Discussions: Anna Yarbrough

Belfast’s Anna Yarbrough has enjoyed a successful career producing music for others. Her work has made programs like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Young and the Restless all sound a great deal more sophisticated. But it’s time for the composer and pianist to focus on her own vision. Two years after her debut solo DIVIDED, Yarborough remains committed to being an “eternal student.”

NYC seems a perfect home for you, with its various influences. Is that what attracted you to it in the first place?

I suppose that’s true in many ways. The city offers access to a lot of the things I value – art, music, history – a walkable city with thriving neighbourhoods and a melting pot of cultures. That being said, it definitely wasn’t my first choice. We (my husband and I) moved here from Nashville, TN in 2016 as he had decided to go back to law school.

We stayed on after his studies. It was the smart thing to do in terms of job opportunity and setting ourselves up for the future. But we won’t be here forever. I’m really looking forward to relocating somewhere with more space (for pianos, of course) and easy access to nature. I’m sure there are things I’ll miss about the city when I leave, but I often think I’d be most content with some land and a peaceful environment where I can create.

Relationships can be remarkable that way. Our capacity to do for those we love – sometimes to make extraordinary sacrifices – is almost always surprising.

Funny you mention that, it’s something I have been thinking a lot about recently – the nature of sacrifice. It seems largely antithetical to the spirit of Western society these days. Everything is about self. Self-promotion, self-care, selfies – always self first.

I wonder if we’ve lost something that’s key to the human experience in our inability to make sacrifices for things greater than ourselves, or prioritize others ahead of ourselves. That being said, a huge part of the artistic experience (and ability to express) requires delving into the self. There’s a lot of internal processing and self-examination required to create meaningful art.

Anyway, to get back to your question. Yes, I believe so. From the most obvious levels – a musical father – to the grander sum-of-the-parts; ultimately the music I create is the outcome of all of my experiences, in which people inevitably star at the centre. I think relationships tend to affect my music in a more general way, on the whole. The communities I find myself in nurture my mental and emotional capacity, or direct it in one way or another and produce a certain result. That in turn affects the way I write, even if I don’t see a direct correlation on the surface to any particular person or event. I don’t tend to write too much based on specific scenarios.

I think you’re right about the downside of egoism. But a healthy ego is an essential element of creativity, isn’t it?

Maybe so, in the sense of self-esteem. I think it can definitely help shield you as an artist and it can ultimately serve you well in a career where longevity (and resilience) is required. I guess we do tend to use the word ego in a primarily negative way.

However, I really value humility in a person. And I’ve noticed that it is those who are often most unsure of their work that end up producing some of the best (at least, I like to think so in the midst of my own uncertainties). I think being an eternal student and realizing there’s always more to learn is both very humbling and very valuable for growth. Granted, leaning too far in the other direction just results in a creative depression – that one I’m familiar with!

You and me both. Thematically, are there constants in your work? Or do you look forward to opportunities to reinvent yourself artistically?

The main constant is the piano. I rarely write without it. Aside from that, I don’t feel like I have enough work out there on the artist side to really say what my fingerprint is yet. The majority of my catalogue isn’t readily available online, being that I started writing music for synchronization purposes (music for film, TV, etc.) long before I decided to release anything as an artist.

The end of 2019, through the whole of 2020, has been an interesting period for me. I stopped to pause on my artistic output and decide whether what I had been creating is what I actually want to create. I pretty much had no idea what the modern-classical scene was when I released my first album at the end of 2018. Like most people, I went on the journey of discovering playlists, trying to crack the code and writing for whatever came my way; only to find that I didn’t particularly enjoy creating like that. I really needed a break in order to reflect on what I was doing, improve my skill set (and recordings) and decide what I actually want to create.

I’ve almost finished the first project of this new season – a short EP recorded on piano during quarantine. it definitely feels more me. After that, I’m picking up an album project I started last year. This one will be more extensive – likely strings, synth and electronics alongside the piano.

That intersection between electronic/ambient and new classical music is really exciting right now. What appeals to you about music like that?

I think one of the most appealing things is that the possibilities are endless. The fusion of the two is not something I have explored to a great degree myself, but I’m excited about doing so. I love having that freedom in direction. Within the modern-classical sector you can write in a way that’s resolutely classical in style, or you have the option to experiment and push the boundaries of what has been done before. There is so much potential in that.

Discussions is a new series of conversations with contemporary music figures. Please submit proposals to modernslove@gmail.com.

Kevin Press

The Moderns, vols. 1-3 – available exclusively from Amazon

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