Who or what inspired you to take up composing and pursue a career in music?
From the age of five, when I used to sit at my piano, I enjoyed creating little melodies. My interest in composition never waned. I was encouraged to take piano lessons when I was eight years old, having been told by my family and teachers that I had talent. Unfortunately, my music teachers in both voice and piano. as well as my parents, exerted too many pressures and expectations on me. As a result, I began to feel insecure and frustrated and I couldn’t perform as well as I would have liked. In addition, for most of my life I was also dealing with ADHD, which prevented me from concentrating on my studies.
It wasn’t until my sixties that my cello teacher suggested that I compose a piece for cello and piano. That suggestion led me to seriously compose five CDs of chamber music in five years. It was as if there was a well of ideas locked up that needed to be released and I couldn’t stop it from flowing.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
I had a great uncle, Rudy, a virtuoso violinist, who died tragically at the age of 25. I never met him, but I began to receive many of his photos, documents, recital programmes, letters between he and my grandfather, and a recording of his from 1929. His first instrument, a viola, also found its way to me, and I started taking lessons about five years ago. I realized that this was my second chance to engage in a positive way with my music. I felt a sense of freedom, empowerment, and that anything is possible. My composing, which is classically-based, has moved in a different direction stylistically, incorporating jazz, blues, Latin —all styles that I was exposed to growing up. I then formed an ensemble, SONORO, in 2019, with sax, flute, viola, cello, piano, percussion and bass, experimenting with different combinations of instruments for my pieces.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The greatest challenge is to get acknowledgement for the music that I compose. The competition is enormous, and though I truly believe in what I have accomplished, there is always the issue of what category does it fit into. My music doesn’t have a genre and that can sometimes make it difficult for people to find me and understand what I am doing. Music is music whatever category we call it and I hope that we can move in a direction where genre becomes less important. It’s more about creating something that is wonderful and engaging.
What are the pleasures/challenges of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles, etc?
Challenges would be that musicians have certain ways of playing and interpreting my music. I work with musicians, whom for the most part, I have known awhile. It is important that we are open to listening to each others suggestions to make the performance of the composition the best it can be. Ultimately, hearing my compositions played by wonderful musicians is joyful and a memorable experience. It is also gratifying to know that the players enjoy my music.
Of which works are you most proud?
I am proud of my classical works, but I am excited to see how my music has evolved into something unexpected. For instance, I am composing a blues piece with strings, a sax piece with strings and piano, moving into writings with more unusual combinations of instruments. The styles of music have no genre, but that is what makes them unique.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
It should be lyrical and all about the melody. When it is heard by the listener, it should linger in his or her mind so that it makes an impression. Music should also have an image or tell a story. Lastly, and most importantly, I want my music to impart emotion, so that it can touch someone. If my music does that, then I have achieved what I have set out to do.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
I love romantic music. One of the great performers that I admired was Jacqueline du Pré. My favourite composers are Brahms, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and Debussy. They have certainly influenced my writing.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I feel successful when my music is heard with positive response. I put so much care and energy in what I am creating and it means so much to have an audience acknowledge it.
How do you work?
My routine for composing is to throw out musical ideas on my piano beginning early in the day. If some melodic idea has potential, I write it down. Then, I go back to it on and off over the next day or two. If I still like it, I begin to set up my instrumentation on my computer with a Finale notation programme. I put in the instruments on the staff along with the key and time signature. I can do all my editing from there to complete my piece. I spend most of my day writing because I find that sitting down every day, tapping into ideas, stimulates more ideas down the road.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To me, the most important thing in being a musician, besides practicing and playing with other musicians, is to find a great mentor who not only believes in your musicianship, but is supportive and encouraging. I never experienced that until now with my viola teacher. Too many teachers are discouraging and critical, and that leads to a student feeling insecure, questioning why they are wanting a career in music. Music should be joyous. If it’s not, then a student should find another mentor.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow and maintain classical music’s audiences?
I feel that much more needs to be done in the USA to fund and support the arts.
At a young age, students should be exposed to good music so that they develop an appreciation for it. There should be school trips to hear concerts, even taking students to listen to a masterclass. Sports seem to take a priority to the arts and we need to change that.
What is your most treasured possession?
It is my creativity.
What is your present state of mind?
This phase of my life is about being productive, seeing where my music leads me. Therefore, I feel that there are no boundaries. I have a sense of freedom, empowerment and that anything is possible with my music.
Sharon Ruchman and SONORO’s new album, Simply SONORO, on Soundcloud:
American composer, pianist and violist, Sharon Ruchman began her musical journey when she took up piano at the age of eight, later receiving a Bachelor of Music from New England Conservatory of Music and a Master of Music from Yale School of Music. Her myriad accomplishments include the production of six CDs, including original classical music for solo instrumentation and chamber ensembles.
In 2015, Ruchman’s life changes both professionally and personally when her great uncle Rudy’s viola finds its way to her. A virtuoso violinist who died tragically at the age of 25 in 1933, Rudolph “Rudy” Fuchs’ story inspires her to rewrite her own. She begins to take viola lessons, writes her memoir, The Gift of Rudy, and starts to compose like never before. Following her passion for tango, she composes five original slow tango compositions, beautifully choreographed in videos by dancers of Tango Berretin Dance Company.
With a newfound, experimental, multi-instrumental approach combined with a traditional, classical foundation, Ruchman founds SONORO in 2019. A musical ensemble at the forefront of contemporary music performance, the group offers a playful and romantic mix of classical, jazz and Latin through a variety of flexible instrumentation to include piano, flute, saxophone, viola, cello, bass and percussion. Original work, composed by Ruchman and produced by Marc Wager Weisgal, is stretching boundaries of contemporary rhythms, creating a unique musical blend. There’s an element of fun and exploration in the music, showcasing the personalities and talents of the group’s highly skilled musicians.
The story of Sharon’s great uncle, The Gift of Rudy:
For additional music, including Sharon’s five CDs and tango videos, visit www.sharonruchman.com
Photo Credit: Emily Lee from Roxbury Photography