Clinton Ackerman is a composer, sound designer, and music teacher based in Regina. He grew up in the small town of Watrous, Saskatchewan studying classical and jazz piano. He is currently working towards an MFA at the University of Regina in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on music and social work. Clinton’s music has been read by the Victoria Symphony, performed by the Bozzini Quartet from Montreal, and has been a part of many interdisciplinary projects around Saskatchewan. He most recently composed music for the production of Richard III at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. Clinton is currently developing a program for youth that will give them an opportunity to play improvised music and express themselves through various forms of composition.
For Sound Symposium Clinton will offer a workshop and performance with collaborator Chinese guzheng player Jing Xia.
This interview has been edited to length and concision.
Annie Corrigan: How incredible that your degree is in music and social work. How did you decide to join these two areas?
Clinton Ackerman: I’ve always been drawn to the community side of music. Music has a really amazing way of bringing people together and there are many psychological, emotional, and spiritual benefits that can be found in music making. There’s a personal side to it as well though, music helped me through a really challenging time when I was younger and has continued to help me grow, heal, and brought about some pretty amazing opportunities (like composing music for Sound Symposium). Music seems to have an inherent ability to help people, so it seemed like a natural fit.
AC: What was one of your earliest, or most influential experiences with improv?
CA: I played in concert and jazz band in high school and I remember being introduced to improvisation as a solo in the middle of a song — so knowing what pentatonic scale fits the chords and go from there. Then I started learning jazz piano and writing songs. So that was all impactful, but my world didn’t really blow up until university. We had a contemporary performance class in my first year and we did free improv. I was playing all of these bad jazz ideas trying to force that sound, and then something clicked and I realized how many more possibilities there were and what it’s really about. After that I remember being super annoyed that I hadn’t been introduced to much contemporary forms of music, other than jazz and popular music, until university.
AC: What was it like growing up in a small town, and what role did music play in your youth?
CA: Music has always been pretty central to my life. I love Watrous, the town where I grew up. I had a lot of opportunities for extra curricular activities there. I tried most sports and there were a couple that I stuck with, but I didn’t really consider myself a football player or a basketball player – I was a pianist. I remember injuring my hand during one football game, a couple fingers swelled up a rather scary amount and I panicked. I remember telling one of the coaches that I would have to quit if it did damage. It didn’t, but my world came crashing down around for a brief moment. That was probably a defining moment for realizing just how important music was in my life.
AC: Describe your collaboration with Jing Xia.
CA: We’ve been chatting a lot about where we’re from. We met in a summer class at MUN that was about intercultural dialogue and that certainly infiltrated what we’re doing with this piece. I’m a prairie boy who grew up playing western classical music, she’s a Chinese guzheng player who grew up playing traditional Chinese music, and we’re trying to bring these two worlds together. If our friendship crosses borders, why not our music? It’s been a fun challenge trying to write for the guzheng, I’ve never written for an instrument like it, and I’m also trying to work with the traditional tuning of it. She’s been very patient and encouraging. It’s been a really nice collaboration, albeit challenging since I’m working from Regina and we’re both in school. I’m writing how I was trained — western 5-line staff — which isn’t how the guzheng is traditional notated, so that takes some time to adjust, and there are some extended techniques being used which we had to try out and see what was possible.
Clinton Ackerman At Sound Symposium XIX*
- Workshop — Friday, July 6 at 11:30am (LSPU Hall)
- Workshop — Thursday, July 12 at 4:00pm (Choral Room, MUN School of Music)
- Workshop Creations, Graphical Scores — Thursday, July 12 at 7:00pm (LSPU Hall)
*Times and locations subject to change.