Composer Monica Houghton has a musical and academic resume that is made even more exceptional by her experiences as a true citizen of the world. Her travels around the globe have led her to incorporate non-Western instruments and musical practices into several of her compositions as well as to find inspiration trekking through Peru, or by exploring the remote and desolate areas of the American West.

Today, Monica is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to hear about Monica’s backpacking adventures…

Who was your first favorite artist growing up?

My parents sent me for piano lessons at the age of six, but I wasn’t crazy about having to practice until about age ten when my teacher assigned me one of J. S. Bach’s Little Preludes and Fugues. Suddenly, the lights went on! The popular music of the late 1960’s also inspired me. I learned to play guitar by ear and began to imitate many of the songs created by such luminaries as Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a composer?

As a kid I enjoyed many artistic pursuits, but most of all I was interested in language. I started writing poems at about age thirteen and read a lot of books, especially philosophy and the classics. I was interested in finding “the meaning of life.” It was quite awhile before I settled into a career as a composer, but once I discovered I had a knack for composing music, that was it!

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I enjoy spending time in the wilderness. Backpacking in the high Sierras is one of my favorite things to do. I find inspiration in the desert as well, the emptiness fills me with ambition.

What was your favorite musical moment on the album?

There are quite a few special moments, but I am thinking of one in particular. It comes near the end of Sky Signs, when the saxophone is softly trilling in a calm space created by the piano.

Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose than the others?

Composing for string quartet presents special challenges, especially so for someone who never learned to play any of those wonderful bowed instruments. I have to use my imagination even more than usual in this genre. In addition to studying scores, I like to attend live performances. Being an outsider I can focus on what really moves me.

What does this album mean to you personally?

I am so happy to be able to share the incredible artistry of the performers featured on this album with a wider audience, and I hope that people will find pleasure in listening to my compositions.


OF TIME & PLACE now available through Navona Records for streaming or purchase. Click here to explore the new album.