Heidi Surprenant is a long time member of the Broken Walls Community Church Writers Group. She has presented a novel, musical compositions, poetry, several children’s books, and recently helped me turn a one-act play into an operetta. It was amazing to watch Heidi turn very rough lyrics into wonderful songs.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Heidi.
Bob: I really enjoyed the process of writing songs with you for our operetta, “Committed.”
So I have some questions:
How does the music come to you when you are bringing the lyrics and the music together? Is it creativity first and then training?
Heidi: Great question! When I’m working with an already-written set of lyrics, writing the music is a matter of truly listening to the rhythm and inflection of the words, then coming up with a melody that expresses the emotional nuances of the text. If the lyricist is open and flexible (as you are) there can be a bit of give and take to create the perfect match. I don’t think of training and creativity as separate things since they are completely intertwined in the process of song-writing. That said, training in music theory definitely helps me transfer musical ideas from my head onto the staff.
Bob: What is your favorite song genre?
Heidi: Musical theatre of any era! I also enjoy folk rock, indie pop, alternative rock, and world-beat. It’s exciting to hear how diverse musical genres from around the globe are influencing and being influenced by one another.
Bob: What is your formal musical training?
Heidi: I have a B.A. in music education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a M.M. in music composition from UW-Milwaukee. My undergrad degree dates from the late 1970’s though and feels a bit like ancient history!
Bob: You play horn and piano. Do you play other instruments?
Heidi: Violin – although I’ve never actually made it past the “sick cat” stage. Also, I play organ in church occasionally, especially when one of the “big” hymns comes up, such as “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” or “For All the Saints.”
Bob: When you are writing music out of your personal interests, what are you most likely going to write?
Heidi: I love writing song cycles, piano miniatures, and anything for brass!
Bo:b: What is your favorite late night snack?
Heidi: Hot or cold, leftover pizza always hits the spot. I think I’ll grab a slice from the fridge…
Bob: Do you keep paper handy wherever you go in case inspiration strikes?
Heidi: Definitely; a pencil, too! Maybe I should invest in a laptop.
Bob: Who is the last musician you bought on CD or download?
Heidi: The last CD I purchased was Gorecki’s Symphony #3, “The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
Bob: What is your favorite activity outside of writing and music?
Heidi: I like to bike and hike (and rhyme). Reading is also a great joy for me, especially outside on the porch on a warm summer day.
Bob: What’s your next musical composition?
Heidi: I’m currently working on an extensive arranging project. When I finish it, I’ll treat myself to a brass quintet; can’t wait!
Bob: In summer do you like to stay up late and write or compose or do you like to get a good night’s sleep.
Heidi: When I’m “in the zone,” I stay up late to work on a piece without even realizing the passage of time. I think that’s what happens to most people. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter for a long time, but 3 a.m. sometimes rolls around before I look at the clock and decide I’d better call it a night.
It’s been fun answering your questions, Bob! All the best to you and your family!
Bob: Thanks, Heidi, for letting us take a peek into the life of a composer, poet, and musician. I’m looking forward to experiencing your next work.