Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Tuesday, November 20

Meredith Monk

Synopsis

Today is the birthday of the American composer, singer, dancer and choreographer Meredith Monk, who was born in New York City on today’s date in 1942.

Monk attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied theatre, dance and music. On graduation in 1964, she began performing pieces that combined gesture and movement with vocal and visual elements, in the company of like-minded artists based in New York. Around that time, a number of contemporary composers had begun stretching the boundaries of instrumental music, but, as Monk recalls, there really wasn’t much happening regarding “extended vocal techniques.”

Monk began testing how she could stretch the range, timbre and character of her own singing, inventing a vocabulary based on her particular voice -- as she explains it, just as a dancer would develop a vocabulary of movement particular to their body.

Considering her long-standing interest in integrating music with movement and visuals, opera seemed a natural outlet for Monk’s talents, and in 1991 she premiered a full-length opera entitled “Atlas.”

“Atlas” was inspired by the life of Alexandra David-Neel, a scientist who was the first Western woman to travel in Tibet. It seemed a natural choice for Monk, for whom exploration and curiosity are so important. “If I knew what I was looking for,” says Monk “it wouldn’t be that interesting.” Her opera “Atlas” tells its story via a wordless libretto set to music that employs a number of the extended vocal techniques Monk had developed over the years.

Music Played in Today's Program

Meredith Monk (b. 1942) Atlas Meredith Monk Ensemble; Wayne Hankin, cond. ECM 1491

Additional Information

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