Gregory W. Brown and The Inside Story: MISSA CHARLES DARWIN

Award-winning composer Gregory W. Brown, a longtime friend, and artist of PARMA has had his work performed all over the world, including Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Cadogan Hall in London, and the Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. A deluxe remastered version of MISSA CHARLES DARWIN, which is featured in New York Times bestselling author Dan Brown’s Origin, is now available for purchase and streaming here. Today, Gregory W. Brown is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to learn more about the release and how Brown ended up singing the National Anthem in a pool.

Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up? 

When I was about ten years old I discovered my mom’s cassette of The Philadelphia Orchestra performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue & An American in Paris. I wore that tape out. Back and forth, over and over. A few years later mom got a recording of Janáček’s String Quartets performed by the New World String Quartet that I similarly became obsessed with. I didn’t get serious about music until college, but those two cassettes stuck with me in a lasting way.

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When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator? 

I was a geology major for the first two years or so of my undergraduate studies. I loved the research and the lab work, but there was always music in my head. The final mineralogy exam was infamous: we had two hours to identify all of the minerals on two thin section samples no bigger than postage stamps. I did well in geology, even co-authoring a short paper on tourmaline chemistry after my sophomore year, but at some point during that final exam, I realized that my real passion was in music, and even though I (quite frankly) struggled a bit in music — I decided to switch majors. The experiences I had in music were experiences that connected me to other people in ways that I hadn’t experienced before, and the challenge of the coursework drew me in and compelled me to dig deeper into the field. By senior year of my undergraduate studies, I knew I was going to be a musician, I just didn’t know in what capacity. I had been conducting and composing for a little while and chose to pursue a master’s in conducting at Westminster Choir College. I kept composing through my master’s and subsequent doctoral studies, and even though I worked primarily as a conductor for a few years, I never stopped composing, and eventually made the switch to primarily composing about 4 years ago.

What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?

I think the clear winner would have to be singing the national anthem in a swimming pool. The Glee Club I was conducting at the time had been asked to sing for a swim meet and insisted on performing in the pool. The singers were all in agreement, and I wasn’t about to watch from poolside, so I went in as well. Bathing suit with a shirt and tie — it’s a classic look. Here’s a picture of us with my assistant leading the group while I sang. The funniest part of the picture is that I jumped into the pool with my glasses still on. They immediately popped off and I spent most of the time searching the bottom of the pool for them.

Gregory W. Brown
Amherst College Magazine, Spring 2002; photo by Graham Dumas, used by kind permission of Amherst College Communications

MISSA CHARLES DARWIN

Gregory W. Brown, Missa Charles Darwin, Dan Brown, Origin

What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows? 

My music — like so many things in life — is both far easier and far harder than it looks.

What was your favorite musical moment on the album? 

The opening  moments of the Gloria: “There is grandeur in this view of life.” The stark harmonies and interweaving lines express the awe that I hear in Darwin’s words. The voices seem to look around themselves in wonder and amazement for a brief, searching, shining moment.

Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?

The first half of the Credo was trickiest because of the way the cantus firmus kept taking things in awkward directions. In creating the cantus firmus, I applied some mutations, additions, and deletions (in the manner of genetics) as well as inversions and transpositions (in the manner of serial music) to the DNA-based melody from the first movement. These modifications created a musical backbone around which it was difficult to create a smooth and compelling texture. I also had an isorhythmic pattern at work and it was hard finding places for the singers to breathe that didn’t break up the patterns in awkward ways; and the texture, with near constant oscillation in three of the voices, was challenging to write idiomatically.

Gregory W. Brown’s MISSA CHARLES DARWIN, which is featured in New York Time’s Best-Selling author Dan Brown‘s Origin, is now available to purchase here. A limited supply of the special edition album is hand-signed by both Gregory and Dan Brown. 

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