“Rebecca Brandt is a Brooklyn-based composer, classically trained pianist and multi-instrumentalist. On May 1st, 2012 she released her debut album “Numbers and Shapes” composed of 14 original compositions, written and orchestrated for over 30 instruments. While Rebecca’s sound can be classified as an instrumental pop/classical crossover, “Numbers and Shapes” blends a variety of genres, mainly focusing on electro-acoustic, contemporary classical and electronic styles. Yet, each song is unique and has its own little world, often toying with jazz, rock and more traditionally classical concepts.”
The amazing grace of the album is apparent and by listening to the album you are inevitably involved in the world of beautiful images, appealing harmonies, upbeat rhythms and soothing sounds that distinguish Rebecca’s musical style from the style of other composers. I am glad that we met and spoke about so many issues that are dear to our hearts.
My special thanks to Rebecca for her commitment and her work on her new song that she recently wrote for me. I am very excited to include this song to the list of the songs that I am working on and recording at the moment! Here I want to share our conversation with Rebecca as we discussed music, education, Rebecca’s debut and much more:
1. Your first album “Numbers and Shapes” received a top-25 shortlist nomination for the 2013 Grammys. Tell us more about this achievement and what was the requirement for your music to acquire such recognition?
Rebecca: The Grammy shortlist nomination came as a total surprise. Each member of the Grammy Awards and Nominations committee is allowed to submit one artist or album for consideration that fall under certain guidelines (like the artist having never been nominated in prior years). A particular committee member decided to use his one vote for “Numbers & Shapes.” The record ended up in the “Best New Age Album” category, which is broadly defined as music that is acoustic, electronic, jazzy, and folky and incorporates classical and pop elements. It really meant a lot that a committee member would use his one vote to nominate my record. Making it past several cuts and on to the top-25 shortlist was just icing on the cake.
2. You graduated from New York University with a degree in Music composition and Film scoring. Tell us more about your decision to become a composer and about your years at NYU. What does it take to become a composer?
Rebecca: I had been writing little songs ever since I was very young, mostly instrumental. I was never big into lyrics. I started playing piano at around age 6 and violin at 8 so I always identified as a musician, but I guess I didn’t really identify as a composer until studying at NYU. I was at the Gallatin school, which is an individualized study program, so I was able to create my own concentration based on my interests. I loved composing, music theory, and was fascinated by film music – in part to my Dad’s own fascination with film music – so my concentration was kind of a no-brainer. I took all kinds of composition and film scoring courses and honed my composing skills from many different angles. One class in particular, taught by composer and orchestrator Sonny Kompanek, had us re-score scenes from famous films for each class; he said the only way to improve was to just keep writing. I think that’s really what it takes to compose well, just keep writing all the time. Maybe half of what you write ends up in the trash, but the other half can become something.
3. The public and some private schools often diminish art and music education. Do you agree that early music and art education is important for the health and overall development of a well-rounded personality?
Rebecca: I absolutely agree that studying music and the arts shapes young people in a very significant way. Not just in the creative sense, but intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Art gives children a way to express themselves that perhaps they would have never explored and provides new ways of looking at the world or solving problems more logically or creatively. Personally, music was always a major part of my social life and helped me connect with my peers. I absolutely would not be who I am today had it not been for my music and arts education from an early age – and not just in the sense of my career, but my personality, relationships, and probably
my mind. It seems like arts education is always one of the first to go during school budget cuts, and my heart breaks for those kids who don’t have access to instruments or paintbrushes or creative writing classes. I wish administrators would take a closer look at the merits of the arts before diminishing the whole curriculum.
4. What do you think about these quotes: “Creativity takes courage” – H. Matisse, and “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – A. Einstein?
I do think creativity takes courage; it’s very easy to blindly follow patterns of what people have done in the past or mimic commercially successful music and call it a day without putting in any real thought. It’s important to put yourself out there and try different concepts or ideas that pop into your head – maybe they’ll end up sounding terrible but at least you tried! Creativity and imagination certainly go hand-in-hand. Every idea, theory, scientific method, piece of art, EVERYTHING had to be imagined at some point before it was actualized and put into the world.
5. I personally like the last song on your album called “The Moment”. Is there any visual image behind this song, an idea or a composer whose music might have influenced your composition?
Rebecca: “The Moment” is actually one of my favorite tracks on the album, too. It definitely took on a mind of its own and drastically changed over the course of recording – I just kept adding to it and adding to it and it became this huge thing. A large inspiration came from Ravel’s “Bolero.” That piece is just so special and emotional for me, I cry every time I hear it. What’s so moving for me is how that piece starts so small and just builds and builds with more instruments to become this gigantic, epic monster and you can’t even remember how the piece started anymore. It uses repetition with the gradual introduction of instruments in such a perfect way – the same melody is repeated throughout, there really is not much development, yet it never gets boring – and I love playing with repetition and fun orchestrations in my own work. I like to think “The Moment” follows a similar structure, starting out very small with new instruments joining in every few bars, until there are nearly 30 instruments playing together at the end. I wanted people to listen and think, “Wait, what just happened?” and then listen again.
6. Tell us more about your work in film scoring. Do you have any further plans?
Rebecca: I really love writing music to visuals, especially narrative films or films that tell a story. It’s awesome how music can completely transform a visual and vice versa. A scene can feel emotional or scary or funny entirely based on the background music, and I like having that control! I like telling this story – I once re-scored a scene from “The Shining” for fun, it’s this disturbing scene where Jack Nicholson is going insane and talking to his son, and I wrote this really upbeat, fun piece that made the scene feel like a warm, loving family moment. Music has that kind of power. I do have some new films in the pipeline, so stay tuned!
7. What does it take for a female composer, singer or musician to survive and compete in the male dominated entertainment industry in USA? Do you believe that we should continue discussing this particular topic in the future?
Rebecca: I think women still do struggle to break into the composing world. Unfortunately it isn’t easy for anyone, regardless of gender, to make it in the entertainment industry. Though it does seem women have a difficult time gaining recognition in film composing (of course I base my opinion solely on personal experiences, and I’m sure everyone has their own take). I’ve been flat-out denied several gigs because I’m female; one director commented he was going with another composer because he didn’t want a flowery, romantic score, and I hadn’t even sent him samples of my music yet! I’ve thought of submitting my music under only my last name as to ward off any initial biases, but I haven’t actually done this yet –I still want to be true to myself. I guess I would tell other women looking to compete in the music world to just keep at it! That’s really all you can do. If you let the criticism or rejection gets to you, you’re in the wrong industry.
Obviously, we will stay tuned for more news from Rebecca so that we can learn about her upcoming projects, plans and ideas. We are happy that we had a chance to meet, talk and collaborate with this multitalented composer and pianist and we are looking forward to continue our discussions and talks in the future. Best of luck, Rebecca! For more info about Rebecca Brandt please visit: http://rebeccabrandt.bandcamp.com/
Lena Green -In addition to teaching and performing, she is a media contributor, publisher and an editor for her newspaper “Perfect Pitch Media” where she discusses music, fashion, zen, health, female leadership, ethical peoplehood & soft humor.
Her Master’s degrees in Music and in Education and her BA in Enterprise Business Management led to extensive working experience from consulting at the World Bank to teaching at NYC Private Schools and performing on stage. Lena has traveled around the world and she now resides in New York City, thrilled by the new possibilities and perspectives that this marvelous city has to offer.