Our artist in spotlight for this Women Write Now interview is the multi-faceted and project-powerhouse, Eunbi Kim. Based in New York city, Eunbi holds a brilliant reputation as a pianist, creator, speaker, arts advocate, commissioner and producer. As a tireless pioneer of creating new work, Eunbi regularly collaborates with living composers and has since become a highly coveted performer of contemporary music.
Women of Noise had the privilege of digging deeper into the creative world and being of Eunbi Kim– from musical muses, TedTalks, mentoring, past projects and ever-proliferating ideas… this interview covers all this and more!
Phoebe from Women of Noise: You’ve had some really impressive past projects such as your debut album, A House of Many Rooms; Re: last night; and Murakami Music. Could you tell us more about some of these projects and how they came to be?
Eunbi Kim: Murakami Music is a music-theatre performance piece that I created inspired by my favorite author Haruki Murakami and the pianist characters and musical references that he mentions in his novels. I collaborated with actress Laura Yumi Snell and theatre-director Kira Simring in performing and staging these stories and music around various forms of loss– loss of identity, dreams, sanity, and more.
Re: last night is a contemporary solo program inspired by dreams and delirium and the “in-between-ness” that occurs in time, space, life, and music. A highlight on the program is a commissioned work by Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, “It Feels Like a Mountain, Chasing Me” which incorporates recorded fragments of a conversation we shared on my family and childhood.
A House of Many Rooms is my debut album of premier recordings of jazz luminary Fred Hersch’s concert (or non-jazz, more “classical-sounding”) music. As a 12-time GRAMMY nominee and Guggenheim fellow, his music is extraordinary but I am deeply inspired by his life as a 30-year survivor of HIV/AIDS, his gay advocacy work as the first notable jazz musician to come out, and how he’s chosen to live his life as both an artist and human being despite tremendous challenges.
Phoebe: Previously, how has your music been received? What reactions have been elicited?
Eunbi: I’ve been the most surprised by how people have received “It Feels Like a Mountain, Chasing Me” written for me by Daniel Bernard Roumain because at first, I absolutely didn’t want to perform it. When Daniel and I had this really deep conversation about childhood, family, and trauma, I had no idea that it would be a part of the piece in any way. People have been really moved by the piece and total strangers have come up to me to share their own personal experiences. It’s been really incredible for me to connect with people in such a raw and vulnerable way and have that reciprocated so many times with this one work.
Phoebe: Who do you think needs to hear your music most?
Eunbi: For my projects, I think anyone who wants to dig deeper into themselves.
Eunbi: bespoken fosters a community that inspires and empowers women to develop new skills, set goals, and elevate their voices. We support musicians who are interested in advancing their projects and charting their own career path.
I feel very fortunate to work with my friend and colleague Gina Izzo as co-founders of bespoken. We are both really passionate about fostering a community of women in music who support and encourage each other.
Phoebe: What is the importance of mentorship, specifically for emerging and early-career musicians?
Eunbi: Whenever I’ve given talks and workshops, there’ve always been people afterwards who ask me questions privately or want to discuss further about different issues, either from feeling too shy to ask during the session or because it requires more time and/or privacy. That’s one of the reasons mentorship is really important because that one-on-one connection leads to deeper impact.
Specifically for emerging and early-career musicians, mentorship is so vital because it’s a time where most people are insecure and unsure of how to do so many things. Bespoken strives to help fellows overcome challenges on many different fronts, from the practical side of designing a website and great promotional materials to finding their unique artistic voice to strategizing on how they can best move their careers forward to mapping out their plans and goals for a specific project.
Phoebe: How do you help your fellows to overcome the challenges they are facing and what tools do you help them to develop for their long-term success? What change do you see the fellows who go through the program?
Eunbi: As we enter our second year (with our next round of fellows recently announced!), one of the most rewarding aspects has been seeing a radical growth in confidence in our fellows from accomplishing not just their goals but in going after what they really want and knowing that they have our fullest support. Recent examples include mentoring individual fellows on how to negotiate a better salary, plan an album release, and how to prepare to give a TEDx talk.
Phoebe: How important for you is it to involve people from diverse backgrounds and identities? Is this a primary consideration for you when commissioning and employing others?
Eunbi: For bespoken, diversity is at the forefront of our minds as a major consideration in everything we do, whether it’s how we highlight women artists on our social media or in our recruitment process, and we continue to have many conversations about this.
Diversity is something I’m very cognizant and aware of but so far, involving people from diverse backgrounds in areas of commissioning and employing has happened very organically. I wish I could say that commissioning people of diverse backgrounds was intentional but honestly, it just happened very naturally through my own interests in their music. I currently have a commissioning project where the composers all happen to be people of color which I hadn’t thought of until now. This has happened quite naturally within the employing context as well.
Phoebe: Does your background and identity affect your creative output? In what ways?
Eunbi: Yes and no. I think my process is very organic. I tend to follow my curiosity and instincts rather than try to make a statement of any kind. I mainly use personal experiences or whatever I’m really into at the moment for inspiration. When I think about identity, I think more about who I am when I’m alone or the things that I keep private or the person I am stripped of labels of any kind. These are the things that interest me the most about other people as well and the kinds of questions that I want to explore through my creative output.
Phoebe: What are some of your future projects in the making that you are looking forward to sharing?
Eunbi: Daniel Bernard Roumain wrote a follow-up work to “It Feels Like a Mountain” for me called “Songs for Alone” which I’m excited to premiere in the near future as well as record for my planned second album. I’m learning a lot of cool new music and just started taking improvising lessons. I also have some really amazing composers writing new works for me that I look forward to sharing.
Eunbi’s creative muses: Angela Beeching, Lisa Yui, Jade Simmons, Youngmi Ha, Anthony de Mare, Madeline Bruser, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Fred Hersch, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Kara Walker … among many others.
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Cover image credit: Shervin Lainez.