Samuel Siskind, Composer, Performer and Actor
Samuel Siskind is a young sixteen-year-old composer, vocal performer and actor from Los Angeles. As a resident of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer Fellowship Program (LA Phil Composer Fellowship Program), he is currently in his second year of high school in Los Angeles. In addition to his already large compositional works, which he had the opportunity to present in the world’s largest halls such as Carnegie Hall, Royce Hall or the University of California, in February, at the invitation of the artistic director of the prestigious ensemble “The Golden Bridge” Suzi Digby, his work was performed at All Saints Church in Beverly Hills. The biography of this artist is enriched by the experience of filming in Hollywood, when Matthew Wilder recorded several of his pieces in the studio “Capitol Records”. Samuel’s choral piece The Forest was selected for performance on the National Children’s Choir’s major tour of Asia. The versatility of this young artist is also reflected in his unusual sports activities and hobbies. In addition to skiing and sailing, Samuel is currently working on getting his license to fly small planes.
As a six-month-old baby, you were introduced to music, which led you to write your first composition at the age of eight, and at the age of twelve, choral work The Forest, was performed by the National Children’s Chorus in their major U.S. cities and summer tour of Asia. What are your memories of those beginnings and encounters with composing? What prompted you to choose composing and vocal performance?
I was fortunate to be introduced to the piano through a creative method my dad found at our local farmers market. It’s called Simply Music, and the first series for young children introduces various musical concepts through drawing pictures and playing out feelings on the keyboard. I remember doing my homework for this class. I was about five, and we were given a story theme to draw with crayons. Then we put the picture up on the piano, and played that picture… the curriculum was called Play-A-Story. I already had a childhood filled with imaginative play, so once I learned how to play my feelings it was addictive, and composing became my go to pastime. When I played repertoire, whether alone or in public places, I often modified and expounded on pieces to make them more interesting, and bring them alive. Vocal performance came naturally, as I sought more music education than my school’s singing class. My parents found the National Children’s Chorus (NCC), and I auditioned at the end of 2nd grade, and began in the fall of 3rd grade.
Besides your piece The Forest being performed by the National Children’s Chorus, certain pieces of yours caught the attention of producer Matthew Wilder, who recorded those pieces at the iconic Hollywood studio Capitol Records. What is it like to be part of the Hollywood world? What are your memories from that recording session?
Recording at Capital was one of the most meaningful days of my life. Matthew had booked the musicians and studio time at Capitol well in advance. However the week of the recording session, Disney Studios urgently needed a score recorded. Several of the musicians on my piece were called to work on the Disney project. Every one of them decided to stick with me. At such a young age, seeing so many people believe in and trust me, inspired me to work harder.
Many composers have their role models when it comes to designing a piece and rely on the melodies of Bach, Mozart, Chopin… Do you have a role model? During the work process, do you find inspiration in the works of classical music composers or some other genre?
Listening to classical radio, I was exposed to many of the great classical composers at a young age. Singing with the choir only expanded my repertoire into great vocal pieces of the Western European traditions. I’m always finding and listening to new music, often driven by upcoming projects and performances.
During your performances, not only is your composition performed, but you also sing. What fulfills you more at the moment – singing or composing?
The day my choral piece, The Forest, was introduced to my peers at the NCC, I was truly beside myself, very uncomfortable and unsure of how it would be received. My relief wouldn’t come for a few weeks, until they had mastered the song, and I could see that my friends were enjoying singing it. Standing on stage and hearing their joy in singing melodies and text that I worked on after school for years was simply exhilarating. It made me feel that what was personal to me could be universal, and their reaction to it as my first audience was the greatest gift. Last month, I had a commissioned piece performed by professional vocalists at The Golden Bridge Concert, in Beverly Hills. I also found it very nerve wracking to be at the live premier performance with an audience, but I felt a thousand times better once I received the recording. It was very fulfilling. I also put a lot of work into my vocals, and enjoy performing in front of audiences. I’m looking forward to performing in the Tinker of Tivoli in Vail this August, and touring the UK this Summer before recording a Christmas album with the National Children’s Chorus at Abbey Roads Studios in London.
In what genre do you see yourself as a composer, would you like to do film, jazz music or do you still prefer a traditional classical style?
Because my early introduction to playing and composing music was so fluid, I don’t feel bound by styles. I have used jazz influences in a number of my concert pieces. I first explored these themes as a study of Gershwin and Copeland in my 3 movement piece, Piano Concerto for Orchestra (2021). I also use some jazz in my new choral cycle, Release (2022). I am purely driven by creative impulses of what sounds most interesting or moving. I am a film lover, as my dad works in the business, and we’ve done weekly home screenings since I was 3 years old. At this point, I am taking my composing work as it comes. Whatever projects come to me I will happily adapt.
What subject or area in the school you attend most inspires you and helps form your compositional taste and style?
One of the first things I learned from my composing mentor, Dr. Ian Krouse, is that composing is like writing a story, you’re taking the audience on a journey. Of course this goes back to my first piano class, and Play-A-Story. I was fortunate to have an outstanding English teacher at Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences, Julian Laurent, and I invited him to the premier of my recent choral premier because I felt so indebted to him for teaching me the discipline and structure of writing. He is also a musician. Modern history has also been an inspiration for me as I do my pieces, especially studying the eras when many of the composers I admire were working. When I experience a new piece to perform, I often like to know the circumstances around the time it was written. Most composers have many other interests outside of music, because writing music comes from experiencing life.
When writing a piece for a choral ensemble, what is the biggest challenge for you in the process of working and writing the score?
When writing a choral piece, I find the hardest aspect, creating an original text. Although once I have an idea, I can write my texts in one brief sitting. Discovering the idea can be very challenging, and requires weeks of research and thought.
The last commission of your work came from the vocal ensemble “The Golden Bridge” and its artistic director Suzi Digby, making you the youngest composer to receive a commission. How would you describe the process of working and composing that choral piece? What inspired you the most?
The commission by The Golden Bridge was the next leap in building my abilities to write, and collaborate. I never dwelled on the fact that I was so much younger than the previous composers, I just tried to do my best. However, because I was so young, I had to be very disciplined to reward their faith in me.
Your versatility can also be seen in your many hobbies and activities, such as skiing and sailing, and you are due to get your private pilot’s license soon – where does that adventurous spirit come from? Why did you want a pilot’s license specifically?
Most people find their hobbies through being exposed to them. As a teenager, my older brother was a CIT sailing instructor for UCLA summer camp. He had a small boat, and would enjoy taking me around the marina as a boy. My dad took us to the Rocky Mountains every February so I learned to ski. My mom used to take me to eat sushi at the Santa Monica Airport, and watch the planes come and go after school sometimes. I love aviation, and always have. I hope that one day I might have the means to own a small aircraft to fly myself.
Considering your unusual hobby and sporting activities, can art and composing be compared to flying an airplane or sailing? Do you find any commonality in what helps you feel free and fulfilled?
Listening to a great piece of music should make you feel like you’re flying or sailing on an ocean – or freestyling down a mountain. The creativity in plotting your next move is akin to the joy composing brings me. The possibilities are infinite, and the satisfaction in carving out a path where there wasn’t one before is a true high.
What does composing music in general mean to you, how do you perceive it and in what direction would you like to develop your interests and abilities?
Composing music feels like my playground. Music is a language that everyone can understand, and appreciate – so I feel I’m working on something worthwhile. I have been composing music for so long that I literally don’t know what I would do without it. It’s very second nature to me, and makes me feel happy; like the world is ok. When I look back on pieces I’ve written a couple years ago, I feel embarrassed. I’ve learned so much, but that’s the nature of growing up, and continuing to learn. I feel honored every time anyone hears my music or is interested in my music.
Author: Katarina Georgijević