Nora York

writing new work, musician
New York, NY, United States

About Nora


Throughout a career spanning more than 25 years, my work has placed my voice at the center of my expression and creative invention and engaged the diverse disciplines of musical composition, live performance, visual and multimedia arts. The resulting body of work merges musical genres and conceptual sources. In 2002, I received a New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Composers Commission to complete a song cycle called Breaking Tradition. The recording What I Want (a CD included in support of this application) was just released September 26, 2006, by 215 Records, and represents the outcome of that initiative: a group of songs for voice and small ensemble, compositions exploring the dissonance and assonance between collaged musical sources, from American folk motifs to jazz and popular music.
Furtiva Lagrima (secret tear), with which this proposal is concerned, is a continuation and evolution of Breaking Tradition, which had its genesis in 1998 in live performances at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in conjunction with the exhibition, Masters of Color and Light: Homer, Sargent and the American Watercolor Movement. The Museum commissioned me to create a performance in response to the exhibition, which resulted in a breakthrough moment. I studied, collected and combined late-19th-century musical themes, texts and lyrics, then composed unusual instrumentation (including theremin and tuba) for them, performing the finished song cycle against the backdrop of nineteenth-century painting.
I have continued to perform since then in visual art spaces. Some of the most notable venues of the past eight years have been: the Kent Gallery (Delicate Condition, 1998); Exit Art (Big City, with artist Brian Weil, 1998, and Swing Low with artist Jerry Kearns, 1999); New York Kunsthalle (Leon Golub, 2002); Chelsea Art Museum (Teddy Bear, with Jerry Kearns, 2004); and Whitney Museum of American Art (2006 Biennial: Day for Night—I performed a selection from my original song cycle, Power/Play as part of “The Peace Tower (1966/2006)”.
I moved to New York to pursue a visual arts career and my creative expression immediately morphed into performance. I began to study music and operatic voice. Several of my early performances revolved around classical music and opera. In 1985, my ensemble, which included drummer Billy Ficca from the band Television and bass player Dave Hofstra from the Microscopic Septet, presented a remixed performance of Puccini’s Tosca for tuba, soprano sax and conga drum at the Purple Barge. In 1986, I completed a video work titled, The Aria, in which I sang two roles simultaneously on split screen: one character in Baroque regalia performing an 18th-century Italian art song, the other singing an original composition in translation and rebuttal. These early experiments in opera are key precursors to Furtiva Lagrima, but between then and now I have explored and worked professionally in a variety of musical genres, writing new music, performing live, composing for film and television, working with visual artists and dancers, staging performance works within conceptual frameworks provided by the visual arts and teaching. In all of these ventures, I use my interaction with other artists and the public as creative laboratories, pushing my own artistic work forward as I support the creative work of others.

My work in film began in 1982 when I was cast in a lead acting role by German director Doris Dorrie which began a working relationship with Dorrie, making music for a number of her films, including: Paradis, 1986; Me and Him, 1988; Geld, 1989; and The Fisherman’s Wife, 2005 (soundtrack album on Virgin Records/EMI, 2005). I have also written music for television, including, most notably, Methadonia (HBO Documentary, 2005) as well as pieces for A&E, Granada UK, Showtime and PBS programs.

In the late 1980s I became a regular at the newly opened Knitting Factory, developing my compositional toolkit of editing, omitting, flipping genders and splicing repertoires and sources.

I had been performing in jazz idioms for a number of years when, in 1992, I received my first recording contract from the Japanese label Polystar. My first CD, To Dream The World (Evidence Records USA, 1995; TCB Records Europe 1996), was a concept album grappling with notions such as dreams/reality, heaven/earth, sacred/secular. These are issues that run consistently throughout my work. My songs were set alongside a small selection of eccentrically arranged jazz standards to give my original music context. 1993-94 I collaborated with jazz composer Maria Schneider, resulting in a song cycle called Alchemy (Polystar Japan, 1994). From 1996-2001, I performed at music festivals throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, most notably: the Ottawa Jazz Festival, 1996; Women in Jazz Festival, New York, 1996; Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 2000 for which I received a Meet The Composer Grant; Festival of Song at the Asia Society, New Yor



Areas of Expertise

Voice , Performance Coaching, devils advocate, Composer

I'm passionate about

Music, my husband ( Jerry Kearns) and his paintings, the world, ideas, the heart and it's machinations -- life, love , art ...

Talk to me about


My TED story

I was asked to perform as part of the 2006 TED salon at the Asia Society in New York City; I was invited by music curator Bill Bragin ( Bill knows my work from Joe's Pub n NYC -- a venue I often premiere new work -- ) I was given instructions by the TED folks to find a way to be the musical conduit for the event. The theme was "unexpected gifts" ... I thought... I consider my whole life to be an unexpected gift, this should be fun. It was fun and more... it was a magical. I often conceive my music and concerts are around themes and ideas... melding together genres, musical disciplines ... I am curious to reveal what I am wrestling with...
I hope you will enjoy