Nico Muhly - How He Got Started in Music

Brett Banducci: How did you get started with music as a kid?

Nico Muhly: We found a piano in our basement. We lived in this sprawling house in Providence, Rhode Island. And there was a piano and it was you know in terrible shape but we had it restored. And it was decreed that someone should learn how to play, it probably should be me. You know someone had put something so deep in the basement that there was no possibility that anyone would ever find it unless we were looking for something which we were and then we found it. And so I started taking piano lessons in my neighborhood and then simultaneously I was singing in a boy's choir in a church downtown and it kind of all clicked at the same time. So those are the two kind of simultaneous pathways in.

Brett: And so were you on this piano 24-7?

Nico: I was yeah. Well I actually at first I was kind of reluctant because it was this thing that I you know it was this kind of enemy like I had, I didn't like to practice and do anything. Then once I really got into it then I really got into it. It sort of happened very quickly. I started playing kind of you know dopey children’s piano. But then at a certain point when I got...I got really good really fast basically, like there was a period of being really bad and then there was like a three-month period of very intense acceleration, at which point I just kept on going...but it was I was just kind of progressing.

Brett: With piano being your first instrument, were there any other instruments that you learned growing up?

Nico: The piano was and is my main instrument. I had the opportunity to play the organ at the church where I was singing. And once my voice started to kind of come close to changing, it was deemed that I would be probably more useful organist than singer. But I never actually branched out into anything else which I still regret. I feel like I would have been a competent oboist or something if I just made it happen.

Brett: So as a child singer how do you deal with that inevitable change of the voice emotionally?

Nico: It’s sort of built into the thing I mean it's…

Brett: You know it's coming…

Nico: You know it’s coming and you watch it happen to people older than you, and then they you know do whatever it is that they do you know carry the cross up and down the aisle. It's...I have to say it's not something that I really worried about that much. In fact it was a kind of you know...when you're a treble, you're aware that it's a finite kind of season. For me I have to say that the music I learned as a treble is still the music that is my kind of go to. It's the music that I love the most, it's the music that I reference the most, I think about the most. The music that we were singing in this choir was a straight combination of things from the Anglican tradition. So it was a lot of sort of Tudor music. Sort of Byrd, and Tallis, and Gibbons and Thai. And then also 20th century english kind of choral chestnuts you know these you have some Howells and Finzi and Walton. And for me that music is just the most emotionally resident still. And for me I mean the music of William Byrd is something that I feel like I have this continued conversation with it. And there's you know every time there's a new recording of something where every time I hear something in a different context it's like hearing it anew. I think Byrd is kind of the best.

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