Alumni Spotlight

Ann Cleare - Composer

12 Jun
Ann Cleare

Ann Cleare is a composer working in the areas of concert music, opera, extended sonic environments and hybrid instrumental design. She also lectures in composition at the University of York. Her work has been presented by broadcasters such as the BBC and RTE and she recently featured in the New York Times in advance of her inclusion in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University.

Course/subjects studied in University College Cork

B.mus. and M.Phil. in Composition in the Department of Music, 2001 - 2007

Best memory of UCC

My best memories are of the many creative projects and events that I organised with classmates and friends in Music At UCC. I think the craziest and most fun of these was probably when I and two greats pals from the Music Degree, Noreen and Niamh, created an installation together where we visually and sonically curated a space to represent different parts of a human brain. The audience could then walk around the space and explore the physicality of a brain on a large scale! The department was always so encouraging and supportive of such creativity - it was a space to try out your wildest artistic ideas and learn how to make them even better.

How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?

Coming from a rural part of Offaly, beyond my weekly piano and flute lessons, I had very little exposure to the Arts when I began studying at UCC - I grew up playing music by composers who were long dead, and so I didn't even know that Composition was a living art form when I arrived at UCC. Considering that I now compose music for a living, taking composition classes at UCC was probably one of the most important discoveries of my life! I was introduced to so much different music from all over the world, and from so many different periods in history, but most of all, I was introduced to the art of now - of what it means to be an artist in the present day. I've studied and visited many departments since being a student at UCC, and as time passes, I realise more and more what a unique and progressive approach it has to teaching music. The ways in which I was encouraged to think, write about, and create art still resonate with me today, and I carry this into my practices as an artist and as an educator.

What is your advice to current UCC students?

My advice to anyone who's lucky enough to be a student in any discipline at the moment, would be to experiment, improvise, invent, make your own rules, and blow the ceiling off anything that limits your vision. I often think that the art I create doesn't really have a name yet - calling it music seems to limit the assumptions of what it should be. Of all career paths to follow, the decision to make a career in the arts is a difficult one for many people to imagine, mainly because there isn't a path to follow - any artist you ask will have a different story of how they made a place in the world for their work. I saw this lack of a path as exciting rather than inhibiting, a chance to make a career that would keep my mind endlessly questioning and searching, and a chance to travel and connect with people and places from near and far. Just as the whole world seems to be spinning into unprecedented chaos, with major cuts to arts budgets, culling of orchestras, the death of opera houses, the arts are also stepping into unknown territories. One could see it as the worst time in history to be an artist, but as I heard UCC's new President Prof. Patrick O'Shea recently quote in a radio interview "never waste a crisis". I see this moment in history, as the ideal time for all disciplines to question how their organisations function and to rebuild them. Orchestras and Opera Houses are dying because they don't meet the needs of 21st century people and artists. If we're to be the generation that throws the foundations of the world into chaos, let's also be the generation to build new organisations and paths that embrace the future, rather than the past, and that meet our needs and ambitions.

What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?

I love the W.B. Yeats quote that "education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire". There are a lot of people at UCC who helped light lasting fires with me! From my brilliant classmates and friends that I dreamed up performances and compositions with, to Carmel Daly, the long-serving administrator of the department, whose organisation and sense of humour kept us all on-board. I didn't have any ambition to become a composer growing up, and kind of happened upon a composition class in 2002 with John Godfrey, the current Head of the Music Department, by chance. But in composing, I found that all the things that intrigued me about art were opened to me to explore and discover, and I'll always be grateful to John who, during all my years at UCC, gave me the skills and encouragement I needed to go out and forge my own career.

Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?

I was generally so busy with ensembles and projects in the Music Department that there wasn't much time for anything else! I did participate in pop and jazz sessions every Wednesday night in what was called Annie's bar on Sunday's Well, and I also have fond memories of organising Fiáin, concerts of newly-written music, in the Triskel Arts Centre with my classmates.

Favourite UCC legend or superstition

As the Music Department is on Sunday's Well, towering above campus, I didn't need to worry about crossing the quad that often! I guess a ritual that I always tried to stay loyal to was staying up all night after the Strauss Ball to get breakfast in The Western Star! The inimitable and charismatic Fiona Shaw would have to be my legendary UCC Alumna. The sincerity and skill that she brings to her acting and directing, along with the sheer breadth of her work, is a constant source of inspiration for me.

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