Approx. 5 minutes 30 second read
Being a musician means that you need to become expert juggler. I’ve come across so many brilliant musicians who are excellent jugglers of their multiple demanding projects (and actual balls in one instance). However, I think few can match the keen skill of Keyna Wilkins in this regard. She is a gun!
The scope of Keyna’s work covers so many aspects including; a massive compositional output, multiple ensembles and solo projects across improvised, classical, jazz, experimental, Indigenous and cultural music. I so appreciate how she explores the space between these elements to forge new and (always) interesting sounds with her impressive list of collaborators such as; Gumaroy Newman and The Metropolitan Orchestra. Read my Shout Sister Shout interview to learn more about this accomplished woman in Australian music:
Sonia de Freitas: Hi Keyna, how are you and where does our interview find you today?
Keyna Wilkins: Hi Sonia, I’m great thanks! I’m at home in inner west Sydney after having just taken my kids to school.
SdF: Can you tell me about your journey in music? When did you know that you were going to make music your career?
KW: I had many interests throughout my childhood to be honest – history, literature, art, astronomy. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school, but auditioned for the Conservatorium and achieved a place. I went there for a year and then took a gap year in the UK to live with my grandma and do a little travelling. After this time off, I continued my degree with renewed enthusiasm with a clearer sense that I wanted to compose music and use my instruments as a voice for my own music.
SdF: Your creative output is astounding! You are an ensemble member in Yulugi and the Ephemera Quartet; you perform as a solo pianist and flautist; you teach; and you compose for orchestras, chamber groups and soloists. Can you tell me about your creative process? Is there anything particular you do that is special to your creative process?
KW: Thank you so much! I work best when there is a deadline. I learned early on that I am not motivated to write music for the sake of writing it, I really want to hear and see it performed – if there is a date for this, then I am very driven to get it out. I give myself a small deadline eg – “first half written in the next 2 days” and plan it out like that. I am happiest when I’m busy doing what I love.
SdF: Who is your sounding board? There must be someone that you trust to give you brutally honest feedback on your music. How do they fit into the process?
KW: My partner Tully Rosen is my sounding board. He is not a musician, but he does have a great creative sense and vision and often helps me write about my music and helps me find that essence of what it’s all about. He is harsh when he doesn’t think something works, and usually he is right. Mostly, he loves what I do though and is my number one fan. It’s very endearing!
SdF: What was the first song that you remember making an impact in your life and why was/is it so important?
KW: It was Phantom of The Opera when I was 7 years old. It made me cry. I guess I realised the power of music to express emotions at this point.
SdF: Have you experienced particular challenges as a female musician? How did you overcome these challenges and what do you think needs to change for others to avoid these challenges in the future?
KW: I guess when I was freelancing in other people’s ensembles when I was younger, yes, there definitely were challenges and some moments where I had to deal with sexism and misogyny. However, as the years go by and especially since I’ve started leading my own ensembles and developing my solos shows, as I can pick and choose exactly who I work with, I have found less and less issues. Right now, I can’t even think of one problem I’ve encountered in the last few years. So I guess I’ve been lucky!
SdF: So, what’s on the horizon for you? Any projects you’re working on or new releases to share?
KW: Yes, lots of projects! I’m writing a piece for Elysian Fields baroque-jazz ensemble about The Starry Messenger, a pamphlet Gallileo Galliei wrote in 1610. I’m also composing a piece for Mathew Collins and James Blackford’s online trumpet and euphonium project, and a duet for harp and guitar for Emily Granger. There will be lots of solo projects for violin and trombone in the coming months too. But the one I’m most excited about is that I’m writing another didgeridoo concerto with Gumaroy Newman which will premiere in November by The Metropolitan Orchestra! Lots of ensemble and solo shows coming up as well. It’s great that things are opening up now after COVID!
SdF: What is your most memorable performance and why?
KW: Definitely the performance of Celestial Emu, my didgeridoo concerto performed by The Metropolitan Orchestra and Gumaroy Newman. This was one of the greatest moments of my life because it was the largest composition I have ever written and was performed so brilliantly by Gumaroy and the orchestra. We got a standing ovation and some great reviews! Also, the process of collaborating with Gumaroy and learning what really works for him and learning different ways really helped me to expand my understanding of different styles of music.
SdF: Musicians come in many “flavours”; vocalists, trumpeters, bassists… ; if you weren’t a pianist, flautist and composer, what flavour musician would you want to be and why?
KW: I reckon I would be a violinist because I love the sound, colour and virtuosity.
SdF: What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians out there?
KW: Explore all styles of music and really try to find your passion. Get better and better at following your gut and making your own independent choices. No one knows what they’re doing really, so don’t idolise anyone either!
To learn more about Keyna Wilkins visit: keynawilkins.com/
To buy Ephemera Quartet, Yulugi and Keyna Wilkins releases visit:
For more information on International Women’s Day visit: internationalwomensday.com
Keep an eye out for my next interview in the Shout Sister Shout series where I interview Hilary Geddes.
Did you miss the previous Shout Sister Shout instalment? Read Jenna Cave’s Interview here.