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Music has always been a part of Joy Redmond’s life. She began playing piano at 7 years old, and it took off from there. Now, Redmond, a composer and pianist, is making her Kennedy Center debut this month.

Redmond is part of the American Opera Initiative at the Kennedy Center, a program that commissions original one-act opera works. Her piece, which she co-created with librettist Sam Norman, will premiere on Jan. 19.

“Hairpiece” follows the story of a wigmaker, Esther. Redmond and Norman brainstormed the storyline together, and Norman wrote the story while Redmond composed. The other main characters, a man and a non-binary person, all come together, and clash, but also find common ground and get to know themselves on a deeper level. The opera explores what it means to feel comfortable in authentically expressing gender, and how that need to feel seen connects people.

Redmond, who is trans, said her identity intersects with her work in many ways. She described music and creativity as both self-expression and a way to connect with others. She hopes the audience will see themselves in the work she creates – in “Hairpiece” or otherwise.

“I want people to relate it to themselves in some way and their own story, and maybe release some emotion or find some catharsis,” Redmond said in an interview with the Blade.

For Redmond, music is a less explicit way to express oneself, and with that, a deeper way to convey and communicate feelings.

She enjoys pushing boundaries in her work and enmeshing seemingly opposite genres and mediums, and this passion comes from her experience being trans, she said. Part of why she’s drawn to opera is because it’s stylistically diverse.

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“As a trans person, I’m very obsessed with liminality, and transitions, and doing things across boundaries,” she said.

Opera has a complicated past and present, but many works address queer issues, Redmond said. And, while many stories told through opera are not explicitly queer, it’s important that people can explore an identity that’s new and comfortable to them.

“There are so many examples of people finding themselves in opera, and then that not being what they thought they were,” she said.

There are also generations before her who have paved the way in composing and creating queer works. Redmond wants to fuel that herself, she said.

“I want to continue that legacy,” she added.

In addition to beginning her musical journey at 7, her family has deep connections to music. Her mom is trained in opera, and her uncle is a professional musician. Music was always in the house growing up.

“I had a lot of people to look up to,” she said.

When Redmond was a teenager, she decided to go to college to study music. Redmond went to The Julliard School for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, completing the master’s in the spring of 2023.

Her musical interests are not limited to opera and classical repertoire. She’s also interested in rock, jazz, electronic, and other genres.

In her free time, she continues to play music. Redmond, who is based in Manhattan, just started a band with her friends a few months ago, where she plays keys. They are in the early stages and don’t have a name yet, but the group is leaning toward a post-rock, punk sound.

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“It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life, playing in a band,” she said.

Outside of music, she loves to cook, she said — especially soups and stews. Her family is Italian-American, and food has always been a point of connection, she said. She’s always on the prowl for new recipes to try out.

Redmond is a lover of collaboration, and working with a librettist for the American Opera Initiative is a prime example of the benefits of working alongside other artists.

“When there’s a collaborative focus, there’s just more people to learn from more perspectives and things that are a little different than what I’m used to,” Redmond said. “That’s intriguing to me. And I think more stimulating even than if I were to just be creating on my own.”

The American Opera Initiative is entering its 11th season this year. Operas commissioned are performed by the Washington National Opera Cafritz Young Artists, who are part of a resident-training program at the Kennedy Center for singers and pianists.

Throughout the program, which began in March, Redmond has learned so much through mentors. There’s also been a great amount of confidence in her.

“It’s just been a great experience because of the trust that they have in our creativity and ability,” she said.

“Hairpiece,” along with two other one-act operas, premieres on Jan. 19 at the Terrace Theater. For more information, visit kennedy-center.org/wno.

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