Mariel Cruz (Vice) writes about Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform last year at a Bard College fundraiser for post-Hurricane María relief and I was glad to run across this article on her work. Below are excerpts of an interview with the musician.
In addition to composing, recording, and touring with her electronic indie rock band, Balún, and writing film scores, Negrón co-founded Acopladitos, a music program for children, and is currently a teaching artist at New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program at Lincoln Center. The San Juan native is also the composer-in-residence for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season, and, later this year, she’ll premiere Chimera, an original opera about drag queens featuring Alexis Michelle from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
We spoke to Negrón about seeing music through children’s eyes, creating the illusion of sound, and her thoughts on Puerto Rico one year after Hurricane Maria. [. . .]
On silencing the noise around you
As I continued to evolve and get comfortable as a composer, I also had to find the courage to write the music I wanted to write. Some people would say to me, “Oh, you’re Puerto Rican, but I don’t hear that in your music.” For others, my compositions were too crazy. The main challenge was to silence all those voices, because what I do is really just for me. It’s impossible to create anything with all that noise around you.
On Chimera, Negrón’s drag opera
I grew up in the 80s surrounded by drag queens. They were a big part of my childhood, and a big inspiration. A lot of the self-confidence I had as a kid came from spending so much time with drag queens. Chimera is very much about the complexity of identity and paying tribute to my childhood. It’s also about illusion. When thinking about an opera, what is the main element? Voice. In Chimera I’m experimenting with what happens if you take the voice out of the equation—sometimes the queens will be singing live, sometimes the voices will be pre-recorded. The point is to care less about that, and be more engaged with the actual character. You’re given the illusion of a singer, but it’s much more about the performance.
On Puerto Rico one year after Hurricane Maria
Every time I’m in Puerto Rico, I see a different part of the island—or the same part of the island in a different way. There’s still a lot of anger about the impotence of the government, but now, for me, it’s more about admiring the resilience of the people here. I’m in awe of how people are moving back [to the island] and launching new initiatives. Young people in Puerto Rico are doing so much to rebuild and get the island back on its feet—not only to [rebuild it to] where it was [before the hurricane], but to find other, more sustainable options to avoid last year’s level of devastation if another hurricane that powerful hits. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s really great to see people thinking ahead.
For full interview, see https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/pa8exg/the-composer-who-sees-music-before-she-hears-it