Indian-American Composer Reena Esmail Speaks with Poly Orchestra Students

During block days, Upper School and Middle School instrumental music teacher Megan Foley invites guest artists to lecture and work with students. This year, she reached out to Reena Esmail, an Indian-American composer who works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music, to speak with her class.

Reena’s work has been commissioned by ensembles including the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Kronos Quartet, and Imani Winds and she serves as the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2020-2023 Swan Family Artist in Residence.

A dynamic and passionate speaker, Reena received many questions from students. Aleena B. ’22 asked, "What are the similarities and differences with how music is studied in India versus America?"  

Reena replied that Indian music does not work in a notation system that is as specific as Western music. 95% of what you do in Western music is written down, whereas in Indian music it is the opposite. Another stark difference is if you are going to an orchestra rehearsal you spend weeks hours in preparation, and in India much of the learning happens during rehearsal. It is not as structured, and there is a different approach to what music is like.

Beyonce M. ’24 asked how the quarantine process has changed Reena’s musical composition process. Reena shared that the change for composers has happened incrementally during quarantine. Particularly, she doesn’t get the feedback from live performances and hearing her pieces performed. Now her pieces may be performed and recorded by performers around the world and stitched together for performances.

The opportunity for students to hear Reena speak was a memorable experience as they concluded their fall semester.