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Composer unlocks creative potential through various endeavors   

Community ProfileComposer unlocks creative potential through various endeavors   

Emma Theresa Verdonk, who grew up in Brantford and continues to make it her home, has had an interest in music from an early age and a passion that eventually grew into a career.

Verdonk, who was exposed to music early on, noted about her mother’s influence on her.

“The first thing that got me interested in music was my mother. She has been a huge influence. She’s a piano teacher…but she also plays in our church and accompanies different artists,” Verdonk explained. “My first memories of music are of her practicing piano after she put us to bed. And sometimes we’d go down the stairs and ask her, ‘Can you play this song or that song?’ And then, of course, I started learning piano…which led to violin and vocal lessons”

From there Verdonk would get into songwriting and composition.

“I would make up songs [and] create my lyrics. I didn’t know how to write music down yet, so I would just make up all these little songs. Then I learned to write these songs down and that was just so exciting because then I could come back to them and make them even better,” said Verdonk.

Verdonk continues to evolve as a talented composer. Her first album, entitled ‘Reflections,’ included a collection of piano solos. She is continuing to explore other facets of music and sound on her upcoming album which will be released shortly. Photo courtesy Emma Theresa Music.

Eventually, Verdonk became immersed in the process of creating her compositions to the point that it started to become a serious option for a career.

“I started thinking about what I wanted to do at university [and] what kind of career I wanted. It was an instinct for me to write music. I went to Wilfrid Laurier University [and] then onto Western University; earning my undergrad and then my master’s in music,” Verdonk continued. “I started at Wilfred Laurier in Waterloo, but I wasn’t a composition major; I was a community music major. It was a brand-new program during my first year…and it focused a lot on facilitating music and less on aspects like performance and teaching. It was a more rounded approach, which I love, but I still really wanted to do composition. I took every course that I could fit into my schedule that had to do with composition.”  

However, the young composer would gain two mentors during her time at Wilfred Laurier including Linda Catlin Smith and Glenn Buhr who helped her foster a love of composition and exploration and to become serious about it. Although Verdonk would go on to focus on composition at Western, it would prove to be a challenging time.

“I found my time at Western was rather difficult because it was during COVID. Everything about a music school [is that] you hear people practicing in the stairwells, and you meet other music lovers, and you talk about writing music and other composers…and what they’re doing. I didn’t have any of that. As a result, I wrote a lot of solo piano music,” admitted Verdonk.

Many of Verdonk’s original pieces have been performed by the Laurier Symphony Orchestra and the Penderecki String Quartet along with various chamber ensembles. She has also composed pieces performed by the Arcady Ensemble including ‘Invitation to Love.’ Photo courtesy Arcady.

During this period, Verdonk would go on to write compositions for her first album ‘Reflections’ (under Emma Theresa) which can be found on Spotify.

“It was really exciting [and] it was so fun to write those pieces and to just get them out in the world. And when I can go onto Spotify, I can see the demographics of people all over the world listening to my music. And I saw people from Brazil, and from the US, and Mexico. It was inspiring to be able to share my music remotely, especially during COVID when we didn’t have concerts,” stated Verdonk.

In 2021, Verdonk discovered the local music ensemble Arcady headed by award-winning composer Ronald Beckett. Not only would she get the opportunity for her original pieces to be performed, but would eventually become part of the staff.

“I heard about their ‘Emerging Artists’ program. I submitted my material and was accepted. And then got to know Ronald Beckett, the director [and] he mentored me. I was also able to have my pieces performed for the first time in a while. It has been a great experience to be able to have many pieces performed regularly and be able to meet so many wonderful musicians,” explained Verdonk. “Also to be part of mentoring young musicians, whether that’s our youth chorus or even some of the new composers that are coming in now…I’ve also had the opportunity to look at some [of their] scores and offer feedback. It’s exciting to inspire others [and] I feel like I have come a long way as a musician and a composer because of these experiences.”

Verdonk, along with the Arcady staff, originally made it into the Emerging Artists program at Arcady in 2021. Since then, she has gone on to mentor other emerging artists at Arcady. Photo courtesy Arcady.

Along with being an integral part of the Arcady team, Verdonk has continued to work on an array of independent projects, including her series of music theory books which will have four in total when she is done.  

“I just released a theory book which is called ‘Explore Music Theory.’ The goal of this theory book is to make music theory fun and accessible to students of all learning types. A lot of theory books are very black and white. They’re a little bit boring. I had some private students who were kind of wrestling through this, and I thought, ‘How can I make this more fun?’” Verdonk said. “I saw some theory sheets on Pinterest that gave me ideas to make it a little more of a creative learning experience. I started making more and more sheets. And I thought, ‘I should just put these together in a book release, I could give this book to my students.’ And they would be learning the same things that they are in other books but in a much more fun way.”

Another project that Verdonk has been working on is her second album, as well as, other different compositions. 

“I am experimenting a little bit with ambient sounds and recording my voice. I am broadening my sound because my first album was mostly piano. I’m working on a piece right now that uses live recordings from my parent’s field [recordings]. And you can hear the birds, the red-winged Blackbirds and Robins, and the wind through the trees. And it’s these very beautiful sounds. So, I created a piece around that. I’m excited to continue experimenting with that. I’m not entirely sure where it’s going to go, but who knows, I’m looking forward to finding out,” explained Verdonk.

However, Verdonk attributes her development and success as an artist by sharing her work and reflects on the importance for other aspiring musicians to do the same.

“You have to get yourself out there. First of all, [you have to] be willing to share your music and find creative ways to share it. Because you can be a talented musician, but if you just write those songs for yourself, and you don’t push them out into the world, you’re not going to go anywhere. You have to be willing to make yourself vulnerable and to share your creativity with the world,” Verdonk said. “And second of all, it is important to make connections [and] meet musicians and other creative people. I think that has been valuable for me, especially knowing Ron and being involved with Arcady.”

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