In conversation with Laurence Jobidon

Quebecois composer Laurence Jobidon, Graham Sommer Competition Finalist, talks about the indescribable, the unexpected, and how shaking things up can lead to beautiful new things in our Q & A.

Earliest musical memory?    

It’s very hard for me to pinpoint a specific memory. Everyone played an instrument in the household I grew up in, so music quickly became synonymous with family time and sharing. Beyond that, some of my most vivid memories of music are hearing — and experiencing — pieces that unexpectedly opened up a new understanding of what music could be. For instance, many years ago there was a broadcast of the concert by Oliver Jones and Oscar Peterson on national television. They had this advertisement for the concert with maybe 30 seconds of music but it was “woooow, okay, this is so wonderful and so different from anything I know!” So, I asked my parents to videotape the concert. Later on, I had the same very intense experience when listening to a Schoenberg opera and hearing Ligeti’s organ music for the first time, and so on. Those will always be memories I cherish.  

What are the themes that inspire you most in your music?     

I think that in order to complete any work of art you have to find a strong impetus and sort of trick your mind into thinking that there is a real need for you to write a piece. That impetus is very hard to describe, since it isn’t always something that belongs to the realm of language, and I think that defining it clearly would limit its possibilities. In the last few years, I have been struck by how music is always present in our social rituals to mark and celebrate various occasions (you would have thought that as an organist I should have realized this sooner!). So, while criticism can be a very potent catalyst for music, and has certainly been for the last few decades, I realize more and more that whenever I start writing a piece, I tend to ask myself "what do I want to add to the world?", "what story or aspect of human experience should be celebrated?", and "where should we go as individuals or as a society in order to grow?". Having a real affinity for symbolism, I generally translate those thoughts into a symbol, an image, or a metaphor that becomes a starting point for the work.  

Is there a moment that brought you to now, being a composer — one that changed your course or confirmed it?   

My encounter with Andrew MacDonald around 2015 was definitely a game changer in that regard. In all honesty, composition has never been a carefully laid out plan for me. Although I have been exposed to composition since my teen years (meeting and corresponding with composers for performance intentions and so forth), I think that, in a way, I had assumed you couldn’t become a composer — you had to have been born with it. So, even though I took composition and writing classes at the Conservatoire, I was still focused on performance. Then, in 2014, I wrote a piece and thought “well, why not program it?!" While I was playing my run-through for Pamela Gill Eby, my organ teacher at the time, she immediately thought that I should meet Andrew (a brilliant Canadian composer) so that he could give me one composition lesson. Obviously, that one lesson turned into so many more! About six months in, it was very clear that composition was bringing me back to an unburdened passion for music I hadn’t felt for so long. I decided then, rather simply, that I would spend more time composing and less time performing. In a short amount of time, various opportunities arose that confirmed this path for me. 

How would you describe your compositional style?  

This question is very hard to answer, since it is so subjective. But, in short, I like groovy rhythms, I love to write complex chords and to lay out atmospheres that bring us somewhere else, and I often gravitate towards melody or melodic content of some sort.  

If you had a mantra/philosophy/phrase for where you are right now, what would it be?  

I decided that 2021 was the year to get out of my comfort zone and experiment! I tend to oscillate between moments where I am experimenting with new concepts, forms, mediums or ideas and moments where, after a while, I try to figure out which ideas I want to assimilate or integrate into my compositional language. Quite arbitrarily, I decided 2021 was a time for experimentation!  

What do you find the most rewarding about composing? What’s the toughest?   

I guess that anyone who ends up composing music has had vivid personal experiences that resonate strongly in this medium. As such, the most satisfying thing is the feeling that the public and the performers resonate with what you wrote, even though they might not be able to tell you exactly why. And then, of course, there is always a special feeling whenever a piece comes to life. I have to say, I am not sure the performers are fully aware of the gift they are giving to composers whenever they tackle a score. I am certain that I will never get tired of this, or take it for granted. As for the toughest aspect of composition, apart from the gruesome notation work, for me it is the sense of great vulnerability that comes with the creation of any work. It is as if you gave the key to part of your soul and sometimes that can be dizzying.  

What would be excited to see or hear more of in the field of composition?   

More of everything! No, seriously, I think one of the great beauties (and complexities) of today’s compositional field is the vast diversity of what is being created. I think the real issue is making contemporary Canadian music more widely available to the public in any type of venue, and daring to be vocal about our passion for it.    

What would you like the audience to walk away with after hearing your piece in the finals?   

I think explaining my process with this work will clarify this, so... bear with me! There were two main phases in the composition of this piece, the first phase being before the pandemic and the second one during it. At first, I had started to think about what theme I wanted to explore, and the idea of transparency or glass gradually imposed itself. I felt that this material was deeply symbolic in many regards. On one hand, glass took over as one of the favorite materials in contemporary architecture as the line between our private and public lives became increasingly blurry. In another line of thought, I was deeply transported by this image where art and love or art alone transformed our skin into a tainted glass that allows light into our soul. Then, the pandemic hit, and, for a few days, I was (like many others, probably) submerged by this sense of absurdity. That overpowering feeling propelled a new series of thoughts, and I came to ask myself what was the “antidote”, if you will, to this state of being. Gradually, it became clear that curiosity, if cultivated enough, could replace that sluggishness. That is when this piece became Hublots (Porthole), as I felt it genuinely encompassed all of those ideas. Indeed, this word has the very rare quality of evoking, at the same time, two very opposite states: the feeling of being in an enclosed space and the vastness of the world. This piece is thus an invitation to look out, with curiosity, and experiment with this landscape as well as a gentle reminder that oftentimes we don’t need much more than a window in order to achieve that.  

Any advice to future composers out there?   

I think the main thing is to write music you feel connected to, and that is an ongoing process. In my case, I realized that the limitations of my earlier works came from a series of prejudices I had about what contemporary music should or shouldn’t be, aesthetically speaking. For me, finding a mentor and building constructive and genuine relationships with other artists, performers, and composers, has helped to progressively shatter those preconceptions, and have been great tools for growth.  

What would winning the Graham Sommer Competition enable you to do?   

Fair question! Honestly, it is always very hard to predict the impact of any given opportunity on one’s path. I do hope this competition will allow me to meet with other great emerging Canadian composers, to learn, and to have great conversations with the musicians and the public. I am sincerely grateful for being a finalist in this competition. 

Sneak a preview of Laurence's entry in the GSC finals, played by the Graham Sommer Trio:

Audio icon Laurence Jobidon | Hublots

Back to top