Meredith Jane Monk (born November 20, 1942) is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer. Since the 1960s, Monk has created multi-disciplinary works which combine music, theatre, and dance, recording extensively for ECM Records.
Meredith Monk was born to businessman Theodore Glenn Monk and singer Audrey Lois (Zellman) Monk, in New York City, New York. Her mother, a professional singer of popular and classical music known under the stage name of Audrey Marsh, was herself the daughter of professional musicians - the Russian Jewish bass-baritone Joseph B. Zellman, and Rose (Kornicker) Zellman, a concert pianist of German Jewish background from Philadelphia. Meredith has a sister, Tracy (born 1948).
Meredith Monk is primarily known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques, which she first developed in her solo performances prior to forming her own ensemble. In December 1961, she appeared at the Actor's Playhouse in Greenwich Village (NYC) as a solo dancer in an Off Broadway children's musical theater adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, entitled Scrooge (music and lyrics by Norman Curtis; directed and choreographed by Patricia Taylor Curtis). In 1964, Monk graduated from Sarah Lawrence College after studying with Beverly Schmidt Blossom, and in 1968 she founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance.
Monk's performances have influenced many artists, including Bruce Nauman, whom she met in San Francisco in 1968. In 1978 Monk formed Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble (modeled after similar ensembles of musical colleagues, such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass), to explore new and wider vocal textures and forms, which often were contrasted with minimal instrumental textures. Monk began a long-standing relationship with the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis, which continues to showcase her work to this day. Monk during this period recorded "Dolmen Music" (1979), with her first album released at Manfred Eicher's record label ECM in 1981.
In the 1980s, Monk wrote and directed two films, Ellis Island (1981), and Book of Days (1988). These developed from her idea; "One day during summer of 1984, as I was sweeping the floor of my house in the country, the image of a young girl (in black and white) and a medieval street in the Jewish community (also in black and white) came to me." Monk tells this account in the liner notes of the ECM-recording. Apart from the film, different versions exist of this piece. Two are for the concert hall, and an album, produced by Meredith Monk and Manfred Eicher, is "a film for the ears."
In the early 1990s, Monk composed an opera called Atlas, which premiered in Houston, Texas, in 1991. She has also written pieces for instrumental ensembles and symphony orchestras. Her first symphonic work was Possible Sky (2003). It was followed by Stringsongs (2004) for string quartet, which was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet. In 2005, events were held all over the world in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her career, including a concert in Carnegie Hall featuring Björk, Terry Riley, DJ Spooky (who sampled Monk on his album Drums of Death), Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, John Zorn, and the new music ensembles Alarm Will Soundand Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with the Pacific Mozart Ensemble. Meredith Monk has been composer in residence for Carnegie Hall, concluding in 2015.
In an interview, Monk said that her favourite music includes Brazilian music, especially Caetano Veloso's recordings, the music by Mildred Bailey ("the great jazz singer from the ‘30s and ‘40s"), and Bartók's cycle for piano Mikrokosmos.
Honors and legacy
Monk has won numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship and the Creative Capital Award in the discipline of Performing Arts. She has been awarded honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from Bard College, the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), the Juilliard School, the San Francisco Art Institute and the Boston Conservatory. In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Monk's name and picture. In 1985, Monk won anObie Award for Sustained Excellence for her contributions to the Off-Broadway community.
In 2007, she received in Italy the Demetrio Stratos International Award for musical experimentation. On September 10, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obamapresented Monk with a National Medal of Arts, the highest honor in the United States specifically given for achievement in the arts. Monk was given The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in 2017.
Her music was used in films by the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, 1998), Jean-Luc Godard (Nouvelle Vague, 1990 and Notre musique, 2004), and in The Rapture(1991). Hip hop artist DJ Shadow sampled Dolmen Music on the song "Midnight in a Perfect World" (Endtroducing....., 1995). French singer Camille paid an explicit homage to Meredith in her song "The Monk" (Music Hole, 2008) which reminds in its construction the work of Monk.