Yellowknife’s Carmen Braden named top composer in Western Canada

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Carmen Braden was named classical composer of the year at the 2019 Western Canadian Music Awards in Whitehorse on Oct. 3. photo courtesy of Carmen Braden

When Carmen Braden’s name was called from the shortlist of five nominees at the 2019 Western Canadian Music Awards in Whitehorse on Oct. 3, she was so surprised that she didn’t know how to react.

Having been selected as composer of the year, edging out two of her own teachers, Braden said she was both humbled and honoured, especially right on the heels of the launch of her latest album Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars, which was released a week earlier.

“I was definitely surprised. You know in football when they score a touchdown and the referee puts his arms up? I did that,” she laughed. “I was expecting one of my teachers to win, they’re beyond my scope of composing and I’ve learned so much from them already.

“I feel this is really a reflection on my teachers and the people who have gone before me as role models. That old saying that you are standing on the shoulders of giants is very true. So I want to acknowledge them as the reason I am doing what I’m doing.”

A multi-faceted musician, Braden not only composes music for orchestras, choirs and symphonies but also holds her own as a singer-songwriter.

She said she finds the two sides of music play well into each other, giving her different perspectives on the acoustics and helping inspire her to describe nature through music.

“The music itself is very evocative, trying to reflect and idea or concept or something concrete in nature that I’m exploring,” she said. “Sometimes my singer-songwriting overlaps into my content and other times it’s good for me to let my more emotional side out.

“I like to look for little moments in my day that might not seem too special until you take a moment to appreciate it. Sometimes it feels like I have one side of my brain going and the other takes a break. I find I do a lot more thinking about my compositions and more spontaneity with my songs.”

What really makes her compositions stand out, however, is her love of natural sounds, borrowing ideas pioneered by Raymond Murray Schafer and taking them to the next level.

While she takes the time to enjoy the music of nature, one area she is particularly focused on are the many, many sounds of ice.

“Listening to the world as music really got me excited,” she said. “Ice is almost a musician in itself. Interacting with its own temperature and pressure. Then I started listening to ice under water and that opened up a different world to me. It’s a very different space under there.”

There won’t be much time for a victory lap for Braden, however. She’s still at work with her Black Ice Concert Series for her neighbours in Yellowknife. She said she is bringing in the Canadian Chamber Choir Oct. 12 to perform the world premiere of Where Waters Meet.

She had a few pieces of advice for budding Northern artists hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“Don’t be afraid to keep following the music you want to do. It can be a hard thing sometimes and sometimes you don’t have success right away. It takes a lot to build,” she said. “Also collaborate with people. Be willing to make space for other people in your musical life. That’s one thing that has helped both my career and my musical abilities.”

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