THE INSIDE STORY: Margaret Brandman and COSMIC WHEEL OF THE ZODIAC

Margaret Brandman is an accomplished pianist, composer, arranger, and music educator who has performed and lectured both in her home of Australia and abroad. She has composed music for a variety of instrumental combinations and voice. As well as being a world-acclaimed musician and composer, Margaret is also a second level Reiki Channel, using her healing insights to take you where you need to be.

Today, Margaret is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover the story of Margaret’s “cosmic top”…

Who was your first favourite artist growing up?

My musical journey began at the age of four. I played piano and accordion and studied music in a variety of styles with an emphasis on classical music. Around the age of twelve I was introduced to “Bach’s Greatest Hits,” the first album by the Swingle Singers, directed by Ward Swingle. The unique jazz vocal treatment of the music of J S Bach provided a bridge between classical music and jazz.  I had been playing Bach Preludes and Fugues on the piano, but until hearing the music vocally, the clarity of the four voices in the fugue had never truly shone through.  Listening to the ensemble perform classical music with a swing feel, for me, made the music come to life.  Thanks to this choral ensemble my lifelong interest in writing for the voice and combining classical and jazz influences was established.

At nineteen years old I was introduced to the music of jazz pianist Bill Evans, who has been hailed as the 20th century Chopin of the piano. Then, in 1979 when visiting New York, I had the chance to meet him after a concert. I was writing a column for a magazine in Australia called JAMM magazine (Journal of Australian Music and Musicians) and was able to arrange an interview.  Meeting Bill Evans was a turning point in my life. His harmonic palette and improvised melody lines continued to be an inspiration for me.

American jazz pianist Kirk Lightsey was another key person in my life who encouraged my compositional output and interest in jazz and contemporary music. We became friends in Sydney in the early 1970’s when he was travelling as musical director for international artists. As well as performing on piano, Kirk also plays several woodwind instruments. He brought with him his light-weight travel instrument, the flute, and the sheet music for the Bach flute sonatas. We enjoyed many musical afternoons exploring the flute music where I accompanied him on piano and, in return, he demonstrated jazz styles on the piano for me. We remain firm friends to this very day.

The result of both my classical and jazz influences on my compositional output is summed up in this 2017 London Jazz Weekly review for my work on the album ABRAZO: “My favourite on this disc is Australian Margaret Brandman’s suite Warm Winds in Havana – a set of four brief tunes….written for saxophone quartet and percussion. The music is melodious and intricate, beautifully played, with Javier Zalba leading his ensemble on baritone sax, the subtle percussion tying it all together pleasingly…The Brandman pieces straddle that indefinable line between jazz and contemporary classical/new music.”

If you could do any job in the world and make a living at it, what would that be?

If I hadn’t become a composer/pianist/music educator I would have pursued a career in archaeology. So, I would try a career in the closest thing to archaeology in the music field, which is ethnomusicology. I would like to discover rare and unusual instruments and sounds.  In the movie “Cave of Dreams” the film makers explored ancient cave paintings found in hidden caves in France. I was impressed by a scene showing a bone flute from 40 or 50 thousand years ago, tuned to the natural sounds of the pentatonic scale.

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?

Being an Australian composer, my love is the natural surroundings of our native Eucalypt forests as well as the ocean which surrounds the continent. My creativity is often sparked by nature and as such I would spend more time in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where I used to live and where, after living through the bushfires which surrounded our house, I composed my programmatic work Firestorm Symphony for my album SENSATIONS.

For my birthday one year, I was gifted a bookmark with information on the Numerology of a person born on the 19th of the month. It stated that ‘19 day people’ make good teachers and also need to spend time in nature to balance the intense concentration required for work. Apart from composing, my career has also encompassed teaching, writing and publishing music education materials, and performing, all of which has required much diligent work and concentration. Therefore, my balance is walking in nature and swimming in the ocean.

My string orchestra work Undulations from SENSATIONS reflects my love of the ocean.   Where I live at the moment is a good balance between the two – not far from the national park south of Sydney which offers great bush walks and very close to the ocean where I can swim almost year round. So, I have no need to travel anywhere else in the world to find inspiration for composition!

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

The greatest challenge in the collection was to compose the music to my lyricist Benita Rainer’s lyrics for the Libra song In Perfect, Perfect Pitch. This poem was the longest in the cycle and required two contrasting sections to suit the lyrics. The challenge was to provide not only variety but also unity, so it became a cohesive work. To set the prose for this song I needed to draw on such compositional resources as frequent changes of time signatures, repetition of certain motifs transposed into different pitches, and introduction of new material in the accompaniment prior to the entry of the vocal line.

Another challenge was finding the inspiration for the “perfect” melody and complementary harmony for the final flourish of the piece to capture the essence of the lyrics “In quintessential beauty.”

What does this album mean to you personally?

Following the release of SENSATIONS, comprised of my orchestral and chamber works, COSMIC WHEEL OF THE ZODIAC is my first album of solo vocal and choral works produced by PARMA Recordings. This album contains a collection of songs inspired by Benita Rainer’s astrological lyrics. It is a means for me to offer to the world a powerful conduit to the human spirit and connection to the divine.

Curiously, I felt that the universe confirmed my cosmic mission. The confirmation came about a week before the concert of the cycle performed by the Prague Mixed Chamber Choir at the Czech Music Museum last year, when the perfect “cosmic top” to wear to the concert materialized in a dress shop. I found it during a sight seeing tour of the world heritage listed site Český Krumlov, a few hours south of Prague. (I’m wearing the top in the photo.)

Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?

By presenting the songs in solo, duet, and choral arrangements, my hope is that listeners will be charmed by the solo voices of Barbora Polâšková and Matěj Chadima, enveloped by the blended sound of the choral voices, transported to a meditative state while listening to the slower paced songs, and lastly, while listening to the contrasting rhythmic works, be inspired to move to the beat. To quote Stephen A Kennedy, who has reviewed the album for Cinemusical, “Most telling are the closer harmonic clusters that lend the music an almost ethereal quality from time to time.”

I hope that listeners will tune into the spine-tingling musical effects so that the music resonates with them on a deep level. Singers who have performed these songs, both for this album and in previous concerts, have commented that my melodies sit well for the voice. As a result, once listeners have played the album a few times, I am hoping that they will not only tune into the works, but also find themselves singing my melodies throughout the day, all while enjoying the finely crafted lyrics and being intrigued by the embedded information on the characteristics of each person’s individual star sign.

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COSMIC WHEEL OF THE ZODIAC is now available through Navona Records for streaming or purchase. Click here to explore this new album.

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