC San Diego – my advisor, Professor Lei Liang, and Professor King Britt. They have both given me so much of their time, energy, advice, and support – and have constantly inspired me to hold onto my curiosity during a very difficult time. I feel very lucky to have the chance to work with both of them! I’m also incredibly grateful to my friends and colleagues both at UC San Diego and elsewhere, and to my family for all their love and support!
Rūta Kuzmickas, Nadine Sherman