Friday, July 30, 2010

Composer Spotlight - Gerald Busby

Gerald Busby is an absolutely delightful person, if you ever get the chance to meet him.  That opportunity came to me sort of by accident.  After I had decided what I was going to program on this Whitman recital, I had to get the music.  Most of it was available through the invaluable Glendower Jones at Classical Vocal Reprints.  However, Gerald's piece, "Behold this Swarthy Face," was not, and Glendower did not know whom I should contact to get it.  So, I put out an inquiry on Facebook to see if anyone knew how to get in touch with Gerald.  Nothing.  I searched online.  The material available didn't have any contact info that I could use.  He did have a Facebook page, but it didn't look as if he used it much, and I wasn't even sure if it was really him or not.  After exhausting the options I figured I had, I decided to email Thomas Hampson.  It was his album, after all, that introduced me to the work, so I guessed that he might be able to give me some guidance.  I found an email address for his NYC office and fired off a message, expecting to wait several days for a response since he was just a little busy with an international superstar career.

The next day his assistant, Christopher Dingstad, emailed me back with Gerald's contact info which he had obtained from Hampson's accompanist on the Whitman album, Craig Rutenberg.  Pleasantly surprised and extremely grateful for the information and the encouraging words from Rutenberg and Hampson, I called Gerald.  After a brief game of phone tag, we connected and had the most wonderful conversation about his piece, Whitman and growing up in Texas (he is from Tyler, just east of where I grew up, Corsicana.)

Gerald Busby began his career as a text book salesman servicing the Rocky Mountain states.  When we met in his apartment at the Chelsea Hotel, he told me about his taking piano lessons from an early age.  After selling his textbooks to the professors, he would seek out an unused piano in the college's practice rooms.  It was in one of these practice rooms that he wrote his first piece.  As he describes it,
One day at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, I wrote down a piece I had improvised and played it from the score.  I looked at it away from the piano and then played it again.  It was a good piece.  It looked good and it felt good and I was elated.  It was an epiphany.  I had completed something that I didn’t even know I had begun like walking and walking and walking without knowing where you’re going and then suddenly you’re there.  You don’t need anybody to tell you.  You just know.  But you want somebody to tell you anyway.  That’s your ego.

His music reflects his personality, exuberant and witty with a current of mischievousness running underneath it all; there's a sort of sly look behind what he's saying.  Busby's first teacher was composer Virgil Thompson, but it wasn't a typical student/teacher relationship.  Gerald refers to Thompson as a sort of zen master.  He was introduced to Thompson accidentally when he was hired to cook for a friend who was hosting Thompson in an attempt to gain the composer's favor.  Thompson was more interested in the food on the plate than in the attempt to impress him.  From that encounter, the two began a friendship.  Later, when Gerald asked if Thompson would like to see a piece he had written, Thompson replied with an emphatic, "NO!" and said that instead he wanted to eat more of Busby's food to see how well he made different elements come together to make something.

Another highlight of Busby's career was his work on Robert Altman's film, Three Women.  Again, it was chance that made this opportunity possible, chance and the quality of his music.  He sent a tape to the director for consideration.  Altman's method for deciding which composer he would use for the film's music was that he would play the three tapes he had received for a gathering of friends (this time is was Lilly Tomlin, Peter O'Toole and Elliot Gould).  Altman would actually time which tape kept the audience quiet the longest, which one held their attention and ears.  Busby's won.

Below I've added some video of Gerald in his own words as well as some samples of his music.  The first music sample is the opening credits of Three Women, the second a song for mezzo-soprano and viola that shows off his incredibly witty side.

1 comment:


    This link allows one to download Mr. Busby's remarkable music, along with some of the spoken audio, from the film '3 Women' -- I think it better captures the dream-like aspects of the film better than the film itself -- and in 1/4 the time!