Meredith Monk

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Meredith Monk
Birth name Meredith Jane Monk
Born (1942-11-20) November 20, 1942 (age 71)
New York, NY
Origin New York, NY
Genres Avant-garde
Years active 1968–present

Meredith Jane Monk (born November 20, 1942) is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer. Since the 1960s, Monk has created multi-disciplinary works which combine music, theatre, and dance, recording extensively for ECM Records.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Meredith Monk is primarily known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques, which she first developed in her solo performances prior to forming her own ensemble. In December 1961, she appeared at the Actor's Playhouse in Greenwich Village (NYC) as a solo dancer in an Off Broadway children's musical theater adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", entitled "Scrooge" (music and lyrics by Norman Curtis; directed and choreographed by Patricia Taylor Curtis). In 1964, Monk graduated from Sarah Lawrence College after studying with Beverly Schmidt Blossom, and in 1968 she founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance.

Monk's performances have influenced many artists, including Bruce Nauman, whom she met in San Francisco in 1968. In 1978 Monk formed Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble (modelled after similar ensembles of musical colleagues, such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass), to explore new and wider vocal textures and forms, which often were contrasted with minimal instrumental textures. Monk began a long-standing relationship with the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis, which continues to showcase her work to this day. Pieces from this time include Dolmen Music (1979), which also was recorded for her first album released at Manfred Eicher's record label ECM in 1981.

In the 1980s, Monk wrote and directed two films, Ellis Island (1981), and Book of Days (1988), which developed from a single idea; "One day during summer of 1984, as I was sweeping the floor of my house in the country, the image of a young girl (in black and white) and a medieval street in the Jewish community (also in black and white) came to me." Monk tells this account in the liner notes of the ECM-recording. Apart from the film, different versions exist of this piece. Two are for the concert hall, and an album, produced by Meredith Monk and Manfred Eicher, is "a film for the ears."

In the early 1990s, Monk composed an opera called Atlas, which premiered in Houston, Texas, in 1991. She has also written pieces for instrumental ensembles and symphony orchestras. Her first symphonic work was Possible Sky (2003). It was followed by Stringsongs (2004) for string quartet, which was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet. In 2005, events were held all over the world in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her career, including a concert in Carnegie Hall featuring Björk, Terry Riley, DJ Spooky (who sampled Monk on his album Drums of Death), Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, John Zorn, and the new music ensembles Alarm Will Sound and Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with the Pacific Mozart Ensemble.

Honors and legacy[edit]

Monk has won numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship. She has been awarded honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from Bard College, the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), the Juilliard School, the San Francisco Art Institute and the Boston Conservatory. In 2007, she received in Italy the Demetrio Stratos International Award for musical experimentation.[2][3]

Her music was used in films by the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, 1998) and Jean-Luc Godard (Nouvelle Vague, 1990 and Notre musique, 2004).

French singer Camille paid an explicit homage to Meredith in her song The Monk (Music Hole, 2008) which beyond its obvious title also reminds in its construction the work of Monk.

Hip hop artist DJ Shadow sampled Dolmen Music on the track "Midnight in a Perfect World" from his 1995 album Endtroducing......

In a recent interview, Monk said that her favourite music includes Brazilian music, especially Caetano Veloso's recordings, the music by Mildred Bailey ("the great jazz singer from the ‘30s and ‘40s"), and Bartók's cycle for piano Mikrokosmos.


Instrumental works[edit]

Vocal works[edit]

  • 16 Millimeter Earrings for voice, guitar and tapes (1966)
  • Juice: A Theater Cantata for 85 voices, jaw harp and two violins (1969)
  • Vessel: An Opera Epic for 75 voices, electronic organ, dulcimer and accordion (1971)
  • Our Lady of Late for solo voice and wine glass (1972)
  • Quarry: An Opera for 38 voices, 2 pump organs, 2 soprano recorders, tape (1976)
  • Songs from the Hill for unaccompanied solo voice (1976)
  • Tablet for four voices, piano four hands, two soprano recorders (1976)
  • Dolmen Music for 6 voices, cello, percussion (1979)
  • The Games for 16 voices, synthesizer, keyboards, Flemish Bagpipes, bagpipes, Chinese horn and rauschpfeife (1983)
  • Astronaut Anthem for chorus a cappella (1983)
  • Panda Chant II for chorus a cappella (1984)
  • Book of Days for 25 voices, synthesizer, piano or 7 voices, synthesizer (Chamber Version) (1985) recorded for ECM
  • Scared Song, song for solo voice, synthesizer and piano (1986)
  • I Don't Know, song for solo voice and piano (1986)
  • Atlas: An Opera in Three Parts for 18 voices and chamber orchestra (1991)
  • Three Heavens and Hells for 4 voices (1992)
  • Volcano Songs (Solo) for solo voice, voice with taped voices and piano (1994)
  • Star Trek: Envoy for composing/directing/performing in the Den-Kai/Krikiki Ensemble (1995)
  • The Politics of Quiet for 10 voices, 2 keyboards, horn, violin, bowed psaltery (1996)
  • Magic Frequencies for 6 voices, 2 keyboards, percussion (1999)
  • Eclipse Variations for 4 voices, esraj, sampler, recorded in surround sound, commissioned by Starkland
  • Mercy for 6 voices, 2 keyboards, percussion, multiple woodwinds, violin (2001)
  • When There Were Work Songs for vocal ensemble (2002, commissioned by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble)
  • Last Song for solo voice and piano (2003)
  • Impermanence for eight voices, piano, keyboard, marimba, vibraphone, percussion, violin, multiple woodwinds, bicycle wheel (2005)
  • Night for chorus and orchestra (1996/2005)
  • Songs of Ascension for vocal ensemble and string quartet (2006, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, with Ann Hamilton)
  • Weave for solo voices, chorus and orchestra (2010, commissioned by Grand Center Inc and the Los Angeles Master Chorale)



  • 1989 - Book of Days. Director and co-writer with Tone Blevins.
  • 1993 – The Sensual Nature of Sound: 4 Composers – Laurie Anderson, Tania León, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros. Directed by Michael Blackwood.
  • 1983 – Four American Composers "Meredith Monk." Directed by Peter Greenaway.
  • 1996 – Speaking of Dance: Conversations With Contemporary Masters of American Modern Dance. No. 22: Meredith Monk. American Dance Festival. Directed by Douglas Rosenberg.


  1. ^ Allmusic
  2. ^ "COAST TO COAST MONK" (PDF). New York City, N.Y., U.S.: Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  3. ^ "Meredith Monk: di scena la musica totale". Articles (in Italian). 2007-06-02. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 

See also Beverly Schmidt Blossom

External links[edit]