Musicology and Composition Guru Dr. David Berry
An interview with David Berry:
As a professional composer, describe your process for creating music.
“When I start to compose, I must answer a few critical questions. (1) What is the medium (voices, instruments, etc.)? (2) How much time must it consume? (3) What is the overall mood or collection of moods? (4) What form(s) should I use? How should I structure the piece? If it is a song, the lyrics may be created first, after or during the composition process. Composition is more craft than inspiration.”
Describe some of your current and most recent projects.
“Last year I had two new songs, Spring Promises and The Lily performed by Dr. Susan Lyle with texts by her husband, Pat Edwards. Converse alumna Therese Akkerman ’07 recorded my six-movement piano suite Cordair Gallery that I am currently editing to offer for sale on CD and as digital downloads. Maestra Sarah Ioannides has requested a new work for the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra. It is titled Overture to The Search for Stephanie Thayn, and the premiere will be on January 22, 2011 in Spartanburg.”
In the 70’s you formed the rock band Anthem. What was it like to hear your music on the radio? Do you ever bust out the nylon jumpsuits?
“I was lucky enough to hear my songs on a number of stations. It was an awesome experience, just like they portray it in books and movies. All of us are too fat for the suits now, even the skinny beautiful boys. I don’t know what happened to my suits, I lost them long ago, but I think some of the guys still have some of theirs.”
Describe your most memorable performance.
“There were many, so it is hard to choose. Two come immediately to mind. My high school concert band was very fine. When I was a junior, I got to rehearse and conduct in concert the Rienzi Overture by Richard Wagner. Much later my rock band shared a concert bill with Cheap Trick and Foreigner. Oh yeah, and I played horn twice for Peggy Lee.”
With such a varied career, you must have faced a few roadblocks along the way. What lessons did you learn as a result?
“I learned from Peggy Lee and my band experience that consistency in presentation and maintaining high quality are necessary for success. I like to tell people that I was close enough to rich-and-famous to know what it smells like. I learned that many people and groups work hard enough and get good enough to be stars. The final selection comes down to luck. That also means that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything you want. Sometimes it’s just not up to you.”
Describe a few of the innovative, if not unconventional, techniques you have brought to your classroom.
“Right now I’m questioning the value of traditional assessment tools. I also want to get involved in online classes because I believe that classrooms without walls is a trend that is here to stay. I guess my most outrageous technique was when I taught that the Romantic movement in music was clearly established with Beethoven’s Eroica symphony. I played the first two chords and fired a starter pistol and yelled: ‘They’re off!’ I doubt my students ever forgot that experience.”