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Incoming faculty composer and alum Katherine Balch, on returning to YSM

k. Balch. Photo by Lanz Photography

Katherine Balch. Photo by Lanz Photography

Composer Katherine Balch, whose piece Phrases will be performed on the April 21 New Music New Haven program, earned her master-of-music degree from the School of Music in 2016 and, in July, will join the School’s faculty as Visiting Assistant Professor, Adjunct, of Composition. We spoke with Ms. Balch about returning to YSM, teaching, and more.

Q: You wrote Phrases (for soprano and double bass) shortly after graduating from YSM. How and why did you choose the piece for performance on this program?

A: Phrases was the first piece I finished after graduating from YSM. I thought this would be a nice way return to the New Music New Haven series, because while I was a student at YSM I spent a lot of timing hanging out with the double-bass studio and even housed a double bass in my apartment and signed up for lessons for non-majors. My love for the instrument (and the many friends of mine who play it!) really began at Yale.

Q: Having been in the professional world for a handful of years, can you offer the School's current composition students any perspective on the value of the program and the New Music New Haven Series?

A: There are so many parts of studying composition at Yale that continue to reveal their value to me. For me, the program’s true gem is the culture of peer learning, support, and collaboration—in the department and the School in general. I think NMNH’s inclusion in the Yale Philharmonia schedule is a really special way of encouraging composition and performance students to learn with and from each other. This practice of learning and sharing with my peers is something that will continue to be a central part of my artistic and professional development.

Q: You're joining the Yale School of Music faculty in July. Do you have a teaching philosophy or fundamental approach to pedagogy that you'll bring to your studio at YSM?

A: I think the most important way I can serve a student body is by empowering and encouraging students to self-learn and self-evaluate. This can mean being a sounding board for ideas, providing tools, resources, or expertise, fostering peer-learning communities, offering support and advocacy, or any other activities that stem from a student-centered dialogue. In my own ever-evolving teaching practice, I try to harness the wisdom of my former teachers (including all of my now-colleagues!) and influential scholars on pedagogy like bell hooks, George Dei, Anne Meyer, and David Rose. 

Q: In what ways does teaching inform your composition?

A: I definitely feel more motivated to compose when I maintain an active teaching schedule. I think a byproduct of being a pretty extroverted person is that I feel very creatively energized from listening to and trying to help others realize their ideas. It is inspiring and a huge privilege to bear witness and be able to support the creation of someone else’s work in real time. Classroom teaching is also often my excuse to dive into a topic that I’m interested in or excited about but doesn’t necessarily manifest directly in my music. I love learning rabbit holes—teaching is a great way to fall into them. 

Q: What are you reading, watching, and listening to right now?

A: Right now I am reading Scott Weidensaul’s A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds, which I highly recommend if you want your mind blown every few pages with crazy bird facts. I’ve been listening to a lot of pre-18th and post-20th century vocal music: countertenor Jakub Orliński’s 2018 album Anima Sacra, Erin Gee’s Mouthpieces (the topic of my dissertation), and The New York Times’ “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Renaissance Music” (I love this series! This one is a compilation of Tallis, Byrd, des Prez, Caccini, and some surprises) are at the top of my recently played list. I recently re-watched Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. I basically only watch sci-fi. 

Learn more about the April 21 New Music New Haven concert here.

Read an announcement about Katherine Balch joining the Yale school of Music faculty here.