Lately at B&N, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a “musician.” Society tells us being a musician means we play no less than 300 concerts a year, jet-setting around the globe mingling amongst fabulously wealthy donors, and possibly suffering from a variety of mental illnesses in the service of “art.” The 60th GRAMMY® Awards this year told us that it’s useful to be white and cis-gender male if you want to be a musician. And for Kira Daglio-Fine (CC ’18), being a musician means expressing herself in whatever capacity she is able, at any moment she wishes.
Kira’s organic philosophy of music-making reflects in the best piece of advice she received from Columbia’s director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, Chris Washburne: “If you don’t like it, don’t do it.” And that’s the heart of it, isn’t it? In her founding and music directorship of Big Band (“I came to Columbia for jazz, and realized we didn’t have a Big Band, so I created one”), her compositions, and her love of all things Duke Ellington, Kira insists that there’s no one “valid” way of being a musician. Just as Columbia’s jazz experience allows Kira to “build a community of like-minded people, creative and intellectual,” so, too, does jazz itself provide her a unique freedom where “everyone is their own person and own musician” in jazz, yet still grounded in mutual support.
For Kira, music is an intensely personal and malleable thing; a cheesy way to describe it might be “an extension of herself.” Playing the saxophone in high school carved a space in her shyness for self-expression. In the robustness of Columbia’s jazz community, Kira found a tight-knit, fiercely-loyal community that shares her open-mindedness for spontaneous jam sessions and/or joining Big Band. Speaking of Big Band, there’s something indelibly inspiring about watching Kira, as a woman in the still very male-dominated world of jazz, and the only woman in Big Band, coaxing the sound she hears in her mind into reality from 16 talented boys. Columbia’s Big Band plays arrangements Kira loves (“one of the best parts of being music director is I get to choose our repertoire”), and Kira’s own compositions, often collaborating with CU Swing. So collaborative is the spirit of Big Band that, for Kira, one of her favorite things about conducting is getting to play alongside dancers. When people are “enjoying music in different ways than just sitting and listening,” feeling the smooth lines of the sax and rhythmic plunks from the bass, Kira “can’t stop smiling,” seeing how the dancers give the Band so much “energy and happiness.”
Though Kira doesn’t “play” when she conducts Big Band, at least in the traditional sense, she feels no less involved than if she were–conducting for Kira is more about “performing alongside” the Band. Any “self-consciousness” she feels offstage disappears onstage; it’s as if the music becomes her and the group. The same goes for composition: a space where Kira can enjoy “music-making without the added pressure of performing.” In this space, Kira is able to turn Theory IV assignments into her pieces that the Big Band eventually plays and working through the sometimes-frustrating creative blocks.
As for why she so deeply loves Duke Ellington? In the cadences, phrasing, and textures of Ellington’s music, “the pieces tell an actual story from start to finish.” Though his “writing is so delicate and simple,” it still “makes you feel the emotions Ellington wanted to convey.” Other favorites include Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Johnny Hodges. Oh, and potatoes–“any form of potato.” Pierogies, gnocchi, “straight-up baked potatoes,” all fair game. #same
Kira is currently working through a few pieces that could be the drink names on a hip Portland coffee shops’ menu: “Caramels,” “Speck of Ash,” and “Park Street” (written by Sean Kim, based on Boston’s train stops). She can’t stand it when “people don’t stop talking for a very, very, very long time and don’t even breathe” and would much rather sleep, draw, or paint, than have someone talk at her without realizing she’s really there. And she wants to be Duke Ellington when she grows up. Let’s just say that we think Duke Ellington would be proud of the musician Kira is and will become, especially if that label remains so happily undefined.
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contributors: Jordan Lee, Cindy Liu, and Adrian Traviezo
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