Artist Spotlight: Nicole Chamberlain

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I am finishing up a flute choir piece commissioned by Dan Parasky for the Mid-Atlantic High School Honors Flute Choir that he will conduct at the Mid-Atlanic Convention in Reston, Virginia in March. I am also working on a concert band piece which is commissioned by Hopewell Middle School Symphonic Band directed by Audrey Murphy. The group will premiere the piece at the Georgia Music Educators Association In-Service Conference in Athens, Ga in January. There's a few more flute projects in the pipeline though!

How do you structure your days with the many facets that make up Nicole?

I structure my days depending on what gigs I've booked and what deadlines I need to meet for the week. This is a one person show, and I've had to be flexible. One day does not look like the other.

Typically, I drag myself out of bed as my husband is leaving for his email administrator job at 7:15am. I make myself and my two dogs breakfast and check my email. We then go for a good long walk so they will leave me alone long enough for me to get my work done and I will think about what I might tackle for the day. Typically, I'm sitting in my desk chair by 9:15 responding to emails and getting to work. Sometimes, I will have to send out an order of sheet music to a retailer or update the website. It just depends on what arrives in my inbox. On a day where I don't have to go to a school to teach a sectional, I can get down to work composing. I will usually write for an hour or two then break for lunch. Afterwards, I will usually continue composing and also practice flute until my first student comes knocking on my door for the first lesson of the day, usually around 4-4:30pm.  My husband usually gets home around 5pm or later depending on his workload.  I usually teach until 8pm and then I try to knock off for the night to have some quality hubs and pups time.

I do one last check of the email, and then my phone goes on "Do Not Disturb" at 9pm. Being your own boss means its important to set boundaries. There can't possibly be a flute or composing emergency that can't wait until 9am the next morning.

This is typically my schedule Monday through Friday. Mondays and Fridays tend to be more administrative days where I do typing or collaborations on other projects, but again that's all flexible depending on what comes through the inbox. I try to keep Friday and Sundays as my days off (I teach Saturdays from 10am-2pm). But sometimes, I'll pick up a Friday or Saturday gig and I might rearrange my schedule a bit if I can to find a couple of hours of goofing off time.

Its hard for me to turn off. I enjoy what I do, and I usually say to myself "I'll just do this one thing" and then hours later I'll find myself still working. Thank goodness, my husband keeps sane hours or I would never know when to clock out.

Do you seek your commissions or do they come to you?

I usually don't seek out commissions. If I don't have a commission to work on, I might do a competition or work on my own projects. I have a small group of friends I collaborate with often, and I might work with them as well if things are slow. For the past year or two, the commissions have been showing up in my inbox. This year has certainly had the most work for me in that department. Most have been from friends, but there's been a few strangers as well which is new. Who knows how long this amount of work will come pouring in, so I'm doing the best I can to have fun with it all!

I noticed your #100 days of composing.  How did that go for you?  Do you recommend others do similarly?

My friend and constant collaborator flutist Dr. Mary Matthews (@marymatthews_flutist) did #100DaysofPractice on Instagram when she made her big push for auditions this past winter. I even made it on one of her videos while I was visiting her and she was performing my composition Asphyxiaon some concerts we were doing together in Colorado. She felt like she was making some killer progress on preparing all of concert and audition pieces though the process. I laughed and thought how boring it would be for me to do #100DaysOfComposing. It would be just me staring at a blank screen looking defeated, and maybe grunting is disappointment.

When I returned from my trip with Mary, I realized I had an overwhelming amount of work to do. I always make deadlines. I was worried for the first time, I might not make it. So, I felt maybe #100DaysOfComposing would help push me into being productive and keep the eye on the prize.

The hardest part for me is getting me to sit down and get started. Once I get started, I usually can plug away without noticing the time. And that's exactly what #100DaysOfComposing made me do. I had an incredibly productive spring and summer of composing and made all my deadlines. And it was consistent work. If you are consistently composing, you never lose your place and have to get back to what you were thinking from the day before. Its almost like you never cool down. You're always ready. On the other hand, there were days I had burnout and wanted a day off. That was more of the case in the 60-70 day marks, and also about the time I was working on a piece with tuba and electronics. It certainly was not my comfort zone.

Overall it was a great experience. I would recommend it to anyone. Its a great way to really focused on goals, and it got me through some tough spots. I kept writing, some days were crap and other days were amazing. But sometimes, you just have to slog through the crap to find the good stuff.

At what point did you decide to become a composer?

The original plan was to become an animator and compose my own scores to those cartoons. I got that dream when I was about 10, after I started school at the Gadsden School of Fine Arts Elementary School in Savannah, Ga and watching Disney's "Fantasia" almost every day. That school joined a lot of the arts together to make one production, and I just thought that's how it worked everywhere. You could have more than one profession and see a project from beginning to end.

I got though college with a BFA in Digital Media (ie computer animation) and a BMus in Music Composition from the University of Georgia overloading every semester for five years with no summer break. When I graduated, I got a job as a web designer and then moved onto a job as a web designer/animator and music composer at a children's multimedia company. That was not for me. Working in an office and having my creative input be cast aside or watered down was demoralizing.

I went on to do some web designing at a web development firm out of necessity, but with a little nudging from my husband I was able to take the leap of faith into financial insecurity as a freelance musician. I've never been happier. Being a composer for concert works is really the career I have loved best. No project is the same, no day is the same, and I get to work alone most the time with my dogs nearby. And just when the solitude gets old, I get to travel to see friends perform my music or make new ones. I would have picked this job out first had I known it was a possibility in the first place.

What are your goals with your new CD that just came out (reviewed in August 2018 issue)?

Mary Matthews was the driving force behind out album "Three-Nine Line". It had been on my to-do list for some years, but I never felt like I had enough solid work or the finances to go ahead with it. Mary called me up out of the blue and said "What do you think about doing an album of your flute music with me and Matt Angelo?" How could I say no to people who have a proven track record for completing projects with quality? I finally had a composition catalog. We just had to raise the money. But everything is easier with friends!

As musicians, one of the big tasks of the career to-do list is recording an album. It shows people that you have faith in your own abilities to put it on permanent record. Financially, we weren't certain we would make any money on it. But we  hope it would open doors for other opportunities for us as a group and as individuals. For myself, the funding campaign for the album was enough to help boost my composing career. One of the funding rewards was that I would compose a 3 minute solo work for an instrument of the donor's choosing. People took that as a sign that I was available for work. I only got a commission for one solo work, but other ensembles saw an opportunity to open a conversation about commissioning. It was a welcome unintended side effect.

What are your biggest challenges?

Talking money. I hate setting a price for commissions, especially when the person is a friend, or I know the person is a freelancer or adjunct faculty, or if its a project I really want to do. So basically, all the time. When someone asks me for a fee, I usually sit on the answer for a day. I'll talk it over with the hubs and friends, and try to find a reasonable solution. There's nothing worse than being excited about a project, and sending out a fee number and never hearing from that person ever again.

The other challenge is getting people to let me know they are performing my music. I want to know. I self publish so I can establish communication with the person buying and performing my music. I want to put those performance dates on my website calendar and promote them on social media. I want to support the musicians who support me. Also, I might show up if I'm nearby...but only if we hang afterwards. I'm alone most of the day, people. I need adult conversation. This is the only time I get it. Please, my husband can only take so much. But seriously, the biggest payoff for a composing is hearing the music in your head being performed in real life. That is the biggest kick for me.

What is your super power?

I hope its making performers feel comfortable. At least that's what I've been told.  I'm pretty easy to please. If people make an effort to play what's on the page, I'm grateful. If they do it well, I'm over the moon. There's a lot of musicians out there who are dipping their toe into new music for the first time, and the whole process isn't always taught at school. It's my job to help them through the process so they will eventually go all in for new music. If you have a question, ask. I'll do my best to answer in a way that is caring and helpful. That's what is suppose to be great about playing new music. You can go directly to the horse's mouth and get the low down -  at the very least an email riddled with typos, incorrect grammar, and tons of exclamation points. Which is exactly what you'll get from me. My other sister is the high school English teacher and novelist. She's too busy to edit my emails.

Nicole Chamberlain

Composer and Flutist


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