Lupita Diaz Donato on Becoming Herself Through Music
When did you first become interested in music composition?
I have very fond memories from my childhood involving my love and passion for music. I still enjoy reminiscing about the moments that I would play my upright piano for hours on end. [As a child], I did not have any exposure to traditional piano lessons, but I did not let that stop my curiosity. Rather, I allowed myself to explore and develop my youthful ears to the sounds I was creating. I remember creating melodic lines that had their own stories, emotions, and persona, but at that point in my life, I did not yet have an understanding of what music composition involved. I did not reconnect with music until high school, when I began to take a more formal and academic approach to music. It was at that moment, and certain events later in my life that pointed me towards music composition. I knew this was my passion and I sought to pursue it as my vocation.
What made you choose Columbia College Chicago?
I chose Columbia College Chicago because of its diversity of arts in academia. [I believe that] to have a well-rounded arts education, you need to experience different studies in the arts. Columbia College Chicago offers a diversity of studies and gives its students the opportunity to take courses across different disciplines as well as participate in collaborations. I personally enjoy collaborations because you are able to see and understand different mediums of art through various perspectives. For example, last semester I worked on a collaboration with dancers to create a violin concerto relating to [the theme] of health. It was interesting working with the dancers because we shared our expertise and knowledge from our disciplines to produce a story where we created a musical and dance piece.
Have you had any mentors here who have helped you on your path?
Yes, Columbia College Chicago has many amazing mentors! Professor Ilya Levinson’s passion for teaching is something that I always admire. He has shared so many compositional tricks and techniques for orchestration, instrumental works, etc. and overall has given wonderful advice. All at the same time, [he respects me] and allow[s] me to grow my own compositional style. Additionally, the Chair of the Music Department, Sebastian Huydts, has always presented me with his support and guidance through any projects that I brought forth to him, for example composition projects in the New Music Ensemble. Professor Huydts’ positivity and willingness to help with anything is very comforting to have as an undergraduate. Furthermore, composition lessons with Professor Kenn Kumpf have also allowed me to understand composition through different perspectives and become familiar with modern compositional styles and analysis. During my Studio Composition course, I was able to work one-on-one with very gifted composers in the film/video game industry, including Joel Goodman, Chance Thomas, Michael McCuistion, Kristopher Carter and Lolita Ritmanis. I am humbled for all the opportunities and lessons granted to me during my time at Columbia College Chicago.
What is the biggest challenge of studying music composition and how have you overcome it?
I am very self-critical of my work and I believe this is a very common challenge for many composers. Oftentimes, I felt as if one of my compositions is “incomplete” and I would spend hours trying to finalize it and make it perfect. You create until you believe your composition is ready, but knowing when you have arrived at that moment is often difficult. There are also the challenges of meeting deadlines and rushing creativity. Lastly, there is also a challenge in accepting that you will not always be preparing something that you feel connected to. For some of these projects, I was advised to find something you love about the project in order to create your own motivation and get the job done!
Have you had any career experiences you’d like to discuss?
Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in a composition festival in Pavia, Italy. Besides eating delicious pizza every day, my favorite moment about this experience was the conversations I had with other composers from around the world. I was also able to receive master classes from Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho.
In addition to my study abroad experience, through Columbia College Chicago, I was given the opportunity to write a Pierrot composition for Ensemble Concept/21, which is located in South Bend, Indiana. Lastly, I have also had valuable career experiences because for my solo compositions, I have worked closely with well-known Chicago contemporary musicians and received advice on writing for their instruments.
What is your career goal at this time?
My goal at this time is to learn as much as I can and work hard during my last year at Columbia College Chicago, including finding new projects and collaborations to continue developing my composition skills.