Sherry Grant is a classical musician originally from Taiwan, now living in New Zealand. She is a cellist, a solo and collaborative pianist, and a poet. In 2019, she organized and performed in 12 concerts, 10 of which were with principal violists from the USA and New Zealand. Although she began writing poetry only in June 2020, she has already written over 4000 poems in various forms, with many accepted for publication worldwide. Her 4th festival, the International KM100NZ Festival will take place online on 17th-19th November 2023 (NZ time) to celebrate the centenary of NZ writer Katherine Mansfield. In this interview, we will get to know more about Sherry and her various music projects.
Hi, Sherry! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Taiwan and started my music training at the age of three. As a teenager, I immigrated to NZ with my parents and continued my studies as a cellist at Auckland University and later on at the Royal Northern College of Music in the UK. I also have a bachelor of science degree and a teaching diploma from Auckland University. Although I trained as a cellist, nowadays, I tour the world mostly as a concert pianist because it’s so much easier to travel without my cello. As a pianist, I have been mostly self-taught because I love it.
At the end of the first NZ Covid lockdown in June 2020, I started writing poetry — so far, I have written over 4000 poems, published two poetry books ‘Bat Girl’ and ‘Being Katherine’, edited several poetry journals with Zoe (my youngest child of four), run regular international poetry workshops and organised/judged several haiku competitions. I always try to combine music, poetry, and arts during my themed recitals. I think combining different art forms is the key to the next Golden Age.
100 Years Journey 27 Oct 2019 Final Viola Recital 2, Part 1 of 2 (Clarke/Hindemith)
You have a concert series called “Catch 23,” presenting works written by 23 NZ composers. Additionally, the program is dedicated to Katherine Mansfield, the renowned New Zealand short story writer. What inspired you to come up with this concert idea?
I was keen to curate 23 solo piano works by 23 NZ composers for Katherine Mansfield’s centenary in as many cities as I could from 2023 onwards. While I was looking for the piano scores, email correspondence with SOUNZ librarian Jonathan inspired the name Catch23 because I thought KM’s personal life was such a mess and she had been in so many impossible Catch-22 situations, and it’s been a hundred years since she passed away in 1923, I’d call my concert series Catch23, and in Chinese that’s 撞見23. Catch23 is a multimedia concert where, on a projected screen, I have 23 artworks by mostly NZ artists and 23 of my own published haiku and other short-form poems to match each piano piece. My audience loves this format!
You have shared the Catch23 series with audiences in Asia and NZ this year. Would you be bringing it to other parts of the world soon?
Next year I am planning to collaborate with Dutch violist Emlyn Stam in performing the world premiere of VioLatino, 10 brand new viola/piano works by 10 expat South American composers at the 49th International Viola Congress in Brazil. Afterwards, we will tour a few more countries nearby and probably make a recording. I hope to also bring Catch23 series along to South America as well as other countries, but it takes time to organize. Finding adequate funding for my projects is always a challenge. I love coming up with crazy music and poetry project ideas and usually, just go ahead and do them.
I believe I am starting to reach more international audiences as in one of my online concerts performing 40 pieces by my favourite composer Alexander Scriabin, I had 15.4K people attending and listening online. Little 9-year-old Zoe and I set our goal to inspire and empower at least a billion people around the world with what we do… Zoe performs concerts with me (the other three kids join in too sometimes) and has been my assistant while concert touring in NZ. We attend interviews together most of the time, so far in 5 countries.
Can you also tell us about your Child of the Sun project? Where did the name come from?
I am very happy to have invited 12 NZ composers to write new songs, setting Katherine Mansfield’s poetry to music in 2023. From start to end, this project took less than 3 months — I believe it’s unique and monumental. After much discussion with NZ composer Professor Anthony Ritchie, head of the School of Performing Arts at Otago University, we settled on “Child of the Sun” as the title because those were some of the last words Katherine Mansfield wrote in her journal, and we also want to bring light and hope to the world through music and poetry. Mezzo soprano Tessa Romano and I performed the world premiere at Marama Hall in Otago University, Dunedin, in the South Island of NZ, with four Otago composers in attendance. Tessa and I plan to tour with this programme later around NZ, and if invited, we will bring it overseas too. All these KM-related concerts will be streamed at the International KM100NZ Festival which will take place online from 17-19 November 2023.
You just finished your “Girl Power” concert, curating music written by 23 female composers from the turn of the 20th century. Again, what was the inspiration? Was it challenging to find the music and their biographical information?
Dora Pejačević’s Erinnerung, Op.24 and Alexander Scriabin’s Prelude Op.15 No.4
I’ve wanted to perform a piano recital of works by all female composers. What better excuse to celebrate Girl Power with celebrating female NZ writer Katherine Mansfield (who was also a cellist before turning to focus on writing) in mind? I chose female composers born in the 1800s and died in the 1900s, just like Mansfield. I feel this concert has some kind of historical significance, but I am sure there are so many more amazing female composers out there to be discovered! Like many of my previous projects, a music festival is just the start.
In your biography, it said you recently turned a poet. While you enjoy writing poems inspired by arts and music, does a poem inspire you in interpreting a piece of music?
Since the start of my poetry writing journey, I have been learning different poetry forms as I go, now at three and a half years later, some newcomers might regard me as more of a seasoned and well-published haiku poet (and a big promoter of rengay, a collaborative linked haiku form), there is always more to learn. As I’ve always said in interviews, through keen observation and self-reflection, haiku is a way of living, as one gets closer to nature and deeper into one’s own heart. I enjoy writing longer rhymed poems too, as that’s another way to express myself. My life is now even more colourful, and I love the warm and welcoming haiku community. My poem “Avec Amour” has been set to music for spoken poet, viola d’amore, and piano by NZ composer David Hamilton and 6 of my haiku have been set to music for viola/piano by Italian composer Massimiliano Messieri… in case you haven’t guessed, my favourite instrument is actually the viola!
Besides your busy performing schedule, you host a YouTube channel where you share your interviews with musicians and scholars. Do you enjoy interviewing people? (I enjoy it too much! I always learn many things from the interviewees, and I enjoy the friendship through the interview)
When I was little, I used to be super shy, but now I am the complete opposite! I love making friends both online and in real life — until 2021 when I started interviewing composer friends (my second ever interview was with 93-year-old American composer Samuel Adler, author of The Study of Orchestration and pupil of both Hindemith and Copland); I never imagined I would be eloquent or brave enough to interview other musicians or scholars. Little Zoe is in charge of interviewing haiku poets and journal editors and helps out at my various festivals. I have been told a few times that I ask very good questions in my interviews. I feel quite proud of this transformation and self-improvement. I learn a lot in these interviews, and I am always looking forward to being interviewed or interviewing interesting people of any profession… As for my YouTube channel, I am yet to organise and upload more past concerts and recordings, as you can see, mostly with violists… The upcoming International KM100NZ Festival is the 4th festival I’ve organised since 2019, it will be held on Zoom, and I will reveal the theme for my 2024 double festival at the 2023 online festival. I am also trying to make New Zealand the epicentre of cultural happenings.
To learn more about Sherry Grant, please visit her website and her YouTube channel, where you can find her interviews, her recorded and upcoming performances, and her projects and poetry. She will curate another all-Scriabin piano works concert online on her birthday in late November.
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