Seventh of an eight-part interview by YoWangdu’s Yolanda O’Bannon
YO: What’s the best compliment that you’ve gotten? What’s the thing that has most touched you?
GLF: I can think of three right off the bat. Two came up at the same concert. It was my graduating concert at Rice, when we were leaving Rice, my Master’s concert. And my family came. For six years I was off doing music training and they never heard anything from me. And they came, and listened to a concert where a bunch of student musicians were playing my stuff, and where I played a little piano also. They saw the whole school get excited and it was very successful and the teachers were promising a great future. My father, he’s getting it, and my mom’s proud, and my older brother was there.
My older brother and I did not grow up that close – there’s a five year age difference – some rivalry there but mostly the age distance, being male and female. We didn’t hang out with the same people, we were never in the same grade at the same time. He did do piano lessons for a while, but he doesn’t have the music bug — he has the visual artistic bug, like my mom. When he came to the concert — and he’s not a demonstrative person – his eyes got watery in the concert. My tough, macho, muscular older brother, and I was the kid sister who was always following him around, pestering him, bothering him. I was a crybaby and I would tattle tale… terrible, terrible. So I remember, his eyes got watery, and he got emotional, oh my god, and afterwards he came up to me and he put his hands on my shoulders, and he said, I just wanna say that I’m so proud to be your brother, and I went wah, wah. We’re talking years and years ago, you know, but he could get it, you know.
He described, also, this one moment in the piece – very dissonant, very craggy – nothing Latino in it at all. This was before I was even at that point, I was knocking out stuff just to knock out stuff. It’s a piece that’s really virtuosic, non stop, and dissonant, and there’s this one moment when I’m playing something and then I come back, and I do the same loop again and I come back, and I take one little pivot and it puts me somewhere else. And he got, he could hear it. He does have a very astute ear in many ways, and I remember when he described that I thought, shit, he heard that, and he said that that’s how he thinks about his experiments. He’s a scientist – and he was able to make that creative translation, and gave me the first inkling I had of this very common practice behind the outward discipline, whether it’s music or athletics, just the creative habit – it’s the same. We just have different manifestations of it.
At the same concert my roommate, who was an Econ major, not a musician, was there. She was my main roommate for six years. She came to that concert and said, I could hear you in every single piece. I still remember her saying that, and I think that’s very important. To this day, when people say stuff like that, along the theme of being able to connect, those are the best compliments.
The third one I was thinking of was just a couple of years ago. This really great violinist played that violin-piano piece I was telling you about that translates really well to the flute and piano. Lot of Peruvian overtones. Very deliberately so. Lot of references in the music — there are even photographs that go with it, very beautiful photographs. And I was explaining that and what she said was, you know, this piece works without any of that. She said, and it’s great, but it stands alone, you know, on its own terms. And for me that was a great compliment because again I got past the trappings. You do see artists that try to hide the hollowness in what they do with a lot of dazzle, like the vampire dazzle thing — they try to Sarah Palin their stuff. There’s nothing there – it’s just $150,000 of nice wardrobe, that’s it. And if you take all of that away, and there’s something standing there, and that’s what that violinist was saying. So I think those three are what come to my mind.
In Part 8, Gabriela discusses her current collaborations in the San Francisco Bay Area.