Dan Gosling “The ChopSaver Guy” interviews the brilliant Brian Balmages, one of the most in-demand composers on the music scene today. Brian is an award-winning composer, conductor, producer, and performer. His music for winds, brass, and orchestra has been performed in countries throughout the world.
Dan and Brian discuss everything from the proper way to pronounce his last name (it rhymes with Pal – Pages!) from how he maximized his days as an undergraduate and almost had a Doctorate in 5 years! This is a must-watch for anyone who aspires to greatness in any field, music or otherwise.
Dan Gosling: Hi, everyone. This is Dan Gosling also known as The ChopSaver Guy. I am here in a recording studio with the one and only Brian … you know what, I want to stop because … tell me how you pronounce your last name.
Brian Balmages: Everybody asked me all the time. I’ve actually gotten in arguments with people about it. So, I mean, if we’re going to put this on there, let’s just put it on there with me saying it. It’s Balmages, bal like pal, I’m your pal; and mages like I write music on pages, right? Balmages, pal pages, so there you go.
Dan Gosling: So you’re actually putting the accent on the balm …
Brian Balmages: Balmages, right.
Dan Gosling: Balmages, okay.
Brian Balmages: Some people say Balmages, Balmages but it’s in there. “BALL Mages” is completely wrong , whatever.
Dan Gosling: Okay.
Brian Balmages: I’ve also gotten “Ball Maj” but I’m not a cheese, so there you go.
Dan Gosling: All right. Well, glad we got that out of the way.
Brian Balmages: Yeah.
Dan Gosling: See if I can do it right, the one and only Brian Balmages. That helps, pal, pages.
Brian Balmages: It does.
Dan Gosling: Balmages, composer, extraordinaire. We’re actually in the middle of a … just finished up a recording session I was fortunate enough to be part of, but once a year, Brian will come here with his company, FJH Music, FJH …
Brian Balmages: FJH, yep.
Dan Gosling: … Music and they will record demo recordings of their latest publications for school band and it’s something that we’re fortunate enough to do here in Indianapolis every couple of times a year. So, Brian brings both his new compositions and also conducts compositions by your colleagues at FJH. They’re really terrific stuff. We all enjoy doing it. Sometimes recording sessions can be a real chore but they never are with Brian, both with him on the podium conducting, but also just the music itself is always so … especially when you’re composing for young bands and we as professionals have to kind of remember what it’s like to play in young band situation and the stuff that you write it so creative.
I want to talk a little bit more about that. But I did get a few questions from Instagram, from our followers on Instagram. One of the gals said … she didn’t really have a question then she thought of one, “How young did he start composing? She says, “He inspired me to start writing my own music and I wonder how young he was when he first started. I don’t have full-time piece done yet, but I do have ideas in my head and I plan to write out some time soon.”
Brian Balmages: That’s great.
Dan Gosling: So, kind of your backstory.
Brian Balmages: Sure. There’s a two-part answer to that question. So, the first part is, well, how young was I when I started writing. I play the piano by ear. And so what that means is when I hear something, provided I can remember it, so I have … I don’t have total recall, but if I hear a piece of music and I can remember it then I can play it back on the piano without having to rehearse it, or practice it, or anything like that. I started doing that as early as elementary school where I would just hear something, I would play it back on the piano. That started to lead into I was just hearing little melodies, or this, or that, or a little fantasy on something, and I would play that on the piano.
And so, what I would do though because that was really writing music. I mean, it was kind of, but it was mostly playing music that was original, right. And so, then I started to kind of compose original material but I never wrote it down. My method of recording when I was young was I would grab a tape recorder. Most of you don’t even know what that is anymore, but I would grab a recorder
and I would record myself playing the tune once I had finished it. And then if I ever forgot it, I could go back and play that back to myself, I would remember it, and then I would be able to play it. The problem was I realized fairly quickly no one’s ever going to be able to play my music without me in the room.
And so, that led to when I started writing music down. Believe it or not, I didn’t start reading music down until college. Even in that case, I was writing music for the groups that I was playing in. So if I was in the wind ensemble, I wrote for the wind ensemble. If I played in the symphony orchestra, I wrote for them. I was in the faculty brass quintet, I wrote for them. And so, I was always writing for groups that I was playing in. That’s kind of how I got my start. I kind of consider myself a late bloomer. I never studied composition formally. I’ve never taken composition lessons formally.
Dan Gosling: Really? Really?
Brian Balmages: No. I learned by doing. I probably got the … my biggest education from being in the ensembles, and hearing everything around me, and what they’re able to do, and then just trial and error. Sometimes you write something and it fails, and you learn more.
Dan Gosling: So, when you’re a kid, were you taking piano lessons?
Brian Balmages: Most of mine was trumpet. You know I’m a trumpet player.
Dan Gosling: Right.
Brian Balmages: So, no, I took piano for six months to a year. I was already playing but I took piano to try …
Dan Gosling: So, this was the traditional school band.
Brian Balmages: Yeah. My main training was school band. And then when I got in the high school, I started playing in orchestras but it wasn’t until I made it into the All-Eastern Orchestra which was a good orchestra. Nothing against my high school but we just … you can only play the same things over and over again so many times. We did the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances and I got to play principal trumpet on that. That was life-changing for me, just to play like, “Wow, that’s a real orchestral sound, real … ” I learned how much I wanted to play in an orchestra and I also learned how much I didn’t understand about playing in orchestra. And so, that began my path of orchestral playing which I did for a while until this whole thing picked up full time and then I started doing this.
Dan Gosling: So you’re in college playing in ensembles as a trumpet major?
Brian Balmages: No. So I don’t have a comp degree, I don’t have a conducting degree!
Dan Gosling: Yeah. That’s a lesson right there. That’s really amazing, you know that.
Brian Balmages: Yeah. Well, but here it is, I mean, the big thing is I was a music industry major. I got into college and I was already writing music. I wanted to learn how to record what I was writing. I wanted to learn how to make a demo of it. I was also really into things like …
Dan Gosling: Where was this?
Brian Balmages: James Madison University for my undergrad and then, yeah, so I wanted to learn how to do, how to record the things that I was doing. I want to learn how to use a board, how to do sequencing, but I was really interested in trumpet playing. So, I just figured, “Well, I’m a Music Industry major, but I’m just going to practice more than all of the performance majors.” Right? Because when you’re taking an audition, they never ask you “what’s your degree program?” you just take the audition. And so, I would take the audition. I probably learned more from playing than I did from anything, from anything at all. I’m really glad that I did that.
And then I went down to the University of Miami. I did my Master’s Degree in Media Writing and Production where, again, I wanted to learn how to write for different kinds of media, jazz. I wanted to learn how to write for rock. I wanted to learn how to write … I mean, I wrote heavy metal music even, a whole wide variety of different things, but even there, I was playing very actively. While down there, I want a job in the Miami Symphony, so I stayed and played in that for a while until, again, the composing-conducting thing really took off and I kind of made a decision that I wanted to really focus on that because I was a good trumpet player, but I was not that high on the ladder, giving where some of these players are.
Dan Gosling: So when you say the composing “took off,” how does that happen? How did it go from just sort of doing something?
Brian Balmages: It kind of started … so, all I was writing was for college or above players, but then what happened was all those people were Music Ed Majors. They all went off, start teaching. They started calling me saying, “Hey, I love what we played of yours in college. You want to try to write something for my middle school kids? You want to try to write something for my elementary school kids? So, “Okay, I’ll try.”
Dan Gosling: So that brings up … and I don’t know because you’re on a great roll here. But the concept of networking or how your network whether it’s your high school buddies or your college buddies, they’re the ones that are going to kind of feed your career initially. Sure you want your professors and the higher-ups to help you out when they can but it’s really your colleagues that are going to give you those rungs on the ladder so to speak to do something.
Brian Balmages: When you’re in that environment, that college environment, I would like to think that if you’re in the right place, you learn as much, if not more, from the people around you, your peers, as you do from the professors that you’re learning and taking lessons from. That’s kind of a huge thing that molded me. I got into college and, number one, I was no longer the big fish. I learned very quickly, “Wow, this person can do things that I can’t do at all.” I started, “How do you do that?” This person could do things that I had never thought about, or this person could write harmonies that I had never heard before and what do you … and so, during that process, learning from all the people around you, both in ensembles and just in life, it was great.
Dan Gosling: So, your music education friends from college go out into the profession, want some new pieces for their kids, and that’s kind of how it started.
Brian Balmages: Absolutely, absolutely. And so, not every piece I wrote was good. Oh no, not at all.
Dan Gosling: So these like … did you do them as favors or these were commissions right out of the gate or …
Brian Balmages: One of my big first commissions-
Dan Gosling: And so, just hope you understand, when a composer is commissioned to write a piece, what does that actually mean?
Brian Balmages: That means a group will contact me and say, “We like your music. We want you to write a piece for us.” One of the first groups to ever commissioned me was my father’s community band. They had heard a piece of mine that I had done for a film score class and they really liked it. And so they commissioned me. I think I made … I think I really raked it in. I made 200 bucks out of it. If you’re a college kid, that’s a lot of money, oh, yeah! And so, they offered me $200 and I wrote a piece for them. I think this was the one that I wrote for them called Journey by Night. It was this really, really bandy kind of piece and it was fun.
And then years later, they commissioned me to write another one. I wrote a piece for them called Summer Dances. That was the one that took off. That’s the one that everybody played.
Dan Gosling: Kind of put you on the map.
Brian Balmages: Everybody knew it and …
Dan Gosling: So what year is this?
Brian Balmages: That would have been ’99 and then we released it in 2000. Matter of fact, when we put it out, it was an afterthought. We had already picked the music that we were going to record and then at the very end, I said, “Well, I’ve got this other piece. I don’t know if we’re going to have the time to record it. I don’t know if we ever even want to publish it, but let’s just throw it on if we have time.” We did have time. And so, we put it on the recording session and that became one of the biggest pieces that I’ve done.
Everybody plays it. In fact, so many people have played it that when everybody was playing it, I wasn’t very active as a guest conductor. Once I became active as a guest conductor, I would never program it because I had heard it so many times that I never programmed it.
And so, it wasn’t until about 2009 that I actually conducted that piece in a concert for the first time the Houston Symphonic Band.
They invited me to come down and guest conduct. I said, “You’re probably sick of conducting it, but we’ve already prepared this piece. We would like you to conduct it.” I thought about it and I said, “Actually, this is going to be my debut performance of the piece.”
Dan Gosling: It’s been out for nine years.
Brian Balmages: It’s been out for nine or 10 years, so, yeah, go figure.
Dan Gosling: Tell me a little bit about your process. Do you … do things just come at you out of the blue, do you like go into a place where now it’s … I’m going to compose now and or is it a little of both?
Brian Balmages: No, there’s a couple different things. So, I used to try to write every piece the exact same way. Well, I must play this way and I must write this way. And then I realized much like a performer, when you wake up and you’re getting ready for the day, when you’re getting ready to play, you don’t feel the same every day and you change your warm-up. Some days you’ve got to warm up a lot longer and spend time on loosening up something. Other days, you pick up the horn and you play two notes and you’re like, “I’m good to go.” It’s no different for me, for composing. There are some days that I just think, “Wow, I’m so on that I can just start orchestrating as I go,” right? Boom, right into Finale or Sibelius … it doesn’t matter which one you use. I use finale, but right in.
There are other times that I just enjoy sitting down at the piano and doing what I was talking about playing where I’ll just play for 30 minutes and see what comes out. And then there’s other times where I get away from all of that, just sit down at a table with a pencil and paper, and I’ll just write. There’s something so intimate and so organic about having a pencil, and paper, and being able to touch the music that you’re working on.
Dan Gosling: So, without … computer off.
Brian Balmages: No computer, no piano, no nothing, just me and paper. I love it.
Dan Gosling: So people come to you with a commission. Do they tell you what kind of piece they have in mind or if it’s …
Brian Balmages: Sometimes. Sometimes it’s opening of a new hall. A student tragically passed away. We want to celebrate. We just had this moment in our county’s history. We just want a fanfare. Other times they’ll say, “We just want you to write something, just … “
Dan Gosling: It’s this long and this is our instrumentation…
Brian Balmages: Yeah, just this as how hard what we can do. These are the other pieces that we’ve done. We don’t care what you do. We just want you to go with whatever you feel inside. Sometimes they’ll say, “Let us know if you want suggestions,” or they may make some suggestions. The tricky ones are when they say, “We were hoping for an oboe solo about a quarter of the way through,” and then the tune could come in.
Dan Gosling: They do that sometimes?
Brian Balmages: There are, occasionally, when they’ll say that, but I’ll … I’d say, “Well, I can do so much, but I can’t fit that perfect mold.”
Dan Gosling: Right, right. Well, one of the questions I had from our Instagram friends was what’s your … what would you recommend for Grade Two through Four with interesting euphonium parts?
Brian Balmages: Wow. Two through four with interesting euphonium? I have a euphonium concerto, let’s start there. It’s called Crossroads, but that’s more like a five or six. Something with interesting euphonium part, I’d like to think that most of the pieces that I write have interesting parts in general.
Dan Gosling: I would agree with that, yeah.
Brian Balmages: There are a few things that I’ve done Rippling Watercolors a lyrical piece where there are some interesting things with euphonium. It’s really a tricky thing because I don’t think particularly about a specific which part is … I think about the color of the ensemble and where the entire ensemble is going. So I think if you could look at most of them and find something. Within The Castle Walls would be one. I think that’s got some interesting euphonium parts. We recorded some today with some interesting euphonium parts, so.
Dan Gosling: When someone asked for a piece, commissions you, what’s your timeframe? Do you say, “I need X amount of time to do it,” or does it depend on their deadlines, or does it …
Brian Balmages: I’m roughly on a two or three-year wait really right now, roughly. Now, there are like … okay, so I recorded with your wife as well, Noelle, who plays violin and so that’s the orchestral side of things. And so sometimes I may be booked for a year and a half with the orchestral music, but I always like to write both every year. And so, there may be an opening for band. I might be booked out further with the orchestra, or sometimes in this case, there was a booked out for a band right now for about two and a half years. But an orchestra contacted me about doing something for next year and I happen to have a slot available because I like to do both.
I can’t exist without one of the other. And so, that’s where that comes from. In general, two years, sometimes seven or eight months, depending on what the piece is. If it’s a great one, I always like to write one because it’s something that I feel like I can give back, so I’m happy to do that. Other pieces, might be two and a half-plus years.
Dan Gosling: So they know that, you say, “Yes, if you ask me now it’s going to be two years before … “
Brian Balmages: Yeah, I mean, and sometimes people say, “We’re looking for a piece for the fall.” I’ll just say, “I don’t have it.” And so, sometimes they can push it back a few years or I’ll help them find a composer that will meet their needs.
Dan Gosling: So how does your relationship with FJH work with the stuff that you’re doing on your own, or things that you want to write just because you want to write?
Brian Balmages: Yeah, so, a lot of people asked me, “Do you own FJH?” No, I don’t know own FJH. So, I am the Director of Instrumental Publications. Everything that FJH publishes for band and orchestra, I oversee all of that and I choose that music. So if you’ve heard a piece in the last eight or nine, 10 years come out of FJH, I selected that for publication.
Dan Gosling: Even if you didn’t write, you still …
Brian Balmages: Even if I didn’t write it, I selected it and I asked them … if I didn’t feel like there was something that was working, I asked them to make a change, or if it felt like, “Man, I love this piece but this one section is like three grade levels harder, can we make a change there,” or I might say, “Hey, I love this piece but this middle section just doesn’t relate to me. I’m having trouble understanding how it makes sense with the rest of the piece. Can you make a change?” And so they will. So, yeah, so that’s my relationship there. I first met … FJH stands for Frank J. Hackinson. He’s the President of the company. I first met Frank back in ’98. A lot of you probably know the name Robert W. Smith.
Robert was at JMU when I was an undergrad there. I met Robert. I took his arranging class because all the majors took his class. Robert recommended that I meet with Frank after I graduated. Frank was in Fort Lauderdale. I was going to school in Miami. We were 30 minutes apart.
Dan Gosling: Connections, network again.
Brian Balmages: Exactly, yeah. And so, I like to think that I met Frank and Frank signed me right then as a graduate student.
Dan Gosling: Wow.
Brian Balmages: Two years before I published a tune. And so, a huge opportunity, right, but it’s like …
Dan Gosling: Based on what he had just seen as you do as a student or … ?
Brian Balmages: Based on what Robert had said and based on the music that he had heard me write. The thing is though it’s always a huge opportunity but I would like to think that, yes, it was a huge opportunity but at the same time I prepared myself for that opportunity, right? We always talk about, “Well, that would have been a great opportunity but I wasn’t ready.” And so, I had seized that time. In undergraduate, you are require to graduate with like a 120 credits. I graduated with 204. I just went all in, took me five years, but I was averaging about 24 credits a semester …
Dan Gosling: Whoa, wow.
Brian Balmages: … and stuff and that’s just …
Dan Gosling: That’s a lot.
Brian Balmages: I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn.
Dan Gosling: So you were not as a double major or …
Brian Balmages: No, I was not a double major but I graduated three credits short of a Doctorate with an undergraduate. But what were the additional classes that I took, right? I wasn’t required to take two extra semesters of conducting. What do I do for a career? I conduct. I wasn’t required to take counterpoint. What did I do? I took it. What do I do now? I do it all of the time. There are so many things that I took that I wasn’t required to take, but I wasn’t trying to like, “How quickly can I just get in, and get out, and just get done with it to get the paper?” Undergrad is not a time to get a paper. Undergraduate is a time to be a sponge and learn everything you can because once you get out there, you are a function of what you’ve learned, and you will tackle the world based on who you are and what you have to offer. And so, I want to be able to offer a lot. So, that’s what I did.
Dan Gosling: That’s …
Brian Balmages: And I live to talk about it.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, you live to tell the tale. I mean, that you said so much there that those of you that are looking at colleges, or in college now, taking full advantage of that environment the way … I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody say they took 24 credit hours semester after semester, after semester. That’s a little insane.
Brian Balmages: Insane. I mean, a lot of it was ensembles, obviously, but even still. So, yeah, and so you do that, and then you’re playing six, seven hours a day, but I loved it.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, that’s terrific. How many pieces you think you’ve written?
Brian Balmages: I have no idea.
Dan Gosling: You really don’t have any idea.
Brian Balmages: I don’t. I know it’s over a hundred.
Dan Gosling: Oh, it’s got to be.
Brian Balmages: Yeah. I’ve never been concerned about it. I know some people are very adamant about knowing exactly how many pieces I’ve written. For me, I think the moment I realize that it’s so important to me to know how many pieces I’ve written, that’s a bad moment for me because then I’m suddenly worried about I’ve written X amount of pieces and I don’t care about that. What I do care about is anything that I’ve written I really want to be proud of. I want to be able to say that’s mine and that’s who I am, not just that’s my piece, but that’s who I am. That’s why I don’t write … there’s no pen names. A lot of composers use pen names, I do not. I have no pen name. I am who I am. If I feel like I have to put a pen name on a piece then I don’t want to write it.
Dan Gosling: So, clearly you’ve evolved and improved as you’ve done this all these years, but you … it sounds like there’s nothing in your past that you’re like embarrassed about or, “Gee, I wish I was so green. I didn’t know what I was doing.” It’s not you …
Brian Balmages: Well, I mean, there are pieces that I look at that I wrote 10 years ago, that I come back, and I look at, and I just think like, “Why in the world did I do that? Why did I write that,” or … there’s plenty of them, but I still learn from them. I’m not embarrassed about looking 10 years ago saying, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I wrote that. I’m proud because that shows me, “Wow, look how far I’ve come from 10 years ago to now,” and I’m so excited to see, hopefully, where I am 10 years from now, looking back on the stuff that I’m doing right now saying, “Gosh, why did you do that,” instead of going in this direction.
And so, as an artist, I’m trying to constantly reinvent myself. I’m constantly trying to figure out what I can do to be better, what can I do to improve, what have I not done, not what did I write that sold a million copies and do it again. But, great, I did that. I’m happy about that. But now, what have I not done, what could I … what can challenge me?
Dan Gosling: What would that be for you? Film scores, more big orchestra stuff?
Brian Balmages: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of things that I’ve always been interested in. Eventually, I’m going to tackle my first symphony whether it’s for orchestra band, I don’t even know yet. That’s something that is on the horizon. I just have to find the right time, the right time, and the right group, and the right place. And then the other thing that I really want to do is I’m just starting a musical.
Dan Gosling: Oh, cool.
Brian Balmages: I want to write a full-out musical.
Dan Gosling: So, you’ve got a storyline in mind and you’re working with somebody, or this is just …
Brian Balmages: I do, I got the whole … right now, I’m not working with somebody, but I’ve got … I’m connected with a person, I’ll just say a person who has done a lot of work on Broadway, and we were connected. And so, I’m just kind of reaching out for some thoughts and stuff, but we’re aware of each other. And so, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I grew up going to musicals. It’s part of who I am. I love to sit down and just play the piano and have fun, and so …
Dan Gosling: But you’re essentially self-taught as a pianist.
Brian Balmages: Completely, yeah.
Dan Gosling: Did you take piano as an undergrad? I mean a class piano, or did you have a piano teacher?
Brian Balmages: I took a semester because we had to, proficiency, right?
Dan Gosling: Yeah, right.
Brian Balmages: But that’s it. No.
Dan Gosling: Okay, that’s crazy in itself, but … there was another question which I …
Brian Balmages: What do we have? No, it’s not set up.
Dan Gosling: What, the piano?
Brian Balmages: Yeah. No, it’s behind the baffle. I can’t get to it, okay.
Dan Gosling: What, you’re going to prove it?
Brian Balmages: No, I was going to prove it but we’ll see.
Dan Gosling: Question was what were you thinking when you he composed his work Fusion? It was absolutely crazy to play and I loved every minute of it. Not only that piece, but other pieces, what are you … because you have very interesting titles. The titles are fun and evocative. Do the titles come last? Did the titles …
Brian Balmages: No, Fusion came first. I knew exactly what I wanted to write. Fusion was all about the way I grew up. So, I grew up listening to classic rock. I grew up listening to you to U2, to Billy Joel, to … just a lot of great artist.
Dan Gosling: Your parents are musical?
Brian Balmages: Yeah, my parents were both Peabody Conservatory graduates. My father was a trumpet player. My mother was an opera singer. And so, neither wrote music really but they were performers and music teachers. My father was my elementary band director and he was my wife’s elementary band director three years later.
Dan Gosling: Wow.
Brian Balmages: How awkward, right? So, anyway, yeah, so, when … what was even the question?
Dan Gosling: Fusion.
Brian Balmages: Oh, yeah, that’s right. I wrote a piece called Fusion. And so, I grew up listening to all these artists. And then I got to a point where I started to say, “You know what, I love this idea of jazz, and I love rock, and I … why can’t I add that into my concert music without it being a hokey jazz piece or a rock piece. I wanted to be something that you could play at a festival, or at serious contest music, or concert music but at the same time has a huge jazz and rock influence. And so, that’s where that piece came from. That’s one of the first pieces that I wrote, that I truly integrated all these things particularly in the last movement, which is the movement called Fusion.
Dan Gosling: Right. So you have electric instruments in there? Do you have …
Brian Balmages: Nope. No electric in there, no. I’ve written for electric. Well, your wife recorded one of my electric pieces for electric string quintet and orchestra. But, no, electronics in there.
Dan Gosling: Couple other questions and it would be more about where do you see yourself maybe 10 years from now.
Brian Balmages: I would like to think that, number one, I am writing something that I’ve never written before and then I’m …
Dan Gosling: Clearly, music education is really important to you.
Brian Balmages: It is very important to me but so is level of performance. And so, I certainly love writing educational music but at the same time I love going out there and conducting some of the best all-state bands that are out there. This summer I was in Australia, conducting an orchestra down there, and just having a great time. And so, I love pushing myself in front of incredible musicians, and seeing how much I can draw out of them, and how much I can learn from myself in the process, learn about myself, I should say. And so, 10 years from now, I want to be able to say all those things, but probably most important … right now, I’ve got a nine-year old and 11-year-old boy and I can say this now about the last 10 years. But 10 years from now, I think probably the most important thing is I want to be able to say that I have no regrets about being their dad. I don’t want to have traveled so much that I missed out on things. I don’t want to have been gone so much that I have to re-meet my wife, and those-
Dan Gosling: Because this does involve some travel.
Brian Balmages: It does. And so far I’ve been able to manage a very good balance of those things and that’s, I think, that connection to my family is one of the things that makes me so creative. And so, I want to be able to look back on that in 10 years and say, “I have no regrets. I was there.”
Dan Gosling: Yeah, because of … I understand that.
Brian Balmages: It’s hard.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, it’s very hard. A musician’s life can be full of travel, can be an incredible way to make a living but it … the time demands are crazy sometimes and if you add into that, the fact that you have to be on the road, you’ve got to conduct here, you’ve got this organization that’s hired you to come out and present or … are you teaching anywhere right now?
Brian Balmages: I’m teaching adjunct, yeah. So I teach at Towson University which is in Baltimore, nice-sized university, 10 minutes door to door, gotta love that. And so I do teach there as their Assistant Director of Bands and Orchestras. So I work with the band and the orchestra there. They’re great-
Dan Gosling: Conducting, not composing.
Brian Balmages: Conducting, conducting, correct. And so, I enjoy my time there. I mean, I’ve got a great relationship with the Director of Bands, Chris Cicconi. He’s doing some great things there. We think very much alike. We conduct very similar. And so, it’s been really, really great to be a part of that, but at the same time, they give me the freedom of being able to be who I need to be as well.
Dan Gosling: Right. Well, this has been fantastic.
Brian Balmages: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate it.
Dan Gosling: I mean, I can talk to you for hours, but I know we should probably wrap this up, but I just … maybe for aspiring young conductors or composers, what are you telling them, what are you telling them? I mean, your road, you came from a musical family which certainly helps as did I and I know people that have a passion for music but they didn’t have the same environment that maybe you and I did growing up, so there’s that. And then, clearly, if you missed the first part of this interview, go back and listen to what Brian said about how he handled his undergraduate. But just in general, what are you telling aspiring conductors about the job scene, how to find their own voice. What do you tell people?
Brian Balmages: Well, conductors, composers, or both?
Dan Gosling: Let’s go both I think, yeah.
Brian Balmages: On the composition side, I tell people, number one, if you … you’re only going to do as much as you believe you can do, right? And so, if you want to write, write. When I was in high school, my guidance counselor told me, “You may want to consider doing something different because most people don’t make it in the world of music, then you should do something else where you can make a living.” Seven or eight years later, I came back to my high school and I spoke for the National Honor Society induction. They had me back because of my success in the music industry. Thank goodness, I didn’t listen to her.
Dan Gosling: Right, exactly.
Brian Balmages: Follow your heart. That’s a big part of it. In addition, write. If you want to be a composer, write music, write it! You’re going to write some bad music. I wrote some bad music, okay? I learned more from writing bad music than I did from writing good music.
Dan Gosling: I would also point out the way Brian wrote it was you recorded, you sat down and played tunes as they came to you, you wrote in many different ways.
Brian Balmages: I wrote in many different ways, but everything I wrote, I heard. So I would get friends together and if you want to compose music and your best friend plays horn and your other best friend plays flute, write a piece for horn and flute. Get them to play it. You’ll find things that are great about it and things that are terrible about it. I was in a trumpet ensemble, I wrote a piece for trumpet ensemble. There were things that I thought were great, there were things that I thought were terrible. The terrible things were when I realized that I had written the whole thing at the piano using the sustain pedal. Trumpet Ensemble doesn’t have a sustain pedal, it’s sounded like garbage when I got to that part.
And then I had to learn about leaving a trail of sound, a sustain, as the other trumpets go on. But I learned a lot from that, all right? So, write, listen to a lot of music, get scores. If it’s classical scores, you can go on to IMSLP and download PDFs. You can purchase scores for six, seven bucks online for band pieces that you’re playing or for orchestra pieces that you’re playing, take the score, listen to the music while you have the score in front of you. It’s important that you go out and purchase the score. Don’t just try to get a PDF of it and just get it for free. The only reason I mentioned that is because that’s how I support my family, right?
And so, if you’re out there trying to get a score for free, if everybody did that, I would then have to find a new job. And so that’s the only reason I mentioned that. Whenever I go, I buy everything. I don’t even go to the library and rent … check out books, I buy them just because I want to support the artist as much as I can. And so, that’s something that I do. And then as a conductor, again, as many opportunities as you can, get in front of an ensemble. Even if it’s three players, four players, practice conducting in front of a mirror, get yourself video recorded as much as you can, even record yourself conducting to nothing, or record yourself conducting to your favorite movie soundtrack, or whatever it may be. You’ll learn a lot by doing that. That’s kind of how I got going.
Dan Gosling: Do you have a website?
Brian Balmages: Yes, Brian Balmages, Balmages.com. Yeah. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Facebook. Well, Facebook I’m ex, but, I mean, I have a Facebook artist page, but I’m also on Twitter. I’m Brian Balmages, Brian Balmages, Brian … I’m the only Brian Balmages in the world. Search for me and you’ll find it. There’s only one me.
Dan Gosling: That makes it easy.
Brian Balmages: Yeah.
Dan Gosling: Well, Brian Balmages, this has been an absolute pleasure.
Brian Balmages: Hey.
Dan Gosling: Thank you so much.
Brian Balmages: Absolutely, Dan. Thank you. He still sounds great, by the way.
Dan Gosling: Oh, well, it’s easy when the music is written so well. So with that, we’ll say thank you. Thanks for watching and look for more great stuff from Brian and from ChopSaver.