Meredith Monk

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2012
Dance, Multidisciplinary Performance

New York, NY

Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, director, choreographer, and filmmaker, as well as founder of The House (1968) and Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble (1978). A pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance,” Monk creates vocal, music-theater, symphonic works, and operas that have been commissioned by Michael Tilson Thomas/New World Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Kronos Quartet, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, among others. Her music can be heard in films by such directors as Jean-Luc Godard and the Coen Brothers, and has been presented by Lincoln Center Festival, Houston Grand Opera, London’s Barbican Centre, and at major venues in countries from Brazil to Syria. Her multitude of honors include a MacArthur Fellowship (1995), a Creative Capital Award (2000), a USA Fellowship (2006), a Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts (2011), an induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006), and Musical America’s Composer of the Year (2012).

  • Photo credit: Cameron Wittig Courtesy: Walker Art Center
    Songs of Ascension (2008)
  • Songs of Ascension at Ann Hamilton’s Tower, 2008
  • Songs of Ascension (2008)
  • impermanence (2006)
  • Photo Credit: Jesse Frohman

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

I always think of each work as a world that already exists in another dimension. My job is to find out what the principles of that world are and to help bring the piece to life. In moments of doubt I always say to it: “please make yourself known.”

The origin of each piece is different. Sometimes, something that I have read inspires me; sometimes, I’ll be walking down the street and a melody comes into my mind; other times, an idea will just pop up at an odd moment. The discipline of daily work creates a context for these impulses.

What excites me is the process of discovery, of getting past the initial period of being in the dark with only a hunch to go on. I’ve learned to tolerate the discomfort and fear of hanging out in the unknown. I try to remember to take it step by step and remain playful. Then, suddenly interest and curiosity take over and the fear is gone. Little by little, the piece becomes itself. The miracle of this process is what keeps me going.