Q&A with Composer Brent Michael Davids

The Great American Road Trip is bound to be unforgettable—and one of the biggest reasons why is because composer Brent Michael Davids will join us to perform some of his work! Davids has had an exciting career scoring work for orchestras and films, and he has a unique style in which he combines orchestral music with unique instruments of his own creation.

Naturally, we are excited to have him on the tour, so we asked him a few questions about his work:

What was the inspiration for the two works, “Spirit Woman Song” and “Fluting Around, II” featured on this tour?

Guest artist and composer Brent Michael Davids

Jean-Philippe Rameau saw some Illiniwek (Native Americans) dancing in Paris and got the idea to compose a dance-opera. It utilized harpsichord and sounded nothing like Native American music. It was basically a Harlequin

romance novel set to the music of his time period, with an old chief, his pretty daughter, and two opposing suitors. There are Native composers that have written for orchestra, such as Zitkala Sa (“Red Bird”) who wrote the first grand opera in 1913, even winning “opera of the year” from the New York Opera Guild in 1938. Her studies at the Boston Conservatory of Music enabled her to fuse Dakota culture with Western European composition.

Today there have been others trail-blazing Native American orchestral music, such as Dr. Louis Wayne Ballard, a longtime dear friend of mine. He was a Quapaw-Cherokee composer of great accomplishment, a lifetime educator, and he mentored me for nearly 30 years. There are others too, such as Odawa composer Barbara Croall, Choctaw composer George Quincey, Navajo composer Raven Chacon, a wonderful young O’otham composer Tonya Wind Singer, and forays into orchestral composition by many performer-composers and pianist-composers. In fact, Tonya’s premiering a new work with Cape Symphony this Friday (August 25, 2017) for a Wampanoag singer and orchestra called “First Light.”

For almost 41 years now, it has been my mission to create a hybrid between Native American song traditions, and orchestral concert music. The two works featured on the tour are recent examples of this longtime effort!

In your work, you use a lot of instruments that are not common to traditional orchestras. What are some of these instruments and why did you pick them?

The instruments are often my own designs and in collaboration with others. I’ve had several composer “periods” I suppose, and one of them was electronic music. I started composing for concert band 1976, then for small chamber avant-garde ensembles using extended instrumental techniques by creating sounds not normally produced on those instruments, and then a period of electronic compositions, tape manipulation, and “music concrete.”

What I learned in electronic music is the creation of wild sounds are often not reproducible on standardized acoustic instruments. I loved exploring new sounds, but I wasn’t enjoying electronic music so much. When leaving that medium, and going toward orchestral music, I wanted to find ways of creating wilder sounds for acoustic instruments. I started building instruments at that point, out of all sorts of materials, woods, plastics, metals, and even quartz crystal, and I had help from fabricators and even scientists. Many of the acoustic principles of the newly made instruments are ideas gleaned from traditional Native Americans ones.
Who and/or what inspired you most to become a musician?

My parents were the most influential, encouraging me to become musically literate. And I was greatly inspired by composer George Crumb. I first heard his work for electric string quartet called “Black Angels” and was awe-struck by it. It was the first instance where I heard music that sounded exactly like the title of the work; “Night of the Electric Insects” was a section of the work and it evoked exactly that, electric insects. I’d never heard anything like that before, and it drove me to learn more and to start composing myself. Later I learned that violinist David Harrington was also inspired by this work, prompting him to found the renown Kronos Quartet, for whom I have composed.

Your work appears to tell a story. Do you have a narrative in mind when you compose?

Always. In my view, any competent composers can create an acceptable work, passable by any nominal orchestration and composition standards. What excites me, however, are the works that tell something vital. Music works are like grand conversations really, with a beginning, middle, and ending. They are naturally story-like, evocative events occurring through time. But not all stories are alike, and not all stories are good ones. So I try my utmost to create adventures in my music, dynamic and striking tales in sound that have extra musical meaning. I want to tell good stories, and music composing is my best voice.

Besides composing, what other projects are you working on?

I’m composing a large requiem about the founding of the country, called “Requiem for America,” that relates the American Indian perspective of the original founding events in our shared American history. I’m composing an hour-long,  secular ‘anti-Requiem,’ spinning the traditional Christian Death Mass on its head to give voice to America’s invisible people: the American Indians.

I’m continuing to score several films, as well, including “Lake of Betrayal” which airs nationally on PBS this November, and several indie films. I am excited by a scoring project not for film though, but for fashion. I’ve been hired to score the runway show of designer Patricia Michaels for the International Fashion Week in Paris at the Louvre (18 Nov 2017). France’s top youth chorus, Mikrokosmos, has signed on to perform the work! Desert blooms, gentle rain, wind, and birds are musically portrayed by France’s most celebrated youth chorus. Soprano, alto, tenor and baritone voices warble, chirp, trill, and hum an environment of sounds for Michaels’ desert-inspired fashions.

I just finished composing a new choral work, available soon via See-A-Dot music publishing, called “Singing for Water” giving choirs everywhere an opportunity to sing the message of the Native American Water Protectors, with all proceeds going to Winona LaDuke’s Honor The Earth organization. It’s going to be an exciting fall!

Since this is a road trip – tell us about the best road trip you’ve ever been on.

I could weave together a great story about running through NASA security to stow away onboard a space shuttle into orbit, but my most exciting road trip is probably that time I stubbed my toe on a tree root that was obviously trying to knock me over because it did! I did drive to Zion National Park years ago to perform a small concert with a few others, most notably frame-drummer extraordinaire Glen Velez. But with an orchestra?! I’m super excited about appearing with the exceptional Utah Symphony!

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The Great American Road Trip: Best of Vernal

Capture the full experience of Vernal on your trip to see the Great American Road Trip! Here are some must-see attractions to visit.

Get prehistoric at Dinosaurland!

What is Dinosaurland? Only the best place in the world to come and interact with dinosaur bones and fossils! Come see and touch over 1500 dinosaur bones in their original resting place at Dinosaur National Monument.

Dinosaurs aren’t the only thing at Dinosaurland either. There are plenty of activities like hiking, biking, and swimming. There’s something for everyone!

Eat at the Vernal Brewing Company

Close to the Dinosaur National Monument the Vernal Brewing Company is a great restaurant that offers delicious food and craft beers. Locally-owned and operated, this restaurant has a new gastro pub menu. You can also book a special event or garden party in their patio space.

What makes this place even better? We’ll be having a chamber concert here. If you want a magical evening, enjoy your food while listening to incredible music.

Take the scenic Sheep Creek Geological Loop

If you have an hour to spare take a nice drive along the Sheep Creek Geological Loop. The route runs about 13 miles along the beautiful Uinta Fault. There is no fee and the road is paved, so it’s safe for any vehicle. Keep your eyes peeled and you might even catch a glimpse of the bighorn sheep that live in the area.

Are you not sure what to expect from your concert experience? Make sure to check here for more information about the venues and what to bring. You can also get tips on how to enhance your concert experience here.

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The Great American Road Trip: Best of Bluff

If you’re stopping by Bluff on your way to the Utah Symphony’s Great American Road Trip performance here are some great places the locals recommend visiting.

Enjoy a meal at the Comb Ridge Bistro

This American style café has a long-standing tradition in the Bluff area. Established in 2005, Comb Ridge used to be a Navajo Twins Trading Post in the early 1970s. With excellent service and ambiance, the Bistro’s menu offers delicious food for every meal and includes a wide selection of alcoholic beverages for your enjoyment. The Comb Ridge Bistro supports the work of talented local artists displaying various landscape paintings, Navajo inspired artwork, and traditional stone jewelry.

Visit the restored Bluff Fort Historical Site

The Bluff Fort visitors center offers free guided tours daily with engaging staff ready to show you around and answer your questions Learn the history of the Mormon pioneers, who settled in Bluff, through audio-visual displays, a fully loaded covered wagon, and photography of the early residents and more. Take the chance to dress in pioneer attire and take a picture pulling an authentic pioneer handcart.

Walk the Hole In the Rock Trail

Through some of the most rugged and unforgiving terrain in North America, the Hole in the Rock Trail was built by the pioneers in 1879-80. The trail received its name from a crevice the colonizers utilized to gain access to the Colorado River gorge. Make unforgettable memories with a visit the trail! Marvel at its beauty and remember the challenges overcome by the original Bluff settlers.

Are you still not convinced this will be the best musical road trip of your life? Just take a look at this:


See you on the road!

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Get the Most out of the Great American Road Trip

It’s just not summer without an unforgettable road trip – and this summer, we’re embarking on an adventure to southern Utah. Pack a bag and plan for our concerts in Springdale, Bluff, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, and Vernal Brewing Company.

To make your trip even more memorable, here are our recommendations:

First Things First

Forget about the concert hall because we’ll be performing in the great outdoors! Since we’re outside, you won’t want to forget about the necessities. Bring something to sit on (a camping chair or blanket), a sweater for when it gets cold, bug repellant, sunscreen, and an umbrella (just in case!)

Pack a Picnic

The best part of being in an outdoor venue is that you can bring snacks. You could always bring sandwiches and celery sticks, or you could always make your picnic special by trying a new recipe or picking something up from a favorite local spot like Swig in St. George.

Make Memories

You’ll want to remember this extraordinary experience! Don’t forget to pack your camera and (dare we say it?) a selfie stick so you can capture incredible memories at the concert. We love connecting with people at our concerts, so follow and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and tag your photos with #utahsymphonyroadtrip.

Tune into a Playlist

What’s a road trip without the perfect playlist? Whether you’re traveling from Salt Lake to Springdale or from Blanding to Bluff, we have the ideal music to set the mood for your journey. Get a preview of our repertoire for the concert or listen to a list of music inspired by the majestic night sky of southern Utah.

Stay for a Star Party

The best part about being in southern Utah is being under the stars. Take your concert experience to a new level by staying after the concert for a star party. This collaboration between us, the University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative will allow you to explore the night sky through lectures provided by park rangers and local astronomers, as well as have viewing opportunities on high-powered telescopes.

Register for a star party here.

You won’t want to miss these free concerts and star parties, so get your tickets here. Bon voyage!

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The Great American Road Trip: Best of Springdale

Theater at Zion National Park

Enjoy all Springdale has to offer before our concert at Zion National Park.

Coming to Springdale for the Great American Road Trip?  Before the concert, find the best restaurants, hikes, art galleries, and more here.  According to the locals, these are the best spots around Springdale:

Grab a bite at Bit and Spur Restaurant & Saloon

The friendly staff at the Bit and Spur Restaurant & Saloon have been serving fresh innovative southwest food for 35 years, making them a favorite destination at Zion’s. Along with the excellent food come enjoy the lively atmosphere. There are scheduled Band Nights with live music, billiards, and a full bar with house-made margaritas. Finish off your meal with one of their award winning in-house desserts and enjoy good company in the renovated patio space.

Take a hike to the Canyon Overlook at Zion National Park

This short, one-mile hike is the best way to see an incredible view of the Pine Creek slot canyon! At the beginning of the trail, there are steps that lead up to a rocky, uneven dirt path so you’re going to want to bring good walking or hiking shoes.  Look out for the cool shaded alcoves along the way with lush ferns growing out of the walls. The trail is family friendly, but keep a close eye on children as there are some steep cliffs on your way to create amazing memories.

Be amazed at the David J. West Gallery

If you’re looking to find a nice place indoors to be inspired by the great outdoors, look no further than the David J. West Gallery. Photographer David J. West has a passion for capturing the natural beauty that exists in nature. Displayed at the gallery are selections of his regional landscape photography, many of which may be purchased. With his photography, Mr. West hopes to encourage others to protect the natural health and beauty of the world around us.

Be sure to join us on this leg of our journey! Get more information for the free Springdale performance of the Great American Road Trip here.

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