Lauren Williams has always stood out as an exceptional performer and musician, but what strikes me most about her is her initiative. She has woven her Armenian heritage into her musical path by researching Armenian composers and pieces, arranging Armenian music, and performing Armenian works. By presenting Armenian music in a meaningful way, Lauren has enlarged the world around her with under-represented voices.
Rather than simply acknowledging disparity in arts education, Lauren actively works to correct it. Last year, Lauren asked if I was interested in collaborating with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven. We presented music workshops over the summer to help young refugees learn music and collaboratively compose their own song.
By promoting living and past women composers, Lauren fights for more equity in the field. At Yale, I remember going to her recital consisting of only women composers. This is a rarity. Most recitals, without even being conscious of it, program all male composers. Even my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Recital exclusively showcased pieces by male composers. I was shocked to see how many musicians didn’t think about programming more or only women’s works!
In my last semester at Yale I took a composing class with David Lang and chamber music with Ben Verdery. Both of them encouraged me to start composing, so I went ahead over winter break and composed a piece for flute and guitar which I performed at the Yale Guitar Recital. Lauren came to that recital and a while afterwards commissioned me to write a piece for her. I was shocked but also so excited at the same time. Still, I doubted whether I had the experience to accept this. While driving to work, I heard on a podcast that most women have more doubts than men about whether they are qualified for a job. The timing was perfect. Alright, I agreed!
The process of working with her was wonderful. We met in the early stages of the composition up until the finished product—seeing what direction she wanted to go in, listening to Indian classical music, playing with improvisation, and tweaking phrases for breathing. Her voice is very much imbedded in this piece. The best moment was when I heard the final recording of Ashakiran and revealed her improvisation at the end. At first, she expressed doubts about it but when actually going through with it, Lauren absolutely owned it.
The title Ashakiran, or “Ray of Hope,” is written for all of those people who think that they are not good enough or have doubts. My hope is that we can grow into more confident and stronger people to overcome the inequality we live with. In every aspect of her life, Lauren always looks for ways to take initiative to build a community where everyone can thrive.
Link below to Lauren William's recording