Marisa Michelson, composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

​I remember that while practicing certain piano pieces as a child, my body would quicken and my soul would lift. Music gave me access to a rich inner world and all I wanted to do was spend more and more time adventuring inside of the space. I’m lucky that exterior opportunities and resources allowed me to continue to spend time where I felt most alive. 

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

​When I was 23 years old, I won a major grant from the Shen Family Foundation to write a Musical about anything whatsoever that interested me. Having this kind of financial support and artistic freedom at that age gave me confidence and the opportunity to develop my artistic voice purely without being beholden to external pressures. The response to what I created (which became my Drama-Desk nominated off-Broadway musical, Tamar of the River) was moving and exciting. This experience showed me that I had something to offer that people wanted to hear. I consider this piece, and everyone who helped bring it to life, as being responsible for the career I have now.  

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

​What is most difficult is finding a way to honor what can often feel like warring priorities: I am obsessive about my work, but I also deeply value rest, meditation, peacefulness; I value Being but I am always Doing. I think there must be some powerful narrative trying to persuade me that my career can’t thrive unless I’m operating in a fast-paced, intensely driven workaholic modality. My higher Self does not believe this narrative is Truth, but for now this is a struggle.   

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

​I’m proud of the cast album of “Tamar of the River” produced by Yellow Sound Label. The singers on that album will blow your mind. As a performer, I’m proud of my own performance in my piece “Song of Song of Songs” – which involves challenging vocal lines, improvisation, and movement. That piece will be happening again on February 1st – 3rd as part of my Desire/Divinity Project. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

​I perform my own works best

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

​As a composer, I am always seeking what is new for me. 

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

​I love performing at the historic Judson Memorial Church. I have an ongoing residency there with my ensemble, Constellation Chor, every Friday at 8am. The space is ensouled with spirit and light and ambient sound. The upcoming performances of my Desire/Divinity Project will taking place at Judson (again, February 1st – 3rd)

Who are your favourite musicians?

​I love Bjork, Kate Bush, Tori Amos. Meredith Monk. (I’m happy to see powerful women are at the top of my mind.) I appreciate and am inspired by so many of my friends/peers. (Shout outs to Faye Shapiro and Dave Malloy). I’m inspired by people who are brave brave brave, committed committed committed, and who seek beauty in its many mysterious and elusive forms.   

What is your most memorable concert experience?

​Many are memorable for different reasons. I LOVE performing with my ensemble, Constellation Chor – when we perform together, it is one of my closest meetings with ego-lessness. The trust we’ve cultivated means I can show up with no expectations, sit down, open my mouth and be surprised. It’s not at all about me, but about what we create together. 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?​

​I want to be able to keep making work, and my definition of outer success would be that I have enough financial support and audience interest to be able to manifest my wildest musical-centered imaginations.  

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

​This is for aspiring creators: I’m going to repeat what I said inspires me: Be brave or what is the point? Cultivate trust in yourself. Seek feedback, response, critique, yes yes yes! But learn who you want to get feedback from rather than soliciting feedback from everyone who comes across your work.  

What is your present state of mind? 

​I’m on a bus, considering my answers to these questions. So I’m feeling part ego-centric, part contemplative

Marisa Michelson’s The Desire/Divinity Project receives its world premiere on 1 February with Constellation Chor, Judson Memorial Church, New York. This project was developed by Michelson while researching mind/body/spirit practices with virtuosic singing as an artist-in-residence at Judson Memorial Church. Part One: Song of Songs of Songs explores the relationship between the sensual and the sacred, the body and the spirit, through an exegesis of the Western world’s oldest erotic poem, Song of Songs.


Marisa Michelson is a multi-award winning writer of interdisciplinary music-theatre, choral work, and musicals, and is the founder of Constellation Chor, a vocal performance ensemble. She is also a sought-after voice teacher. Her music has been called “exquisite” (The New York Times), “otherworldly” (Steven Suskin), and “gorgeous…adventurous” (Vox Magazine). Her musical with Joshua H. Cohen, Tamar of the River (Prospect Theater; 2 Drama Desk Nominations) was highly praised as “one of the most extraordinary scores in years (Jesse Green – New York Magazine). Upcoming: One Thousand Nights and One Day (Prospect Theater World Premiere 2018). Other work includes an oratorio for five choirs/200 singers Naamah’s Ark (Royce Vavrek, Ted Sperling, starring Victoria Clark), her interdisciplinary Desire/Divinity Project (Song of Song of Songs and Sappho Fragments (Heartbeat Opera, Judson Memorial), monodrama The Other Room (libretto: Mark Campbell). Awards: 2017 Creative Engagement Award (LMCC); Jonathan Larson Award; American Musical Voices: The Next Generation. Residencies: MacDowell, Ucross, Blue Mountain Center, New Dramatists. MarisaMichelson.com.

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