Twenty questions with composer Julie Herndon

julie herndon

We’re excited to announce that Bay Area composer Julie Herndon will be Elevate Ensemble’s composer-in-residence for the 2018-19 season! As a way to get to know her, we asked Julie to answer a quick-fire round of 20 questions. Check it out!


What are three things about the Bay Area that make you want to live here?

  1. The Bay Area is gorgeous (ocean, hills, greenery, bridges, forests).
  2. Weirdness is welcome.
  3. There are, like, 400 microclimates and chances are one of them is the perfect temperature on any given day.

Your favorite sound?
At a live show, when the performer is totally in the moment, and I am in it too—whatever those sounds are.

Your least favorite sound?
Inconsiderate sounds, for example, when someone is playing a battery-operated speaker in the wilderness where it would otherwise be sooooo peaceful…

Your favorite smells?
Lavender, chocolate geranium leaves, roses.

Your first three record store purchases
(I’m gonna be honest here)

  • Brandy Never Say Never
  • Amy Grant Behind the Eyes
  • Good Charlotte (they were from near my hometown, ok?!)
Julie Herndon’s To Speak (2018): I’m really interested in how speech, communication, and music overlap. This piece explores that by asking players to tell a story with their instruments. This story is interrupted, supplemented, and eventually stretched into song.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?
Bali sounds great!

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?
The Hardy Boys (all), Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves by Elyse Mach, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The cliché that you overuse?
“I love that.” On The Bachelor/Bachelorette, they use it as a reply whenever someone confesses their feelings. Turns out it’s the perfect reply for any situation you need to respond to without thinking of a more responsive response.

Shoe of choice?
Running shoes. Just in case.

Your ancestry?
I just found out from a recent conversation with my Granddad that my great-great-grandparents immigrated from a small town outside Goteborg, Sweden.

The character flaw in others that you can’t abide?
Oof, when people are condescending.

The talent that you wish you possessed?
The gift of gab. Somehow I got stuck with “good listener” 😉

What are you listening to as you answer these questions?
Yoko Ono Approximately Infinite Universe

Julie Herndon’s I Can Take (2018): In this piece, players improvise in response to a changing visual environment. They “take” the musical material by accepting it for what it is, and twisting, interpreting, interpolating it under the direction of a light bulb conductor.

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?
I always wanted to play the flute. Sometimes I wonder how my life might be different if I had gotten my hands on one as a kid.

What is the one animal that scares you the most?
Oh, definitely sharks.

If you had a motto, what would it be?
Don’t take anything personally.

Have you ever fired a gun? If so, what were the circumstances?
I grew up in Southern Maryland (so, yes) and my dad kept a .22 rifle in his closet. We would take it out from time to time and do a little target practice with a milk jug we sat on top of a bird bath.

The thing that makes you the happiest?
When humans open up and are generous with their kindness.

Your first memory?
At my preschool, there was a plastic horse with wheels on it that you could pull around like walking a dog. My first memory is getting the horse from the toy shed at recess and taking it over where we could be alone and singing to it.

The first three things that you do every morning?
Every morning, I put the water on boil and then I do yoga and meditate. It’s just a few minutes, and when I’m done, I feel so awake and the coffee’s ready!

More on Julie

Julie Herndon is a composer and performer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work blends internal/external spaces through song, electronics, text, graphics, and improvisation. Her electroacoustic work has been described as “striking” and “blended to inhabit a surprisingly expressive space” (San Francisco Classical Voice). Recent compositions have been performed by ensembles including JACK Quartet, Ensemble Proton Bern, Line Upon Line Percussion, Retro Disco, and Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. Performances include festivals and venues such as Artistry Space and Hotel Vagabond in Singapore, soundSCAPE in Italy, Megapolis Audio Art Festival in Oakland, and Hot Air Festival in San Francisco. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Stanford University.