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  • Writer's pictureQuinn Mason

A Brevard Diary, Part 1

This summer, I am spending six weeks at the Brevard Music Center as a composition fellow, along with 14 other composers, 4 in high school and 11 in college. As of writing this, I am at the halfway point, having completed 3 weeks.

I arrived on the night of June 25, one day after the premiere of my Symphony No. 3. The festival had started a week prior, but because of my event, I was allowed to arrive late. Having coming in that night, I didn't know what to expect. However, upon exiting my cabin the next morning and making my way to campus, this beautiful sight greeted me:

Picturesque (and humid) Brevard, North Carolina.

The music center is located in Brevard, North Carolina near a rainforest and near the Appalachian Mountains. As result, we often get scenes that look straight out of nature calendars. It's almost a bit unreal to wake up to them, which gets the day started right. It truly is an environment to inspire great music making.

A scene from early in the morning. I took this photo the morning after my arrival.

This is an environment that is literally immersed in music. In order to find places on campus, you have navigate the signs, most of which have musical tendencies.

Really. Not pictured: Orchestra Trail and Symphony Lane.

Most of Brevard's social activities take place on campus. In addition to a plethora of practice rooms, there are also open spaces where instrumentalists like to practice. The cafeteria is hub of activity, and is mostly active during lunch and dinner where you can find young musicians gathering and talking about whatever subject comes to mind (the most popular, of course, being music). It's also really easy to find people since everyone sits with others who play the same instruments as them. The food itself is a different story.

Also, you'll see stuff like this.

Now, as a composition fellow, my life is very busy here. Every single day is filled with composition, whether I'm working on a commission or a project for the class. All the composers are unique, with some writing new projects in mediums they've never touched before. Others are starting their careers and making names for themselves already. Our teaching assistant, Zach Gulaboff Davis, is so busy with composition projects that he often travels out of state from the festival to attend rehearsals and premieres.

So far we've had two new music concerts. The first one was an art song concert, in which all the composers set the same text, which in this case was 'De Profundis' by Christina Rossetti. This was a project we had to complete and rehearse in 4 days. Of course, there were problems with that came with the limited amount of time, including one the composition fellows (who is very talented pianist) accomplishing the extraordinary feat of learning the piano parts of two of the songs two hours before the concert after one of the pianists dropped out. It was extremely interesting to hear how differently each of my colleagues set the same text. The audience turnout was great too!

The next concert was the first regular new music concert, which 8 of my colleagues participated in. This being the first concert, I had an old piece played, my 3 duos for viola and cello from 2016. The performance went well for everybody, and it was very nice hearing the music of my new friends. Some of the composition fellows are also talented instrumentalists, including a cellist (with a gorgeous tone) performing his work with 5 other cellists and the teaching assistant accompanying the same cellist on the former's own piece. Compared to other new music concerts I've been to, the audiences here really support new music and eager to listen to work.

During the weekdays, the composers participate in a daily seminar. The first week, the composers presented some of their work and the work of the composers who influenced them. Most of the seminars now consist of music business advice and topics, including a class on copyright and speaking to an audience about our music. We've also had meaningful guest speakers, such as Percussion and conductor Jayce Ogren.

One of the student composers presenting a transcription he did.

Occasionally, we'll take trips to other parts on campus. One of them consisted of a trip to the percussion studio. Also each week, each of the college composers get private lessons from the festival's composers in residence, Robert Aldridge and David Dzubay. The high school composers get lessons with Greg Simon who sometimes leads the seminar sessions.

When I am not composing, I am doing work study which consists time in the music library. Among the work I have done in there, I have marked bowings for parts, in addition to taping, stapling and erasing said parts. It is all a very valuable learning experience in how orchestral parts are prepared before they hit the stands.

Some of the work I do in the music library.

The best part of Brevard is the concerts, no doubt. They bring in the best conductors and play the best music, and all 3 of the orchestras have the best players in them. The first concert I attended upon arrival at the music center was the festival orchestra playing Berg's Violin Concerto and Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. It was one of the most intense concert experiences I've ever had.

It helped that my ticket was two rows from the front.

Before that, I got to see some of the rehearsals, which are open to everybody. One learns a lot by watching world class conductors work with the amazing orchestras here. Every conductor is unique and it's fascinating to see how each one affects the orchestra's sound and their vision of a piece of music.

Festival artistic director (and BMC alumni) Keith Lockhart rehearing a piece by Bernstein.

There are are studio recitals, which features some of the talented individual that attend the festival as students. It's a great chance to hear emerging talent and musicians who are dedicated to their art. The other day, I attended the guitar studio recital in a very intimate setting. It was very enjoyable, and every player sounded amazing.

from the guitar concert.

So far, it's been a very interesting and productive 3 weeks here. Each day holds a new surprise, and in a place like this with eager young musicians, it's no telling what might happen in these final three weeks.

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