Non-standard setups in classical music may be interesting, but they are commonly faced with the problem of limited repertoire. The ARK Trio, formed by soprano Allison Charney, cellist Kajsa William-Olsson, and pianist Reiko Uchida, has found a way of circumventing this challenge by commissioning works from contemporary composers as well as re-arranging classics, and the result can be heard on their debut release, ARK RESOUNDING.
Today, Allison is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner-workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about her wide-ranging passions outside of music, including her family, word games, tennis, and more…
If we looked through your music library, what would we be surprised to find?
Well. I’m not sure how easily surprised you are.☺ Would you be surprised to learn that I love Broadway show tunes, and have the scores to almost every musical in the history of ever? I suppose that’s not such a far stretch from what you’d imagine an opera singer to listen to though. I suppose the bigger surprise might be 80’s music — pretty much anything from my high school years. The Who, Prince, Chicago, The Go-Go’s, David Bowie, Pat Benatar, the B-52’s, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie — you name it! In fact, I used to have a cassette tape on which I put Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart as many times as it fit on one side. That way, when I drove carpool in high school, we could fill the entire ride home with ONLY Total Eclipse of the Heart.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
It’s so hard to imagine such a scenario, but I suppose something in politics. But politics in a time when the parties were arguing about the merits of policies instead of what is simply truth. Maybe now a fun challenge would be to create a new, more center party whose purpose was to avoid extremism on any side; and to allow for healthy disagreement within its ranks.
Do you have any specific hopes about what this album will mean to listeners?
Well, first and foremost, I hope they’ll enjoy listening to it enough to listen again. I wouldn’t dream of knowing what meaning someone else will find in it – but I certainly hope they find their meaning. That’s one of the beauties of music. My intention as a performer does not have to translate directly to your identical experience as a listener. As long as the performer – and even before them, the composer – has an intention to convey, hopefully, you, the listener will have the opportunity to derive your own meaning from it. Our meanings don’t have to match… but hopefully we will both feel something. I so appreciate anyone who takes the time out of their crazy busy life to listen to what the ARK Trio has put out into the world. My hope is that, in return, we give you an opportunity to sit with your own thoughts and feelings – slow down the pace of the outside world for even just one track’s worth – and experience the beauty of Kim, Moshe, and Michael’s musical creations.
What advice do you have for young musicians?
Listen. Listen. Listen. It seems simple, but I do think it’s a skill often overlooked in musical training. Listen to your teachers. Listen to your friends. Listen to yourself! Listen to other musicians. Especially those who made their music long before you were even born. There is so much value in hearing the history of performance practice. Whenever you can hear a live recording – or, as long as you do so safely in this new pandemic-world, go to a live concert. Listen to what folks really sound like without the enhancement of modern technology. It’s humbling and inspiring and relieving to hear all the flaws, all the missteps, and all the miracles. It will help you redefine what success means and understand that once you’ve got your technique in line (and there can be no compromises there) that the search for the perfect is often a misguided one. Giving your audience a real emotional and elevating experience – that’s the goal.
What inspires you to write and/or perform?
I admit, I had to think for a minute about this question. I mean first off, I perform because it’s what I do. It’s hard to imagine being inspired every time you go to do your job, no? That said, I certainly am inspired by my colleagues and collaborators. At this point in my career, I’m often lucky enough to be able to pick and choose the folks I work with. Kajsa, Reiko, Kim, Michael, and Moshe – all the musicians involved in ARK RESOUNDING are so fabulous – inside and out – it’s hard not to be inspired by them! I suppose though, at the heart of all my music-making is the epiphany I had in Joannie Parker’s English class at the Westlake School for Girls in 1984 when, while reading Thoreau’s Walden, I came across his line: “If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets.” I knew then that I wanted to participate in a craft that helped music and poetry “resound along the streets.” I was thrilled when Moshe Knoll agreed to set those very words to music in his cantata Simplicity for the ARK Trio.
What are your other passions besides music?
My biggest passion in life — bigger than music — is my family: the one I was born into; the one I married into; and the one I’ve created with my husband. Our two sons are without a doubt the gravitational pull in my life. Next (again, this would have to go above music) are my friends — especially those that have transcended the friendship line and taken on more of a “chosen family” status. I have several friendships that are many decades long at this point — and my life is so rich because of them. OK, I’d put music next. And below that would have to be word games: Boggle, the NYT Spelling Bee, and the NYT crossword puzzle are daily must-haves in my life. Next, television and movies – my current obsession is the Israeli series, Fauda. The capability of binge-watching entire series at once is a passionate pleasure to be sure. Reading is next, tied with cooking and baking. And then two activities I haven’t had time or knee-strength for in a while, but are true passions, are tennis and knitting. I’ll let you guess which one requires the stronger knees. ☺