Applauded by Aaron Copland, inspired by Desmond Tutu, and mentored by Hugo Friedhofer and Earle Hagen, Bruce Babcock has spent his working life composing music for the musicians of Los Angeles. Successful in both film and television, and the concert hall, he is known for vibrant, sonorous, expressive pieces that immerse audience and performers alike in an inclusive and exuberant celebration of the musical art.
Today, Bruce is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to learn about Bruce’s collection of tobacco baseball cards…
If you could do any job in the world and make a living at it, what would that be?
I’m doing it! I compose for a living.
I’ve been a professional composer and musician, and AFM member, since I was seventeen. I’ve worked with everyone from Angela Lansbury to Metallica, as well as Grammy winners such as Hila Plitmann and Gloria Cheng. I’ve been heard by as many as 20+ million people a week on television and have been involved in living room concerts with fifty people in the audience. I’ve enjoyed it all.
I’m particularly fortunate since classical, jazz, and film are, sales-wise, some of the least popular categories of music. I took a break from “classical” music from 1977 to 2001 but I was able to jump back in thanks to my many friends and colleagues in Hollywood, who manage to bridge both worlds, and to James Walker, music director at All Saints Church, Pasadena, a very progressive Episcopal church with a strong music department.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m not sure how guilty it makes me feel, but certainly one thing most people don’t know about me is that I collect baseball cards. Most people lose their interest in collecting as teenagers, and I did as well. I became interested again at about age thirty. I enjoy the hobby because it has nothing to do with music or the music business.
When people think about baseball cards, if they do at all, they think of bubble gum cards in the post World War II period. In fact, cards have been issued with all manner of products including tobacco, candy, clothing, newspapers, hot dogs, beer, bread, eggs, ice cream, etc., going as far back as the 1860’s. There are hundreds of different issues out there including both photographic and lithographic issues. I focus on tobacco cards from the 19th century, many of which are exceedingly rare. Learning about the cards and the players provides great insights into the history of the game and the part baseball has played in American history.
Who were your first favorite artists growing up?
The first artist I remember knowing, from about age six, was Prokofiev. We had a recording of Peter and the Wolf which I found fascinating. “Peter” introduced millions of children to both the instruments of the orchestra and the idea of storytelling through music, and I was one of them. The orchestra associating solo instruments with specific characters to tell the story clearly registered with me at an early age, and undoubtedly began my interest in composing music for visual media. In a similar vein, setting texts to music is also another form of storytelling which has always interested me.
In terms of performing artists, Paul Desmond was an early favorite. My high school band director was Dave Brubeck’s brother Henry. I was an alto saxophone player, so I was naturally attracted to Dave’s music and Paul’s role in that music, especially the unusual meters that they employed. I also became aware of Earle Hagen’s music for television at the age of nine. He later became my mentor and friend.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
My favorite moment on the album is the third movement of Imagined/Remembered. This movement was great fun to work on. Cellists always seem to really enjoy it and audiences react very enthusiastically as well.
What does this album mean to you personally?
Although I am only one of ten composers on this album, it means a lot to me for several reasons. It is now my fourth album for Navona. Ovidiu Marinescu is now the fourth cellist to perform this work and the second to record it. It was originally commissioned by Dan Kepl for the Santa Barbara Chamber Music Festival in 2005, at which I was composer in residence. I don’t think that either of us expected this piece to be played years later at Carnegie Hall. My wife sang in the choir for a Mozart Requiem at Carnegie Hall in 1999, making me the second family member to get there.
I am very grateful to both Dan for the opportunity and to Bob Lord and PARMA for the Carnegie Hall experience, as well as Ovidiu and Anna Kislitsyna for the wonderful recording and performance.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
In a word, no. Feelings may come up within the listener, and one hopes that these will be positive. But I don’t believe that everyone reacts the same way, or that I can dictate what that reaction will be in advance, or even that I should try. My goal has always been simply to compose music that performers will enjoy performing and that audiences will enjoy experiencing.
I agree with Sir Michael Tippett, who once wrote “I know that my true function within a society which embraces all of us, is to continue an age-old tradition, fundamental to our civilization, which goes back into prehistory and will go forward into the unknown future. This tradition is to create images from the depths of the imagination and to give them form whether visual, intellectual or musical. For it is only through images that the inner world communicates at all. Images of the past, shapes of the future. Images of vigor for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for worlds torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty.”
MOTO BELLO is now available through Navona Records for streaming or purchase. Click here to explore this new album.