An Interview with Brian O. Walden / Composers' Corner Volume XIX

    Shop Music     Contact Us



April, 2018

with Brett Abigaña
Brian O. Walden Brett Abigaña
An Interview with Brian O. Walden
I recently sat down with a good friend of mine, CAPT. Brian O. Walden (US Navy) who retired as the Commanding Officer of the United States Navy Band in Washington, D.C., and is now Director of Bands at Marshall University in West Virginia. I've known Brian for several years, and while it's always nice to catch up, I also took the opportunity to ask him some questions about his well-known love of new music and composers.
BA: What do you wish more composers knew about conductors and vice versa?
BW: Well, I'll start with the second part of the question. What do I wish conductors knew about composers? I wish more conductors really understood that, as much as possible, we should provide composers with a completely blank palette so they can compose for the medium at hand, rather than constraining them based on the ensemble’s size, or what someone wants to conduct or whatever. I just think in order for the composer/conductor relationship to be of the highest possible quality, the composer needs to be free to create whatever the music requires. Then whatever it takes to bring the composer’s vision to life is what we'll do as an ensemble, and what I'll do as a conductor.
BA: Well that's a composer’s dream right there!
BW: Yeah, don't get me wrong, I do understand the problems of producing an open-ended commissioned work. Number one you never know what you're going to get, and number two, you never know if your audience is going to be receptive to the piece, which we all have to be concerned with. But I think if you're going to pay the money for a new piece, you need to allow the composer to be as creative as possible and completely free of any constraints. Now, smart composers are also going to be aware of those concerns and will try to compose within their own constraints, but that has less of an effect on their creativity if they do that themselves. It always has to be a two-way conversation when you have a relationship with a composer.
BA: And what do you wish composers knew about conductors?
BW: Most conductors I know are deeply into trying to get the best product out of a piece of music. And I've worked with some composers that don't really understand that. All the conductors I know really do respect the craft and try their best to represent the composer’s wishes. You know in the arts, unless you're independently wealthy, we're all constrained by something, whether it be money to hire extra musicians, or the space for the performance or something else. I think sometimes there are composers who think we don't try hard enough. So Brian O. Walden Brett Abigaña yeah, I wish all composers would consider that we have a lot of different things to deal with in order to make their music come to life, but we do work very hard at it.
BA: My next question is kind of connected to that. What do you think the music world needs from composers, and are we providing it?
BW: I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer that. I'm not even sure I want to answer that! Look, I'm one of those guys who thinks that if a composer writes something, it deserves to be played at least once. If it gets perpetuated beyond the premiere, it is what it is. I'm not just going to go buy something that other people are playing just because it's getting played, because that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. It just means it's popular. And just because a piece isn't perpetuated, that doesn't mean it's not good. Look at Bach: he disappeared for a while, but not because it wasn't good music. So, in the end, I think composers should write what they feel and what the creative process requires, rather than what is popular at the time.
BA: As a conductor, you get piles of scores sent to you all the time. What do you look for in a new piece or a new composer with whom you don't have a relationship?
BW: I’m looking for whatever I'm not looking for. If the music sets up an expectation, then goes exactly where I thought it would, it's a huge turn off for me. At this point, we in our western musical tradition have extrapolated every possible secondary dominant from every chord. We feel those motions in our ear and in our bodies. So, when a composer can get you to that place where you know what should come next, and instead, takes you on this wild ride away from your expectations, that is awesome!
BA: What advice would offer a young composer right out of school trying to get into the field? What do they need to be able to do?
BW: The first thing I'd say to any young composer is that the creative process has to be subjected to a routine. You don't just get a great idea in your head, write it down, and everything is fine. Most composers I know have a routine where you may get an idea, but you have to sit down and do the work. It requires labor. If you're a good composer, you have a way of tempering that labor so that it doesn't impede the creativity. The other thing is simple: there is nothing better than forming relationships with other people. Find those people that can inspire you and hold on to them! Great things can come out of those relationships. You shouldn't just sit there and hope somebody is going to play your piece; go out and find somebody and maintain that relationship! You know, I'm also asked a lot about how to get published. It's a simple answer: publish yourself! Or find a publishing company that actually cares about the creative and artistic side of music, like World Projects, and hook up with them as your publisher. Then you can be free to write without being dictated to, while also enjoying the benefits of having someone else promote your music.
BA: Ok, my final question. What is your favorite piece or favorite composer right now?
BW: I'm not sure I want to answer that either! Look, I love new music, old music, anything. It all excites me. I will say though, that someone I'm consistently impressed by, and have been for the last 20 years, is Elvis Costello. This isn't a surprise for anyone who knows me! I'm just floored by the depth and breadth of his output. As for wind music, I don't know. You know I love your music, because I keep asking you for more, but I don't think I have a favorite piece. I've been on four commissions over the last year, so I just love being part of the process of making new music happen.
World Projects
601 First Street
Suite 200
Benicia, CA 94510

Phone: 707.556.5885
Toll Free: 800.922.3976
Fax: 707.556.5896
Contact Us

World Projects Corporation BBB Business Review