Laura Sgroi - Contemporary Canadian Composer
Laura Sgroi (Silberberg) took some time to chat with me about her work, inspirations and passions as a composer. We started by discussing the early roots of her passion for music. Her parents bought her a toy piano at the age of three. She was able to play by ear any music she heard and she soon after began making up melodies and songs of her own. Her parents enrolled her in music classes and her teachers discovered that she had perfect pitch. She continues, “I went to Yamaha Music School. They encouraged learning by ear so I did a lot of composing and improvising on the piano and the Electone1. The Electone introduced me to the idea of composing for different instruments other than the piano.”
Laura always attended schools with strong arts programs including Claude Watson School for the Arts and Earl Haig Secondary School. She was a competitive dancer as a child and also did some acting. She also was part of an advanced program for young musicians at the Royal Conservatory of music. Laura says, “I am happy to now teach the composition class at the Taylor Academy of the Royal Conservatory of Music. It’s fantastic because when I was a part of the program there were no group composition classes offered.” After high school, Laura spent ten years at the University of Toronto taking her B.Mus, M.Mus and D.M.A in music composition and graduated three years ago.
Electronic music is one of Laura’s passions. She explains, “I was a competitive dancer, and growing up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Euro dance music was very popular. It is what the dance studio would play during our warm up and the music they would use for choreography. I always enjoyed it! Playing the Electone was my first experience composing electronic music. The instrument allowed me to program my own sounds and beats.”
Laura’s interest in DJ-ing started while she was at university. She says, “I was able to collaborate with Gabriel Prokofiev2 when he hosted on one of his Nonclassical nights in Toronto at the Canadian Music Centre. I had the opportunity to DJ with him and to improvise on the piano while he DJ-ed. I essentially taught myself to DJ for the gig as I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It’s a great tool to have as a composer. I’m able to showcase my music when I don’t have access to an orchestra or live performers.”
She takes an intuitive approach to her composition. Laura says, “I think it stems from starting to improvise at a young age. I’ll often start a piece without knowing what it’s going to be. I’ll write through from the beginning to the end and then go back and make connections. I find that’s how I create my best music. I believe that music should be self-explanatory and any verbal explanation of the compositional process should be an afterthought.”
Creating music that’s accessible to a wide variety of audiences is important for Laura. She elaborates, “Bringing contemporary classical music to the younger generations is very important for me. I take current trends in mainstream music and combine them with contemporary classical music. In my music, I’ll draw on electronic and popular genres and I’ll apply them to the structure and continuity of traditional art music.”
In Laura’s view, Canada has a large number of talented young composers of contemporary classical music. However, she adds, “I wish the music could reach a more diverse audience. In order to do that, we really need to connect with the here and now, especially with the younger generation.”
The role of technology in spreading music is something else that she emphasizes. Laura says, “Technology has allowed for all kinds of music to be accessible to the world. As composers and musicians we can be inspired by and borrow from all types of music.”
In the future, Laura wants to collaborate with a wide variety of different artists. She explains, “I did a collaboration recently with DJ Skratch Bastid and the Afiara Quartet. I’d love to do more collaborations like that so that my music can reach different audiences. I just recently finished a string quartet that’s very much inspired by dance music and rhythms. I’m thinking about what I can do to bring it to the next level. I’m always thinking about how I can make what I do just a little bit more interesting.”
Music is something for which she doesn’t have to seek inspiration. Laura says, “I can’t escape music, it’s always in my head. I’ll be at the gym for example and I’ll think of a tune, so I’ll quickly and secretly hum it into my Iphone voice note recorder. My brain just creates rhythm and music out of everything. Even hearing the noises my dryer makes will become a beat in my head. Music has always been such a part of who I am and what I do.”
She continues, “I have very diverse musical interests. For example, I love music from the Middle Ages but I also love minimalism. I feel that the two of them connect in some way. I’m always listening to new music and always being inspired by what I hear.”
1. The Electone is an electronic organ that was made by the Yamaha company.
2. Gabriel Prokofiev is the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev and a DJ and electronic music composer and producer.