IAP Interview: Volker Goetze & Tidtaya Sinutoke
“I feel like I will always have a dialect in my music, a different perspective on it.”
As part of our Immigrant Artist Program (IAP), the IAP Mentoring Program pairs immigrant artists working in all disciplines with artist mentors who provide one-on-one support and guide mentees to achieve specific goals, such as composing an artist statement, researching potential venues for showing work, or completing a grant application.
This summer we sat down with a few mentor/mentee pairs to chat with them about their experiences of the Mentoring Program, being an immigrant in the United States and the impact it has on their creative practice.
Mentee Tidtaya Sinutoke is originally from Thailand and has been living in New York for almost five years. She is a composer of musical theater and has been paired with mentor Volker Goetze. Volker is a composer himself and a musician, originally from Germany who has been living in New York for 13 years.
NYFA: Tidtaya, what is your first experience that you remember having when you arrived in New York?
TS: My name doesn’t really tell my gender. I remember the summer before I moved to New York, I stayed at an international hostel and twice they put me in a men’s room. The first time I went into the room and there was no one there and I went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I was…surprised? That was my first experience of New York; nobody knows my gender.
NYFA: How about you Volker? Do you remember your first impressions of New York?
VG: I was actually here in ’89 as an exchange student in Brattleboro, Vermont and one of my aunt’s friends was a sculptor on 4th Street in New York. At that point I had already seen Miles Davis and other jazz musicians, but I didn’t know anything about Chet Baker and Baker’s “Let’s get lost” just came out that year. So, that’s when I discovered a white musician that actually sounded very black, which was really surprising to me. I remember standing on the rooftop of that building on 4th Street and taking pictures. It stuck with me and seven years later I felt that I had to come back to New York.
NYFA: How has being an immigrant shaped your arts practice? How has it shaped the music that you play?
VG: For me this is a very hard question, because I officially studied Jazz in Germany and then I came to New York. I feel like I will always have a dialect in my music, a different perspective on it. I was fortunate enough to also travel to Africa a lot and I investigated the African culture for projects. I was lucky to find new music and it helped my career as an international artist. It was very important for me to come here in order to be an international artist. This could not have happened in Germany.
TS: Musical Theater is an American art form and I never really got to experience it when I was in Thailand. When I was younger it wasn’t really popular to watch but now it is blooming. It sounds cheesy, but my first experience watching musical theater was “Grease” 12 years ago in high school. I fell in love with it. For me, being an immigrant is actually working in my favor because I have a clock ticking. I only have about two more years in this country on my current visa and I have to keep working. In a way this pushes me to work more and I can’t give up. I was lucky to get to do so many things since I graduated.
NYFA: It’s great that you see this ticking clock as an opportunity. Many people would see that as something that constricts them.
TS: Yes, a lot of people take it a different way. It got frustrating the first year after school because you have to do the O-1 visa. I am lucky to have friends who are very supportive.
NYFA: Do you think there is one characteristic that is shared by immigrant artists, or maybe there is something that you two share?
VG: For me specifically, I experienced a very open society. I entered and got help from great people in the industry. Information travels much more openly here in New York than in Europe. I felt privileged because I came here with a scholarship. I didn’t have to pay for tuition. Also, as I was here on an artist visa I was not really allowed to apply for any regular jobs, so I had to do a lot of terrible jobs to survive the first few years. That is not a very pleasant experience but it made me value the time more that I spent doing what I love.
TS: I totally agree about the opportunity to meet many talented people because I feel like we actually get better when we interact with talented and famous people. You learn a lot from it. To be here and to learn more about it is a big privilege. In a way I guess it’s survival tools that you have to have. Originally, my family is from China. My great great grandfather built a boat, sailed to Thailand, we survived there and now I’m here, trying to survive here. It’s maybe not as bad here, but it’s a survival strategy.
NYFA: Volker what would you say you miss most about Germany?
VG: I miss my mom and my old friends. But luckily most of my concerts are in Europe and I get to see them many times a year. Therefore it is not too bad. Other than that I don’t miss too much about it.
NYFA: How about you Tidtaya, what do you miss about home?
TS: The food here is actually pretty good. There is a little Thai grocery store, so I don’t miss it that much. I miss my family. I have missed my cousin’s wedding and my cousin’s daughter, who is probably about 5 years old now. I’ll try to go back to Thailand next year and catch up with everything I missed.
VG: And good beer! But now there are so many bars here that actually have good beers. The breweries here in the States got better.
NYFA: What have you enjoyed most about the IAP Mentoring Program?
VG: For me this is extremely important because my mentor Ray Leslee back in 2010 helped me to rewrite my grants and my applications. He helped me secure two great opportunities. The help and support from NYFA is incredible and that also helped with my career. Now, I am an independent artist. I don’t have to do other jobs and that’s all related to NYFA and their support in helping me navigate my career here.
TS: And they’re helping me right now!
Volker Goetze is releasing a new album with original music in 2016 featuring his world music funk jazz quintet with Kora virtuoso Ablaye Cissoko and renowned drummer Richie Barshay
Tidtaya Sinutoke is currently participating in The Civilians R&D Group, where she will be working on a new musical titled, “Hart Island Requiem” with Ty Defoe.
For more information on the Immigrant Artist Immigrant Program click here and to sign up to the monthly Con Edison IAP Newsletter to receive opportunities and events as well as artist features directly into your inbox, click here.
– Mara Vlatkovic, Digital Communications Officer
Image: Tidtaya Sinutoke & Volker Goetze, photo credit: Mara Vlatkovic