Interview With Composer Sydney Guillaume

Phoenix’s last concert of this “season of premieres” will be a moment of closure and remembrance, to finally showcase three beautiful works originally commissioned by Phoenix in 2020. One of these pieces is Hatian-American composer Sydney Guillaume’s piece entitled “Nou La,  which encapsulates the loss and unrest of the past two years, capitalizing on the cultural, racial, and social injustices felt worldwide. Guillaume’s piece is a defiant message of resilience,  lifting up silenced voices to remind the world of “Nou La” which translates to “We are Here”. This interview with Sydney Guillaume adds so much richness and meaning to an already significant piece. Please join us for this powerful premiere at our Spring concert: Evolve, happening in person in Vancouver on May 7 or virtually May 14-21. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself; introduce yourself to our audience

Sydney Guillaume: I’m originally from Haiti and moved to the United States with my family when I was young. I started music lessons (piano) in Haiti and continued in Miami. After writing my first choral piece when I was in college, I realized that I could use this platform to showcase a more positive image of Haiti and elevate the Haitian Creole language.

(View Sydney’s full bio here)

Tell us about the inspiration behind your composition, Nou La. What’s the story? 

Before I began working on “Nou La”, Nicolle Andrews, Frédéricka Petit-Homme and I met over video conference to have an honest conversation about marginalized communities and how the Phoenix Chamber Choir could use their platform to make a difference and stand with those whose voices who have yet to be heard. We specifically spoke at length about Haiti and Haitian immigrants abroad. Written in 3 languages, the text of “Nou La” was a collaborative effort between composers Frédéricka, Lloyd Reshard Jr.  and myself.  After many meaningful conversations, the heart of the text was realized. Lloyd expressed his sentiments, stating: “The English portion of ‘Nou La’ stems from the social, cultural, racial and political unrest that has been stirred during the global Covid-19 pandemic. It was important for me to capture the questioning, the frustration, and the desire welling inside myself and others who feel marginalized.”

What pleases you the most about the piece now that it’s complete?

The fact that the piece is finished is something that I personally celebrate. It was not an easy piece to write, and the subject matter was emotionally taxing for me to continuously immerse myself in. I haven’t heard it come to life yet, and I’m sure I will have more things to celebrate about the piece after its first performance.

What do you hope the audience will experience while listening to Nou La?

Our hope is that “Nou La” compels the listener to confront and wrestle with their own political, cultural, historical, and social stances, particularly when we do not agree or understand one another. We also hope that this work encourages listeners to passionately confront inhumanity as they cultivate empathy and compassion, inspiring the listener to examine their own relationship and actions towards marginalized communities. 

Obviously Phoenix has the privilege of premiering your piece on May 7 and then recording it afterward. What will you be listening for during the premiere performance? What do you look most forward to hearing it performed for the first time?

At the premiere, I plan to listen to it (as much as possible) as an audience member hearing it for the first time. I hope the sentiments of the piece come across the way I imagined, hopefully better than I imagined!

A fun question that we ask everyone: what are you listening to right now?

The past few days, I’ve been listening to All Classical Portland at home. Today Dances in the Canebrakes by Florence Price came on, and I had never heard it. I enjoyed it so much that I found the album online (Asa – Piano Music by Composers of African Descent, Vol. 2). I’ve been listening to the album as I answer these questions.

Anything else you want to share about yourself, the piece, or the upcoming concert. 

I currently reside in Portland, Oregon and I’m very much looking forward to my first trip to Vancouver, BC for the world premiere of the piece. At the conception of the piece, during the video conference with Frédéricka, she spoke these words that remain at the center of this piece:

“Haiti – first black-led republic.

Haiti – economically punished for overthrowing their oppressors.

Haiti – survivor of dictatorships and natural disasters. 

Nou la. We really are ‘here’.  We are here and will continue to stand, to sing, and to praise.” Frédéricka Petit-Homme


Buy tickets to Phoenix’s in-person concert on May 7

Buy tickets to our online concert, streaming May 14-21.