Photo by Steven Pisano, Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/pqnHwa
Meredith Monk was born in 1942 in New York City to a musical family. (Mischievously, Monk once wrote in a program biography that she was born in Peru, and this has become embedded in her history. She was born in New York City.) Her mother was a singer, her maternal grandfather a classical singer and violinist, her maternal grandmother a concert pianist, and her great-grandfather a cantor in Moscow.1
Monk sang before she could speak and started learning music theory and reading music at around age four. She, “wasn’t terribly physically coordinated,” so her mother enrolled her in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which linked music with simple physical exercises.2
Monk was raised in Queens, New York, and later in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, studying voice, composition, and music theory in high school before attending Sarah Lawrence College in New York. At Sarah Lawrence, Monk took part in the Combined Performing Arts program that combined music and voice, citing influences in the music of Erik Satie, as well as the experimental music scene at the time that consisted of James Tenney, Philip Corner, Malcolm Goldstein, Morton Feldman, and Dick Higgins.3
While in college, Monk began exploring extended vocal techniques and music of various cultures, citing influences in everything from African folk music and Balkan music to medieval music and Bach.4 After graduation, Monk moved to New York City and began performing in mainly non-traditional performance spaces. Her breakthrough work came in 1966, with 16 Millimeter Earrings.5
1 Deborah Jowitt, Meredith Monk, (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 3, 79-80.
2 Jowitt, Meredith Monk, 133.
3 Jowitt, Meredith Monk, 134-136.
4 Jowitt, Meredith Monk, 139-140.
5 Meredith Monk, “Biography,” Meredith Monk, https://www.meredithmonk.org/about/biography/.