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Interview with Tara Middleton

We sat down with Tara Middleton, co-composer for Matthew Neenan’s Fall Series 2019 world premiere, Twelve Bells.

When did you start playing music? How did you get to where you are today?
Music became a part of my life at a very early age. I was 4 years old when I began playing Suzuki method violin at Settlement Music School. During my years there, I even had the opportunity to study directly with Dr. Suzuki. Throughout grade school and college, I continued to study with private teachers, and performed in orchestral and chamber music ensembles and competitions. I began singing in my church choir at the age of five and taking some private vocal lessons at the age of nine.

I continued my training in voice, violin, flute, composition and jazz performance when I enrolled in two different university music programs and was invited to personal tutorships with professionally acclaimed musicians such as the late jazz pianist Gerald Price, Philadelphia composer and educator Dr. George Allen, and jazz vocalist Patty Wackenhut. Sun Ra Arkestra director Marshall Allen helped hone my live performance and jazz improvisation skills, and he commissioned me to compose lyrics for some of his and Sun Ra’s music.

But all of that is only a precept of how I got to the place that I am today, which is a hard question to answer because I am not the result of my own planning, and I’m still in a state of becoming — still growing, still learning, still ambitious, still hungry, still humble, still experiencing, still unearthing, still exploring. And I’m still setting goals one step at a time, taking small sometimes immeasurable steps, learning and growing along the way.

What are a few of your favorite projects you’ve worked on or groups you’ve worked with?
Over the past several years, as a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, under the direction of Marshall Allen, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel the world and work with some of the best performance artists in the business. Here, at home in Philadelphia, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate on impressive projects that were organized by excellent artists – for example, my first collaboration with Rosie Langabeer for last year’s BalletX project was a mind-blowing experience for me! I have also recorded with Nick Millevoi and his Destination Trio group, or performed exciting, improvisational works with Bowerbird’s Arcana New Music Ensemble and visual artist Erik Ruin’s Ominous Cloud ensemble, and participated in many projects conceived and recorded by Homer Jackson and his Philadelphia Jazz Project organization. These were immeasurably fun and educational. Touring with my husband for our Jupiter Blue project has been a learning experience and a great joy!

When creating something new, what do you like about working collaboratively and what do you like about working solo?
Music performance is inherently social; it is also inherently creative. Music perception is social too, and working collaboratively provides a network for interactive creativity and exploration. From “a-ha” moments to deep, thoughtful discussions, working collaboratively stretches your scope as an artist.

Solo projects allow me the opportunity to dig deep inside and speak to the story, the truth, the imaginings that only I can tell from my uncompromised, personal perspective. This is necessary for artistic growth.

What are you most excited about working with BalletX, Matthew Neenan, and Rosie Langabeer?
Working with Matthew and Rosie is a breath of fresh air. I’m extending myself musically and artistically in ways I’ve always wanted to explore. The creativity of these two is thoughtful and inspiring. Matthew’s ability to hear a sound and react with the exact movement that speaks to that sound is amazing. Rosie’s ability to perform on many instruments and create soundscapes is effortless. It’s been a thrill uncovering, sculpting, and creating a new work of performance art with these two.

Any future musical dreams in the works?
I do have a few musical dreams in the works. I’m definitely excited about the Jupiter Blue project with my composer husband and Sun Ra Arkestra guitarist D. Hotep, and our upcoming CDs. I am also excited about exploring some other upcoming new musical partnerships, and potential future collaborations with BalletX! I’ll keep you posted.