Carolina Heredia: “Khemia”

Carolina H.

Carolina’s exposure to the arts goes far deeper than the experiences she gained at the post-secondary level. “I have always been involved with the arts. My mom, a dancer herself,  sent me to several early education art schools, dance classes (classical and folk) and, finally, the conservatory when I was seven years old,” Carolina described. She started playing in a folk band at 16, for which she started writing arrangements. “We soon ventured into group composing, and I found that I loved imagining music and realizing it.” It was this group and these experiences that solidified her desire to be a composer.

Carolina was given a recommendation to check out the University of Michigan after studying violin and composition at Cordoba State Conservatory and the National University of Villa Maria in Argentina. After applications to here and other institutions, she decided to pursue doctoral work in composition at U-M. “I felt a strong connection with Evan Chamber’s folk influences. I followed his blog and I was fascinated with the compassionate, thoughtful and open person he seemed to be,” she explained. With the influence and encouragement to progress her work in composition outside of the Western Canon, Carolina eventually founded her current group: Khemia.

Khemia began in 2014, and was really meant to be just a one-time project with several other graduate students at the University. “We wanted to collaborate with universities in Latin America with a series of five-day residencies,” Carolina said. “The ensemble gave two concerts, instrumental masterclasses, composition lectures, student composers’ reading sessions, and premieres of local composers’ pieces at the National Universities of Córdoba, Argentina, and Bogotá, Colombia.


With such a grand (and successful) feat, the ensemble was able to raise their own funds of $24,000 to cover many of the necessary expenses such as traveling, lodging, and food. After coming back, they decided to continue with a long-term project, which ignited help from the EXCEL office to plan the business model.

The ensemble was part of the first batch of “EXCELerator” fellows: recipients of a fellowship meant to help early-stage performing arts ventures with funding and mentoring/support. One notable EXCEL member is Jonathan Kuuskoski, who helps lead the mentorship of “EXCELerator” fellows and many other facets of EXCEL. Carolina noted, “I’m in the beginning of my professional career as a composer and academic, and Jonathan has been an incredible mentor for me since the beginning of EXCEL when I was still in school.” EXCEL became a huge source of assistance and groundwork for forming Khemia into the ensemble that it is today.

The “EXCELerator” fellowship funded Khemia for a light installation commission, and an album release tour in the Midwest. Following the “EXCELerator” fellowship, Khemia also received the Enterprise grant, and received travel assistance for their debut performance in New York City at National Sawdust this May.

Carolina H-2

Beyond the extensive assistance, guidance, and funding from EXCEL, Carolina mentions some of the challenges that were faced in executing plans for the ensemble, and how they were overcome. “There were millions of challenges, and once we overcame them, new ones appeared; in many cases, overcoming the challenges pushed us to a better place,” she exclaimed. “Our current challenges are mostly related to distance. For the last two years, as members of Khemia graduated from school, we began full time jobs at different universities spread throughout the States (University of Missouri, University of Tennessee Martin, Penn State University, Lawrence Conservatory of Music) or started a vibrant freelance career in a complete new location. This brought new logistical and funding challenges for every performance, residency, and workshop we needed, but made us completely restructure the way we operated.” Though the group has faced challenges—even to this day—Carolina describes how Khemia is formed by people who are talented beyond just their artistry: they demonstrate a plethora of talent in their constant collaboration and efforts to foster teamwork. “What keeps us together is the deep admiration we feel for one another and how much we enjoy creating and performing together, we are a group of passionate individuals and we drive on each other’s artistry, accomplishments, and energy. In terms of administration, our manager Chelsea Tinsler Jones (also our percussionist) is doing an incredible job at navigating this transitional stage of relocation. We are all excited to continue building our organization,” described Carolina.

As the ensemble required teamwork and collaboration, Carolina encourages all artists to venture into collaboration with either other artists or even into completely different fields. “Collaboration has been one of the most humbling and rewarding projects in my career,” she expressed. “Observing how concepts, words and ideas translate to the different fields is enriching and open-minded.” Collaboration is highly encouraged at the University of Michigan, especially from the EXCEL team. It can help students venture into artistic and academic areas they never thought possible, and it can lead to even broader ideas that form enriching experiences for students, faculty, and the audience. Carolina describes, “My advice would be to always choose collaborators with whom you feel respected and vice versa, so that you are all open to engage in artistic discussions without affecting each other’s egos. It is also essential to feel deeply connected with your art, so that at the end there is almost nothing to discuss… Collaboration is a beautiful, humbling process of communal creation that deals not only with art, but also with human connection.”

Carolina received funding from EXCEL for the development of her dissertation: “Ausencias,” and for a summer internship that she conducted with Third Coast Percussion last summer. She expressed how EXCEL not only helped dissolve challenges arising in Khemia during its development, but how it was available for Khemia or her personal career whenever she needed. As Carolina best puts it, “I think EXCEL made a huge impact in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and I trust it will keep improving and adapting to the needs of the students.”
Please also visit Carolina’s website:, for more information on her projects, on Khemia, and to check out some of her visual and audio media!

Carolina Heredia is a composer who explores the important convergence of music and visuals. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Music Composition at the University of Missouri. Her compositions have been commissioned and performed in the United States and South America by esteemed musicians and ensembles, and her current ensemble “Khemia” was founded at the University of Michigan during her time as a Doctoral Student in the Composition Department. “Khemia,” an ongoing project for Carolina, was greatly supported by the EXCEL team as the ensemble transitioned from a one-time performance into a touring group, seen on stage to this day.

—Timothy Brewer

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