Sarah Riskind

Choral conductor and composer

Artist Statement

In my roles as a choral conductor, educator, composer, improviser, and singer, I aim to deepen the connections between people through the musical ear. Like most choral conductors, I have often felt the pressure to impart the knowledge of notes and rhythms to my singers as quickly as possible. However, one of my long-term goals is to teach music consistently beyond the surface level. I believe that all musicians should learn to sense harmonic changes and to sightread, improvise, and express music using that knowledge.

In my daily life, musical improvisation bridges the gap between recreational and professional activities. Whether I am joining my accompanist on violin for a church service prelude or holding a folk-style jam session at a social event, the immediate connection between my musical instincts and the joy of collaboration is unhindered by the cerebral anxiety that normally accompanies music-making. Although I have only thought of myself as an improviser for about ten years, I began composing during elementary school, and this fulfilled a similar need for musical playfulness. Composition and improvisation allow me the opportunity to share my inner musical self with choirs and audiences in a way that goes beyond conducting other composers’ music. As a musical leader, it is important to me to nurture this creative freedom in choral singers and music theory students as well.

I am passionate about applying the same creativity to music that is several centuries old, particularly because of the intricate relationships between each voice. Performing Renaissance music from original notation provides a valuable understanding of how to create expressive shapes in each independent part, and I have recently begun to explore this approach with choirs of varying skill levels. I use my scholarly pursuits to fuel teaching strategies in early music performance.

My musical vocation is deeply rooted in the ensemble experience; I always look forward to forming a mutual understanding with my fellow musicians. Specifically, though, I cherish how this connection arises from the beauty of melody, harmony, and rhythm.