Seattle-based composer Janice Giteck has a long list of music accomplishments. Not only is she an award-winning composer and a beloved professor, but she is also a historian, an ethnomusicologist, an anthropologist, and an activist.
“As an artist, I strive to articulate my experiences of the world in which I live,” Giteck said. “My work challenges the paradigm of hierarchy and embraces a spirit of transformation through relationship. I make music, knowing that it can be a source of profound connection between people.”
Next week, Seattle celebrates the myriad accomplishments of this exceptional composer with a tribute concert at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. We’ll get to those details later—but first, here’s a bit more about the woman of the hour:
Though originally from New York, Giteck has firmly rooted herself in the music and art of the Pacific Northwest. Whether composing for the concert hall or writing music for dance, theater, film, or multimedia performances, Giteck has always been inspired by cultural diversity and social issues both within and beyond the Pacific Northwest community. Her compositions combine elements of the Western classical tradition with a unique blend of Buddhist, Hasidic, Javanese, and African influences.
“My style is very pitch oriented, polytonal/modal, extremely melodic, rhythmic, with specific textures or qualities of sound—very frontal, and a generous amount of silence,” Giteck described. “I often juxtapose specifically notated sounds with instructions for improvisation. The elasticity of this format allows the music to have clear direction compositionally, and also to ‘breathe’ with a sense of play and spontaneity.”
Her compositions are deeply spiritual, thoughtful, reflective—ritualistic, even. Her music has a way of filling the entire space and immersing the audience in its tremendous emotional energy.
“My music is often combined with text and ethno-poetic materials of ritual,” Giteck said. “The pieces serve as dramatic microcosms, rich juxtapositions of different aspects of humanness, intensely emotional, both primal and sophisticated. There is also space for contemplation.”
Giteck began her multifaceted compositional studies with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, and on a French government grant, attended the Paris Conservatory as a student of Olivier Messiaen (yes, the Olivier Messaien). She went on to study West African percussion with Obo Addy, and Javanese Gamelan with Daniel Schmidt, fueling her interest in non-Western musical idioms.
“Musically, my style comes from a personal hybrid culture: Euro-American concert music, Eastern European Jewish music (my great, great grandfather and his father played klezmer for the last Russian czar), Native American chant, African drumming, and Indonesian gamelan,” Giteck described.
Fascinated by the relationship between music and healing, Giteck went on to study psychology, resulting in a master’s degree from Antioch University in Seattle, followed by work as a music specialist at Seattle Mental Health Institute. Currently a professor at Cornish College of the Arts, Giteck teaches a variety of music courses, including classes focused on how artists respond to their social environments.
Most recently, as composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony from 2013-2015, Giteck co-created the “Potlatch Symphony” with the orchestra and members of several regional Native tribes. The piece has had three performances, including a premiere to a capacity audience at Benaroya Hall.
This Tuesday, Cornish alumni, faculty, students, and friends are gathering to honor the long and dedicated compositional career of Giteck with a concert of her music performed by long-time friends and former students. The concert features performances and presentations by long-time “Janice-collaborators” Paul Taub, Roger Nelson, Matt Kocmieroski, Laura DeLuca, Walter Gray, and Lucas Werdal.
“In my music I want to give energy, to fuel, rather than exhaust the listener with heady, difficult to understand aggregates of sound,” Giteck said. “I aim to dance with a kind of ‘uranium’ powerful enough to lure the soul, to surrender to ‘what is’. I hear music as a portal, a physical entry into the psyche, where it can engage a deep, inner-life channel.”
The Janice Giteck tribute concert is on Tuesday, April 12 at 8 p.m. at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall on Capitol Hill. For more information, please visit this link.