Composer Rachel Laurin
I identify myself in life as an organist and composer. Since 2006, I have been “House Composer” at Wayne Leupold Editions. Being part of “Leupold’s Family” has been for me a huge step forward in my life as a composer!
I think it would be a good idea to tell my “story” as a composer, from the start, before talking about now and tomorrow. Let’s put it like this: my life has been impossible without composing since the day I found a composition teacher in 1980. I was 19 years old. Since then, I have never stopped composing, except for a one-year interruption in 2000, while preparing the Six Vierne Symphonies for a recital series.
Composing began to ring its “alarm” in me as a teenager, when I was about 14 years old. I had been learning the piano with my mother since the age of 9, and she was the organist at the church of the small rural village where I lived (we lived right in front of the church!) and where I was born. After high school studies, I went to Montreal, at the age of seventeen, for formal music studies. At that time, the piano was my first instrument. I was composing “secretly”, when none of my two brothers and four sisters were at home (!) and photocopied my sketches. I remember today the strong feeling I had looking at my own music printed on a piece of paper, giving me the impression of creating valuable music, just because it was printed! I was anticipating dearly the day when (in my dreams) I would compose music to be published!
My first composition lessons began, as I mentioned, at the age of 19, with Raymond Daveluy as a teacher. He was my keyboard harmony teacher at the Conservatoire de Montréal, and soon became my organ and improvisation teacher as well, and finally my music mentor. At that specific time, he was composing his Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, a work I still consider today to be one of the most beautiful pieces in the organ repertoire. It was, for his pupils, a very stimulating and exciting situation; we followed the composition process of this work almost from its start to its completion, also attending the rehearsals and the Premiere!
For composition studies, finding a private teacher, as I fortunately did, was the only path to follow for young musicians desiring to develop their creative skills in a tonal, accessible language. At the Conservatoire, in Universities, in Montreal and in the important cities of Canada, the only choice we had to get accepted in composition classes was to show interest in noisy music, full of “squeeks and rattling sounds”, and music scores filled with signs unrelated to music writing. I was deeply fortunate to meet a teacher such as Raymond Daveluy, active concert organist and composer himself, who was very flexible in his teaching, but very demanding on the clarity of the structural, harmonic and contrapuntal writing. Never, during those seven years of intense composition studies, did he try to influence my language and my style. He started my training with folklore arrangements for men’s choirs, and mixed choirs, with piano accompaniment. We also worked on short solo piano pieces, since the piano was the instrument I played at that time. Once I began to be more acquainted with the organ repertoire, I started composing for that instrument, at first with no pedal obligato. Mr. Daveluy insisted on the principle that a composer should compose “useful” music, meaning to answer performers’ needs and demands of the audience. A music that could offer occasions to be performed often, instead of works of two-hour length, for a 200-musician orchestra!
Once we compose, we have to find performers, which is not the easiest task! At first, I was almost the only performer and advocate of my own music, the “normal rejection reaction” by peers difficult to overcome… I fortunately found good support not only from my teacher, but also from some professional musicians who coincidentally came to know my work as a composer. For example, Donald Sutherland who was invited as a judge for my final organ exam at the Montreal Conservatory, in 1986, learned about my composition studies and talked to me about that aspect of my personality. One year after, he commissioned from me a voice and organ piece to be Premiered at an AGO regional Convention, in Pittsburgh, in 1987. He and his wife Phyllis Bryn-Julson were the first commissioners of my career as a professional composer!
I love composing for every instrument, every ensemble and orchestra. As a concert organist, it’s not always easy avoiding the classification of “organ music composer”! I have had the opportunity to write for a lot of instruments, for choir, solo voice, concertos for solo instruments and great orchestras, string orchestras, chamber music, etc. Nowadays, I write commissions only, because it keeps me fully occupied, and I can make a living with composition, concerts and master-classes. I feel deeply privileged having been able to arrive at this stage, the dream of my life! Commissions offer me the possibility of knowing myself better, as a person and as a creator, and bring me ideas I would not necessarily find otherwise, because the requests and suggestions of each particular commission, by particular performers or institutions, force me to look for particular ideas I would not look for by myself if I were composing only for my own pleasure. This contact with the commissioners is very precious and deeply rewarding to me. I think this is precisely what composers are made for, and this is precisely the kind of work my teacher advised me to do when I started my composition studies: writing for the needs of musicians and music lovers of today, a music that will hopefully bring pleasure and beauty to the world of tomorrow, and a music that will survive my own life and presence in this world, being a testimony of this presence and time for the ages to come.
RACHEL LAURIN, organist, composer and improviser, was born in l96l, in St-Benoît, Province of Quebec, Canada. After her studies at the Montreal Conservatory, she became Associate Organist at St-Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal (1986-2002), and from 2002 to 2006, she was Titular Organist at Notre Dame Cathedral, Ottawa. She now devotes herself to composition, recitals, master classes and lectures.
She has performed organ recitals in major cities in Canada, the United States and Europe, and has made more than twelve recordings on Motette, Musicus, Musicus/Fidelio, Analekta, SRC (Radio-Canada), Riche Lieu, BND, and Raven labels. In 2000 in Montreal, and 2001 in Ottawa, she played the Six Organ Symphonies by Louis Vierne in three recitals. In 2002, at the inauguration of the Edmonton Winspear Centre’s new Létourneau organ, she performed the Premiere of Jacques Hétu’s Concerto for Organ with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mario Bernardi. She presented this same work at the Ottawa National Arts Center in 2008, and in Toronto, at Metropolitan United Church, during the Centennial Convention of the RCCO in June, 2009. She also performed Raymond Daveluy’s Organ Concerto at the RCCO National Convention in Hamilton in 1999.
Rachel Laurin is an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre. She has composed more than a hundred works for various instruments, instrumental ensembles and orchestra. These works have been performed and recorded in major cities in America, Europe, Asia and South Africa. Her compositions are published by Doberman, RCCO Music Publications (Canada), Europart (France), Hinshaw Music and Wayne Leupold Editions (USA) where she has been “House Composer” since 2006. She has won many awards, including the « Prix Conrad-Letendre », the Holtkamp-AGO Composition Award in 2008, and the first Prize in the Marilyn Mason New Organ Music Competition in 2009. She is frequently invited to major organ festivals as organist and composer and was a recitalist at the AGO National Convention in 2008 (St.Paul/Minneapolis, MN), and a commissioned composer for the AGO National Convention in 2010, in Washington, D.C. She also presented the opening gala recital of the RCCO Centenary National Convention in Toronto in 2009.
Rachel Laurin is well known as an improviser, and she has had many opportunities to teach this art in many schools and academies: at the Montreal Conservatory, in Épinal, France, in many RCCO and AGO workshops, in Calgary as a Faculty Member at the Mount Royal Summer Academy, where she was also in charge of a composition class; in the Summer Institute of Church Music (Whitby, ON) and others. In November 2009, and March 2010, she was “Distinguished Guest Artist” at Yale University (New Haven, CT), invited as a lecturer, teacher and concert artist. Her recent activities as a composer included her Fantasy and Fugue on the Genevan Psalm 47, for organ duet, Op.62, Premiered at the Edmonton Winspear Centre, by Majoya duet, in September 2012; compositions and Premieres of works for organ and oboe (St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY), solo organ, and voice and piano, among others. A feature-length program devoted to her was broadcast by American Public Media’s PIPEDREAMS presented by Michael Barone, in October 2012. In July 2013, Ken Cowan commissioned and Premiered her Étude-Caprice, Op.66 (“Beelzebub’s Laugh”), in Austin, TX, at the AGO Region VII Convention. A new recording including some of her solo organ music, her Fantasia for organ and harp, and her Sonata for organ and horn, has been released by Raven label, spring 2013.