As a seasoned composer for multiple media, an accomplished singer/songwriter and a performer, Kathryn Bostic has cultivated a rich and varied career as a versatile musician that is punctuated by her drive to create and share. She has earned numerous awards and fellowships for her work, including the Sundance Time Warner Fellowship, the Sundance Fellowship for Feature Film Scoring, the Sundance/Skywalker Documentary Film Scoring and the BMI Conducting Fellowship. Her music has scored critically acclaimed films and series like Clemency, Dear White People and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, for which her original song “High Above the Water,” was shortlisted for a Best Original Song Oscar. More recently, for her work on Clemency, she was cited by Variety as one of “10 Composers to Watch.”
She was the first female African American score composer to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and she served as Vice President for the Alliance of Women Composers. She’s also recorded and toured with wide array of artists, from Nas to Ryuichi Nakamoto to John Hiatt to David Byrne.
As the world collectively waits out this period of uncertainty, BMI reached out to Kathryn Bostic to find how this remarkably prolific and thoughtful music creator is finding inspiration and staying active. Here’s what she had to say.
What’s helping you stay focussed during this time? Are there any exercises you practice to keep in the creative mindset?
I really don’t have any exercises I practice at this time because I’m enjoying just being. There is such a stillness now, even in the middle of all this chaos and crisis, all is a stark reminder that nothing is really a given. I am enjoying the gift of this uncertainty which is forcing me to be present, and that gets me into a creative space. Sometimes it’s sitting at the piano and having that tactile vibe and seeing what comes out under my fingers. Sometimes it’s singing a melody and going from there. A treasure trove of musical sketches that can flourish. Music has taught me the importance of choice, joyful or otherwise, I can make that can expand my self-expression. Mostly, it continues to teach me fluidity, going with the flow of life not with passivity but with an unspoken understanding that this is what life truly is, an ebb and flow of events and energy that transcend control. Being present so that as I’m creating I access a very pure, embryonic and empowering place of creativity.
How is this experience forcing you to adapt? What online tools are you using, if any?
I’ve been having zoom meetings and social hangs, Skype calls, conference calls. It’s really interesting to see how this physical distancing has, in many ways, brought on more interaction. I’ve been speaking with friends and family I haven’t spoken to in a while so there’s been a lot of outreach and I’ve also been “chillaxing!” Love that! Praying for humanKIND and saying thank you to nature as I witness the vibrancy of the planet. She’s seems so much more vibrant, happy and healed! Let’s hope we can sustain this and not have convenient amnesia about her importance in our lives.
What songs are keeping you inspired at this time? What is your musical comfort food?
My musical comfort food, that’s a great question! I’m listening to a lot of my old songs and saying, “wow…there’s something here, let’s revisit that”. It’s so interesting to see how your songs can reflect a musical journal of your life! Such a gift.
I’ve also been listening to a wide range of music while cleaning out my space. So a little bit of everything.
What is the one thing you are most looking forward to doing when this is over?
I am most looking forward to getting back in the studio with an incredible group of musicians to finish my record. There are some things that can be done remotely, and these days that’s more and more common, but there’s nothing like being in the studio cutting the tracks with the various musicians. And they are all MEGA-MEGA superstar talent! So the vibe is incredible! I typically compose music for film and TV productions so it’s not primarily my voice or songs that are the focal point. I’m SO psyched to finally be working on my record! Stay tuned! Can’t wait to share!
If you are at liberty to say, what other projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a few projects at the moment and I just finished scoring three terrific films, one is an HBO documentary directed by Sam Pollard, Black Art in the Absence of Light, about the impact of African American visual artists, Playing for Keeps by James Redford about the importance of creative outlet for adults, and a profoundly inspiring film about Rita Moreno, produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda directed by Mariem Perez, Rita Moreno- The Girl Who Decided to Go for It.
What advice would you share with your fellow songwriters for getting through this?
I truly believe that songwriters and artists of all backgrounds have the good fortune to not only create our art form but apply this same dynamic to all areas of our daily lives. We are at this moment living in times of heightened uncertainty and chaos. Everything we’ve known and defined as “us”, “I”, “you”, “me” is being shaken into a topsy-turvy dimension, stripping away all references of security and familiarity. We are so fortunate because we already have an appreciation to create from the unknown and can therefore be more comfortable with uncertainty than others. We can rely on our ability to create from the void and find strength and comfort here. We can make a choice to self-assuredly go deeper in inquiry about who and what we truly are. We can value our autonomy within humanity and share from this place.
My best moments in creating music and performing happen when I am completely present and fully embrace the blank creative canvas to work with. You know what it’s like when you’re in the zone, you lose yourself, you lose track of time and other constraints and you yield to that process. Creating music continuously teaches me the value of being present and to have faith in the unfolding of life regardless of its immense challenges. Faith is a muscle that when strengthened, truly does provide greater well being on all levels. This current crisis is a huge wake up call for humanity unlike we’ve ever seen so my faith muscle is flexing BIG TIME. I’ve also been journaling a lot and I know I’ve got some good songs waiting for me to find them SO this is one outlet for me and I’m sure many more songwriters are experiencing this same thing.
In your opinion, what is the music creator’s role during troubled times like these?
In my opinion, I think that as music creators, we have an impactful gift in that our music, songs, creations, have the potential to touch people, really move them, heal, evoke, invoke solidarity. We can be a vessel for absolute reception of flow, grace and powerful connection with us all. I was telling a friend the other day that I have heard singers with great voices who are extraordinarily captivating but then there are those singers whose voice is not a “singers voice” per se but a voice of vessel, a voice of vehicle where they not only captivate you but the experience is transcendent. THAT’s something! Woweeeee! Beautiful! Goose bump sensory, and if the song can be intertwined with that, well that’s heaven.
Music is considered to be one of the highest forms of spiritual healing and renewal. Let’s get to it!
Bostic was generous enough to offer an original song of encouragement in these trying times. Here is she performing “Safely Home.”