Meet the Institute composers: Brendan Faegre
How did your musical/composition career begin?
I started off as a rock drummer and then made my way gradually towards composition. I started studying jazz drums, then eventually classical percussion, and from there I got into the classical composition world. That was my starting impulse.
What drew you from rock drumming into composing classical music?
I had a desire to find more intellectual satisfaction in music. Rock drumming is very physical and very satisfying on that level, but I wanted to [find a way] to develop things further, to find a music tradition that has some deeper levels and a more intellectual side. That led me to jazz drumming and then eventually to classical percussion.
What key experiences or mentors have shaped your path as a composer?
There have been many important and meaningful mentors on my journey as a composer, and I could list a bunch of people who’ve been quite important. Most recently, I’ve been feeling like the biggest development moments as an artist have been musical experiences and projects outside of academia, like the creation of Dirt to Gold. I was involved in all aspects of the process—coming up with parameters for the work and having the responsibility of seeing it all through to performance. My friend Roger Kalia, who was music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles, wanted to work with me for a long time, and we thought we would do something with the youth orchestra. It involved talking to the executive director, fitting my piece into the program [in terms of length and instrumentation], having real ownership and responsibility for all of the project. This peer-to-peer collaboration has been really powerful as an artist recently.
Dirt to Gold was inspired by Beck—how did he influence the work?
The piece is inspired by Beck’s Odelay. I started out just as being influenced by his ideas in a book that included a vast numbers of quotes and stories about him and in a big Rolling Stone magazine interview from the 1990s. I read a lot of things he had written and said about his own work as an artist. I actually took a lot of those quotes and put them in the heading of the parts for each section in the orchestra. So the wind players all get a quote that seemed relevant for their kind of music, and the brass and the strings as well … I put them all right into the score.
That was the starting point. From there, I really dug into Odelay specifically. I was thinking about how free spirited and youthful and radical he was with the music he was creating. There’s a song, “Novocain,” in which he almost changes a genre every 10 seconds, but he pulls it off—it doesn’t sound too crazy, like cut and paste, and it ended up being a radio hit. So all that energy really opened me up to whatever crazy idea would come to me for what would happen next in my own piece.
Your program notes key in on rhythm. Do you find yourself gravitating more towards rhythm because of your drumming history?
The thing that’s been kind of funny about that process is how long it’s taken for [the drumming] side of things to enter my voice as a composer. When I was studying at Indiana University doing a masters there, I finally started to see some of the exciting rhythmic stuff from different drumming traditions making its way into my classical composed pieces. More and more, I feel like I’ve been reengaging with rock—like putting aluminum foil over brass instruments in this piece to get a kind of distortion sound. It all comes back to the youth of rock.