Student writes new music for local church

Eric Brook recently completed an eight-month residency at an area church.

Courtney Sinner

Church hymns can often seem ancient – and many are – but University music graduate student Eric Brook has added some new pieces to the repertoire at Grace University Lutheran Church.

where to go

Composer Residency Final Concert
what: Concert when: 7:30 p.m. tonight
where: Grace University Lutheran Church
For more information, www.graceattheu.org/index.php

Brook just finished an eight-month residency at the church as part of its new program to get University composition students to write new music for their congregation.

In those eight months, he wrote five original pieces for a variety of the church’s ensembles, including one for a brass quartet and one for the youth choir.

Three of the five new pieces will be performed at a final concert tonight at the church, located behind Moos Tower on Harvard Street.

Although Brook was their guinea pig, the idea for the residency has been in the works for about two years, said Stephen Self, the church’s organist and choir director.

Self said he approached the School of Music about the idea, and they helped him find some good candidates for the position.

After that, he just had to find the funding and convince the church that it was a good idea.

“It was just extremely new, so I had to do a little bit of a sell job,” Self said. “But now people are really proud of it.”

Self said, as far as he knows, it’s the only program of its kind in the Twin Cities.

“There are churches that have had residence composers,” Self said. “But they don’t usually get composers that are still in school, still learning to hone their craft.”

He wanted to get a student, however, because of the church’s ties to the University.

“Anytime you’re right at the doorstep of a university,” he said, “you want to push the boundaries, because that’s what academia is all about.”

‘The highlight of getting my master’s’

Brook, who grew up in Louisiana with a piano-teaching mother, started taking lessons when he was four.

After attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music near Cleveland for his undergraduate degree in music composition, Brook decided to come to the University to get his master’s. He’ll be graduating this semester.

“I really can’t think of one negative thing about the program,” Brook said. “I would say it’s been the highlight of getting my master’s.”

Brook started composing in September.

One of the biggest challenges, he said, was writing for a specific set of instruments or vocals, and for a certain level of musicianship.

“There are a number of restrictions, but that’s not bad,” Brook said. “Within (those restrictions), there’s still an infinite amount of possibilities.”

His adviser and former music professor, Alex Lubet, said those kind of restrictions are something composers have to get used to.

“For Eric, he couldn’t write anything too hard,” Lubet said. “If you were writing a concerto for a world-class violinist, you might be asked not to have anything too easy. There are always restrictions.”

Brook said one of the best parts of the residency was having his pieces performed for 150-person audiences.

“Most new composers get their music heard by maybe 30 if they’re lucky,” he said.

Brook said he enjoyed the feedback from the congregation.

“I get comments from the little old ladies after church,” he said. “It always makes me smile.”

Brook said he eventually wants to be a college professor. He currently teaches one of the beginning music theory classes in the School of Music, and used to teach piano lessons in high school.

“It’s hard to make a living as a freelance composer,” he said. “I want to have that financial stability of being a professor, and then I can write whatever I want.”