I am very excited to be posting this next featured composer interview with Scott Brickman. Initially, all we knew about him was that Dr. Brickman is the music faculty of the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Mysteriously, he was never in Fort Kent when we performed in the area. But over the last three years, we have come to know Scott and his family, shared many meals, beers, laughs and even run a number of road races together. Well, Ina, Scott and I have run races together while Matt cheered us all on.
We are thrilled to have already had so many opportunities to perform Scott’s French Suite and to be performing it at our upcoming concert at the Tenri Cultural Institute on November 21. We are equally as thrilled to be collaborating with the wonderful pianist Beth Levin performing and recording a quartet Scott has composed for Eight Strings & a Whistle and piano along with three other pieces of his for flute and piano, viola and piano, and cello and piano. The recording will also include French Suite. We will be sure to keep you up to date about this recording, in addition to our debut recording, slated for release by PARMA Recordings in January 2016.
Scott composed his French Suite for Eight Strings & a Whistle in 2012. As many of you know, many of our tours to Maine include playing concerts in the most northern part of the state. This area is one of the few Franco-American areas in the United States, and Scott therefore made a conscious effort to draw influences from a variety of musical sources when composing French Suite. Each of the first three movements features one of the instruments of the ensemble as a melodic leader, with the other two in an accompanying role. The first movement is in 3/4 time and the meter of each subsequent movement increases by one eighth. The pitch material of all of the movements is based on 12 tone rows, whose first six pitches are a subset of the octatonic scale. The first movement resembles a Sonata form, the second is a Romanza, and the third movement is tangentially influenced by rock and roll. The finale is very jig like and treats the trio as equal members of the ensemble.
It has been very gratifying to see this work change and grow since we have begun performing it. Please be sure to join us at the Tenri Cultural Institute on November 21 to hear it and meet Scott.
In the mean time, happy reading!
SG: Why did you choose to become a composer?
SB: My older brother played drums in a Rock Band. He was 13 yrs. older than me – from my Mom’s first marriage. So, there were a lot of guitars, basses, keyboards and drums around our house when I was a preschooler.
My father loves music. He would have liked to be a musician, but WWII and family finances and attitudes interfered. When I was around 10 yrs. old I became interested in the Beatles. I tried taking guitar lessons, but in retrospect my teacher wasn’t attuned to young people. A bit later my Dad started buying a collection of classical LPs that were available at our local grocery store. He bought me a piano as an early 8th grade graduation gift. I started taking piano lessons, getting interested in classical music, and my music study progressed.
At this time, my musical interests were understandably split between rock and classical music. The Beatles and Beethoven. Sometime around the age of 12 I saw a televised concert by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony. I think they played Schoenberg, Ives and Stravinsky. I though this music was great because it created a connection between what I was hearing in Brahms and Sgt. Pepper. The grocery store LPs were themed by composer. The Beatles wrote their own songs. Naively, I assumed that all musicians were also composers. So, I began to write music. I also listened quite a bit to WFMT, classical radio in Chicago. This was around 1976. There were bicentennial commissions, a Columbia boxed set celebrating Aaron Copland’s 75th birthday, a Charles Ives centennial had recently passed; all of these were very inspirational to a young, aspiring composer.
I was extremely fortunate to have a great high school musical experience. I went to a run of the mill public high school in Chicago. However, we had three full-time music teachers. I played violin and viola in the school orchestra, piano in the jazz band, and had two years of AP Music Theory. In 1982, the year I graduated from High School, an organization called Urban Gateways sponsored a composition contest for Cook County Students. My Fanfare for Wind Quintet won, and was performed by professional musicians at the Chicago Public Library. I was hooked.
SG: Do you have a specific process when you compose?
SB: The impetus for my work is ordered 12-tone sets. That Fanfare I wrote in High School, it was a 12-tone piece. When I was in graduate school, in the early 90s, I began working with octatonic hexachords. Octatonic derived sounds attract me. So pitch, melody, harmony and counterpoint, are my primary concerns.
I get my ideas from a whole slew of different places. Other pieces of music obviously, other genre of music; sometimes, reading about music or talking to people about music gives me ideas. Recently, as I’ve been more able to have some perspective on my music, even my own older compositions sometimes give me ideas for new pieces.
SG: Can you tell us about the composers and styles that inspire you? Perhaps also expand on the styles of popular music that you love so much and why.
SB: My musical influences at first were the pre WWII modernists, both Americans and Europeans: Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartok (thanks to Ernie Kovacs), Ives, Varese (thanks to Frank Zappa), Ruggles. Later I became interested in the post war modernists: Boulez, Cage, Feldman, Berio, Stockhausen, Babbitt, Shapey, and Xenakis. Since then my influences have understandably varied and expanded. Crazy as this may sound, I am often influenced by music that I genuinely do not like. In fact, one of my pieces was a “refashioning” of a piece I heard and really detested. Over all, I find I still genuinely like modernism. I joke a lot, but seriously, there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting down and listening to Luigi Nono or Mario Davidovsky.
As for pop music….maybe because so much of my time is spent with vernacular genres, I find I don’t love it as much as I used to. My tastes are very quirky. I’m a big Weezer fan. I also love Sondheim.
SG: Chet Biscardi was one of your teachers. I studied contemporary music performance with him at Sarah Lawrence College and remember him quite fondly. He was a great teacher and role model. What was it like to study composition with him? How did he influence you?
SB: Chet was great. I worked with him when he was in residence at Wisconsin writing his opera Tight Rope. He was the first “real” composer that I felt took me seriously. I worked with Yehudi Wyner (Chet’s teacher from Yale) at Brandeis University as a graduate student. It’s odd, but both Chet and Yehudi are very different composers than I am, yet I feel I really learned the most from them.
SG: What else in life influences and inspires you?
SB: Baseball. I had great teenage years that revolved around music and baseball. I’m lucky in that baseball has come back into my life. In 2006 at the invitation of the former High School baseball coach in Fort Kent, I began to throw batting practice to the High School team. My oldest daughter played four years of varsity softball in High School. In 2009 I initiated intercollegiate club baseball at UMFK. Though the club is inactive, I’ve been able to jumpstart girl’s softball at the college. And, as you know, I may be playing baseball in a Canadian Men’s league next year. So, I say baseball because it reminds me of the music learning I did as a teenager. I like to think I’m a life long learner. I’m a more experienced composer now. Let’s hope I’m also a smarter pitcher.
SG: I've written a bit in my intro to this interview about your French Suite as well as a second work you recently finished composing for us plus a pianist. We're looking forward to getting started on it. What can you tell us about it? What inspired it?
SB: Hearing Eight Strings & a Whistle inspired it! Also, hearing Ina play my viola and piano piece was very encouraging. The piece is in 5 movements. Movements 1, 3 and 5 are short, angular and dramatic. The 2nd and 4th movements are longer, more lyrical, and meditate on a single idea. Subconsciously, I suspect that hearing you guys play the Erlkönig arrangement inspired the last movement.
SG: I have noticed that while you may be a university professor you are very involved musically with the community in Fort Kent as a whole. You often work on musical productions that include students from the high school or others outside the University. I just love that you do that - you have the potential to effect and influence so many people with your enthusiasm and love for music. It's another way to keep this art form relevant and alive. Can you tell us a bit about what that is like for you?
SB: Well, it’s certainly not what I imagined myself doing! I imagined I’d be a theory prof somewhere, grade my part-writing homework and go home. Again, that fantastic diversity of music activity I had in High School has come back to benefit me with my current job. It’s nice in the sense that musically, I get to do a lot of different things. The obvious draw back, is that I’m not able to really polish any one activity. However, to an extent the musical theater collaborations with Fort Kent High School are coming closer to an activity that has more of a focus.
SG: What are your thoughts on new music in general?
SB: My thoughts are like what John Reed supposedly said when he witnessed the birth of the Soviet Union: “So this is what a revolution looks like. I never imagined it would look like this”. Ok, I know this will sound like SNL’s Deep thoughts with Jack Handy, but we never know what the future will look like. Not that I thought about this in 1976, but, I could at the time never have imagined minimalism, the move to multiculturalism in the early 1990s, Arvo Part, etc.
When I teach music history, we talk about style periods lasting for either 75 or 150 years. If this is generally the case, then 1975 would be a boundary. However, I suspect that economics and technology have more of a stake in music history as drivers of style change. Then, music technology may be the significant change we experienced in and around 1975. I could never have imagined, in 1975 with my upright piano, LPs, and staff paper, that 25 yrs later I’d have a polyphonic electronic keyboard, download music and produce my scores digitally.
New Music – enjoy the moment!
SG: What do you think the role of the arts and new music is or should be in today's world?
SB: Ultimately the arts and new music should be ornaments for Mets and Rangers games. HAH! Wouldn’t that be awesome? “The first 15,000 fans at today’s Mets-Phillies game will receive a recording of Suzanne Gilchrest and Beth Levin playing Scott Brickman’s Wind Power for flute and piano.
Ok, music is a social act. Music and the arts should bring people together; help them celebrate their diversity and minimize their differences. I think of all the wonderful people I’ve met through my association with Eight Strings & a Whistle, and, of all the great times I’ve had. To quote Maine’s motto, that’s “The way life should be”. That’s the way it should be for everyone.
Illinois native Scott Brickman was educated in the Chicago Public Schools and holds a B.M. from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in Music Composition and Theory from Brandeis University. Scott studied with both Chester Biscardi and Yehudi Wyner, whom he regards as his most important and influential composition teachers. Since 1997 he has taught at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, where he is Professor of Music and Education.
Scott composes both acoustic and digital music. Recordings of his music appear on the New Ariel, Capstone, SEAMUS, ERM and PARMA (Ravello) labels. His music has been performed in Europe, the Middle East and North and South America, by ensembles such as the Windy City Winds, Wisconsin Arts Quintet, Oakwood Chamber Players, Lydian String Quartet, the Auros Group for New Music, the New York Miniaturist Ensemble, Basso Moderno, Tower Duo, the Strung Out Trio and Kiev Philharmonic, as well as artists such as pianists Jeffrey Jacob, Jenny Cruz and Deborah Nemko and soprano Nancy Ogle.
At UMFK, Scott has served two three-year terms as Chair of the Arts and Humanities Division, and is currently serving as Chair of the newly created Arts and Sciences Division. Scott is an active member of AFUM, the Faculty Union of the University of Maine System, as well as the Maine Education Association, of which AFUM is a local. He has been a member of the Wisconsin Alliance of Composers since 1984, which, as an undergraduate, he helped found. Scott was recently elected treasurer of the New England Conference of Music Theorists, and has been the co-chair of Region I of the Society of Composers since 1999.