Blog: Sabrina Pena Young
Here at HMF we are committed to building a large community that surrounds and supports the classical marimba arts. To extend our appreciation, we are doing a question and answer with the artists in a blog series. First on the list is Sabrina Pena Young, a member of New York Women Composers, Inc. (NYWC). NYWC recently awarded HMF the 2016 NYWC Seed Money Grant. We thought that Sabrina would be a great person to do our first blog with because of her unique personality and expansive background in music. Read below to get a glimpse into her world.
Short Bio: As a young girl Sabrina became interested in performing in all sorts of groups ranging from orchestras to rock bands. As she continued her education at the University of South Florida, she decided to take another path. “She abandoned the drum sticks for a computer mouse.” Today she continues on this path and has also delved into films as well. For her full biography, check out her website.
What was the key factor in your career as a musician? What individual or group of people guided you in your passion for music?
Sabrina: Like any young girl, I wanted to be a famous rock drummer when I grew up. I spent a good part of my teen years playing in orchestras, jazz bands, drumline, and percussion ensembles, and studied percussion under Bob McCormick, Alex Jimenez, Jed Davis, and Seth Wexler. When I was in college, I began exploring avant-garde music under Dr. Clare Shore and Paul Reller, eventually giving up my drumsticks and percussion performance to pursue electroacoustic music fully with the avant-garde SYCOM at the University of South Florida. I continued further studies with Dr. Kristine Burns. Both she and Dr. Shore continued to be my mentors throughout my career. I was fortunate. Not many women have the opportunity to be mentored by other female composers. I find this is so important for young women, especially in the US where so few women pursue classical composition in academia because of the social obstacles that are embedded in the university system.
Being a percussionist, I found that I loved how I could combine unique timbres and rhythm both in percussion music and in electronic music. Eventually I combined multimedia with my work like experimental videos in World Order #4 and World Order #5, or writing a creepy multimedia Halloween percussion piece "virelaan" dedicated to a real ghost for Brian Justison's Millikin Percussion Ensemble. I've tried to explore interactivity with my music, writing the interactive video game based "Destiny: Eondwyr" for Ableton Live and Malletkat for Kurt Gartner at KSU.
What is your favorite movie/ movie series and why?
SPY: Well, I have to admit that I have a pretty wide range of favorite films, though I would have to say my favorites are any films by Alfred Hitchcock, the original Metropolis, Nosferatu, 2001:A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, and the LOTR trilogy. And of course, being a total science fiction nerd, I love Star Wars, but we won't count anything involving Jar Jar Binks. It's not that I don't love any recent films, because I do (my family is really into the Marvel films), but I have a much greater appreciation for the sci-fi films and older films that had to rely more on story and practical special effects instead of having great computer generated graphics. I am currently in preproduction for my second original feature film, and it is partially inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and Avatar. I think I love the sci-fi genre the best, even if it is supremely cheesy sometimes, just because it is interesting to imagine the future. I don't think any other creature on this earth spends so much time wondering what will be instead of focusing on the here and now. It is what makes humanity so unique.
Who is your favorite artist/ composer and why?
SPY: My husband will never understand this answer, but I have to say that I have always loved John Cage. I read his books in college, have played his works before, and just appreciate his approach to sound. I like to say that I don't think outside the box because I don't believe in the box in the first place, and I think that John Cage was a great example of this. I also have always enjoyed the music of the recently passed Pauline Oliveros. I had the opportunity to intern with her, and she had such a beautiful heart and such an interesting ear for music and for life, that I felt she exemplified how one can be an artist and still be grounded in what matters in life.
Outside of music, what hobbies do you have?
SPY: I am the author of Libertaria: Genesis and Libertaria: Revelation, in the Libertaria Chronicles, which is an apocalyptic sci-fi series based on the characters from my animated opera Libertaria. I am currently working on the third novel Libertaria: The Book of Esther, which takes place a quarter of a century after the events in Book 2 Libertaria: Revelation. I've also written Composer Boot Camp 101: 50 Exercises for Music Educators, Students, and Music Professionals.
I am also an indie filmmaker, and have been pursuing filmmaking more in the last few years since I moved to Buffalo. Libertaria was screened at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best Animation and Best Short Feature. I am part of the Buffalo Movie and Video Makers film group, which is a group of indie filmmakers that get together to create new films in Western New York. I've made a few short films since being part of the club, and am now working on the screenplay for my second feature length film, which is a sci-fi film about a young woman who fulfills her dreams of colonizing an exoplanet, but discovers a dark and dangerous secret when she arrives. Being Latina, I love to cook and eat, so cooking international dishes is another favorite hobby. My new animated short film "The Murder Zone" will be premiering in Buffalo later this month.
Besides this, I spend a lot of time with my family, and we recently celebrated the birth of our son! Balancing music, filmmaking, writing, and a newborn can be a bit harrowing, but I wouldn't have it any other way!
Tell us any more important information about you and your work.
SPY: I'm very excited that the Heartland Marimba Quartet chose to play Agape for its 2017 concert tour. I wrote this work originally for the USF Marimba Quartet, under Bob McCormick. I was experimenting with using the marimba as both a melodic and heavily percussive instrument, combining sounds from the body of the instrument, tapping the wooden bars, and more to create these "sound effects". When I wrote the piece, these were still considered "experimental" techniques. I remember spending many hours tapping away at the marimba, sketching different sounds that I discovered and finding ways to notate them properly for the performers. The work is supposed to represent the Passion. I wrote a Middle Eastern melody inspired musical motif, sound effects that were supposed to represent nailing hands to the cross, and even the Ascension. I kept the work both mysterious and energetic. I hope the audience enjoys the work.
Give a list of upcoming musical/ marimba projects.
SPY: I've been working on the sketches for a children's opera based on Alice in Wonderland, but with a modern Latino story and sound. The work is called Alicia and the White Rabbit and is a about a teen named Alicia that finds that she might have to go into the foster system when her abuela gets ill. It's taking some time to put together and hopefully will be premiered in 2019. The score for this opera will be very percussive, and marimba will play a vital role since it is my main instrument.
Music will play a very important role in my next feature film coming out in 2018, with the alien beings speaking using choral music. I plan on writing an entirely new musical score for the feature film, and even create a symphonic suite with the music. Besides this, there are a few possible projects in the future, including a video game score and a couple of collaborative multimedia projects with other composers.
Contact Sabrina on Social Media:
official website: https://sabrinapenayoung.wordpress.com/
instagram: spenayoung (https://preprod.instagram.com/spenayoung/)
Libertaria the Virtual Opera: https://virtualopera.wordpress.com/
The HMF Blog posts featuring our people are compiled and prepared by our 2017 intern, Scott Eiklenborg (a percussion student at Wartburg College, Waverly, IA).