As an accomplished composer, musician, and Francis Eppes professor at the FSU College of Music, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s works have been commissioned by some of the most celebrated orchestras and ensembles in the world. However, she stands by her belief that composition cannot be taught and instead is an active process of exploration and searching for one’s unique stance in the field.
As a professor, she always hopes to enable young artists to discover their own identities, allowing them to take their time in crystallizing their artistic inclinations. Similarly, she likens this process to her own path of understanding herself as a composer, describing it as a voyage rather than a set methodology. Zwilich finds she embarks on a new expedition with each piece she’s written.
“I always say even with all the experience I’ve had, I still feel like I’m at the starting gate,” smiles Zwilich. “I have this image of one foot on very solid ground and the other foot is dangling over something, and I don’t know if it’s 6 feet down or 600 feet down.
You’re on solid ground but you’re taking a chance.”
Her newest commission for the Tallahassee Youth Orchestras and the Tallahassee Ballet, “Ballet 2017: Celestial Dance,” is a composition in three movements that Zwilich says mimics the general concept of DNA. She followed musical ideas and impulses that transformed and grew into the unexpected, much like a small acorn holds all the potential to become a large oak tree. Zwilich says she always kept a kinesthetic awareness about the piece, as she knew the orchestral score would be used for choreography.
“I’ve been very taken with the idea that these will all be young performers, both the dancers and the players, and that was very inspiring,” says Zwilich.
“I hope they enjoy playing it because there’s something wonderful about trying your best that enables you to enjoy something more. You have to have a love for it that drives you.”
Zwilich can clearly recall her own exuberance as a young performer — even as a toddler, she remembers climbing up on her piano bench at home and plinking away at the keys, completely transfixed with music.
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