An Album Comes to Life

Thursday, Nov 10, 2022
Juilliard Journal
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By Brandon Neal

It’s early September, and the audience’s murmurs fade as the lights dim to reveal a new work in the Willson Theater. The darkness fills with the sounds of chirping crickets, sultry electronic drones, and a shimmering, distant wind chime of seashells. This is how Creative Associate Nathalie Joachim (MAP ’96; Pre-College ’01; BM ’05, flute) transports us into the world of one of her most personal creative projects to date: her second album, Ki moun ou ye (Who are you?), which was inspired by her Haitian heritage and brought to life at Juilliard.

Nathalie Joachim in the midst of performance, making an intense facial expression, and she is surrounded by plants
Creative Associate and alum Nathalie Joachim in Ki moun ou ye

Ki moun ou ye transfixes with rich vocal lines, thick electronic textures, and luxurious accompaniment. Joachim embedded audio recordings ranging from her personal diary entries to roosters crowing to bridge powerful songs like “Ti nèg” and beautiful ballads like “Zetwal.” In one memorable moment, an ensemble of student instrumentalists joined Joachim in a rousing performance of “Pye sapoti a,” all singing along in Haitian Creole while beating timbale sticks against terra-cotta pots that were scattered across the stage.

Almost a year earlier, in October 2021, Joachim began the yearlong collaborative journey that would bring her second album to theatrical life. In a series of workshops, Joachim worked with director and choreographer Chanel DaSilva (BFA ’08, dance) and a student chamber ensemble to create, orchestrate, and choreograph movement for the interludes and songs that became Ki moun ou ye—a fully realized, hour-long theatrical experience.

Learning by Making
As a creative associate, Joachim joins an expanding group of makers who come to Juilliard as artists in residence, engaging in collaborative experiences within the community. Damian Woetzel started the creative associates program when he became president of Juilliard in 2018. Looking back at that moment, he recalled, “I was thinking through how creativity and education overlap and what interdisciplinary work means for education, what it means for the future of the arts, and what it means for students to be exposed across their field and across disciplines entirely. It’s about learning by making something. So I began working with deans and faculty members and leadership to identify people who exemplified that spirit of making, that generative quality”—creative associates.

Joachim had participated in the Pre-College centennial gala in 2019 and performed, with Prep Division students, one of her compositions that hearkened back to her history. Thinking back to that performance and how it “came alive on the stage was like a light bulb,” Woetzel said. “What if we could find ways to make things together?” Joachim was named a creative associate last year and soon began work with fellow alumna DaSilva and the students on Ki moun ou ye.

Creating a Sound World
During the first Ki moun ou ye workshops, Joachim only had a handful of sample tracks to share with the students, the most poignant being a track that featured her late grandmother singing and laughing. This clip offered an important glimpse into the sound world she was hoping to create, one that infused her history into the work by drawing on the power of the voice, the history of Haiti, and her family’s farmland.

As the students and Joachim worked to orchestrate those sample tracks, experimenting with long tones and rhythmic passages, director and choreographer DaSilva began devising how she would bring them into the world of movement. The answer? Slowly. Through stretching and a variety of exercises that encouraged everyone to create their own movements, she began to guide the ensemble—and Joachim—to understand that the power of performance resided not only in the music they were making, but also in their bodies. The chamber ensemble forces, which fluctuated a bit, included students Ipek Karataylioglu (flute), Andrei Caval and Raphael Zimmerman (clarinet), Giuseppe Fu (trombone), Valerie Kim (violin), Cameren Williams (viola), and Sean Edwards (percussion) as well as alums Emily Duncan (flute) and Megan Hurley (horn).

The once conceptual idea was now a theatrical work set on a lush stage

The exploration continued throughout the year, the work evolved, and by performance time, Ki moun ou ye had grown significantly. New interludes and songs expanded the heart of the album, and creative team members joined the project, bringing design ideas for lighting (Carolyn Wong), costumes (Márion Talán de la Rosa), and prop styling (Kate Dale). The once conceptual idea was now a theatrical work set on a lush stage full of palm fronds, terra-cotta pots, seashells, and soil.

Enter opening night. The unexpected and exhilarating performance highlighted the collective collaboration and community that Joachim, DaSilva, and the students built with one another over the course of their year together. Ki moun ou ye took them—and us all—from the studios of Juilliard to the beautiful Haitian countryside, all while pondering the question “Who are you?”

Brandon Neal is a producer in the Office of the President