On STORIES OUT OF CHERRY STEMS, composer Peter Dayton presents original vocal chamber music with carefully curated texts spanning multiple centuries. Soprano Katie Procell and numerous selected performers navigate a persistent tension between simplicity and complexity delicately threaded throughout the program, providing a solid stage for the texts of notable poets Pablo Neruda, Oscar Wilde, and more.
Today, Peter 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 his studies in Japanese, and how a popular video game soundtrack ignited his interest in composing…
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
While there are a few composers whose work was a foundational part of my childhood (John Williams: Star Wars, Pyotr Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker), the first composer whose work I heard and then began reaching out on my own to explore more of was video game composer Nobuo Uematsu, who is something like the John Williams of video game music. With his enormous output on the incredibly significant Final Fantasy video game series, he really shaped the video game music paradigm for more than a decade. I first heard the soundtrack to Final Fantasy X at a friend’s house (near the end of Uematsu’s involvement with the series) and was immediately enchanted. With the help of some new file-sharing systems like Napster, Grokster, and other platforms that are now considered piracy, I devoured Uematsu’s past final fantasy soundtrack work (especially the solo piano arrangements) and it was really his music that prompted my interest in composing music myself.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I love birds! My husband got us a bird feeder sometime in the winter of 2021 and I have loved watching and feeding the dozens and dozens of birds that come to my 16th floor balcony! I like to think that I’m providing a (mostly) safe haven for them, especially for ones that have been visibly injured and just need a place to recuperate. Birdseed isn’t cheap, though, not at the rate these feathered friends gobble it up! With the encouragement of my husband (who is a marvelous visual artist, you should look up his art: www.dougjohnsonart.com), I’ve begun to make a series of illustrations inspired by the many finches and mourning doves that come visit me daily. I call the cheerful round tear-drop birds I’ve created my “Hoodleoos” and I’ve begun sharing them with the internet through a twitter account: www.twitter.com/hoodleoos
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’ll double-dip on this answer and say either 1. Hong Kong, or 2. Japan. Hong Kong: I spent a brief amount of time in Hong Kong in 2019 and met the brilliant soprano Jessica Ng during my time there; Jessica prompted my Lost Daughter song cycle, featured on the album. I’m sure we could come up with a great project to collaborate on while I could continue to explore that beautiful place. Japan: Japanese music, traditional, classical, pop, video game music, has always been a passion of mine, and it would be wonderful to spend some time over there to continue to learn more, especially about traditional Japanese instruments. If you haven’t heard Etenraku (“heaven music”) which is played at some important ceremonies, you should really give it a listen, it’s magnificent! During the pre-vaccine era of our current pandemic, I also began picking up Japanese through DuoLingo. I just recently passed 700 days of studying, so I would love to have some immersive experiences to really push my language learning. Also, in either case, I love Southeast Asian cuisine, so while the question asked about creative time, you’ve got to eat to fuel that creativity, right?!
If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?
I’ll answer this somewhat self-effacingly that I don’t really consider that I have expertise performing piano, even though that is my primary performance instrument. As a largely self-taught pianist and not a very good practicer, my skill level has been somewhat capped. I would love to have the ability to play some of the really magnificent, difficult repertoire that’s out there: Karol Szymanowski’s piano sonatas, the Sergei Rachmaninoff 2nd and 4th piano concertos, Elliott Carter’s piano sonata, and some more difficult and intricate jazz stylings. Time is limited and I’ve made my peace with the amount of time I can reasonably spend doing any one thing, but having the skill level I do have on the piano, I can clearly see the rung of the ladder that’s out of reach unless I invest the time into getting some of the more regimented fundamentals of pianism drilled in.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
There are so many — I know it sounds like a cop-out to say “I love my children equally,” but there are moments in each piece that I would say are my favorite moments. Having to select one, I would say Movement IX of Desiderata. Katie’s performance of the soaring line I wrote for her, singing “you are a child of the universe” is breathtaking. In an interview that I sat for with Katie, she also pinpointed that moment as a favorite.
What does this album mean to you personally?
It means so very much to me! It is a chance to celebrate Katie Procell’s incredible artistry, in gratitude for her friendship and dedication to my work. Even as the album looks forward in providing a platform for Katie’s musical gifts, hopefully springboarding her into new opportunities, it is also redeeming the silence of the last 2 years in recording some of the most ambitious works I composed in the pre-vaccine era of the COVID-19 pandemic.