By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Benjamin Dean Taylor has been making up his own music since he was a young child.
He would play his original songs on the family piano. His mother was impressed, and, as mothers are wont to do, she’d ask him to play that song she’d heard a few days ago for his grandmother.
“And I couldn’t remember them,” the now grown composer said. When he was 8, she started having him take piano lessons “so I could write down songs so I could play them for grandma.”
Now his music entertains grandmas, mothers, and listeners of all ages.
Taylor spent a couple days this week in the Bowling Green High and Middle schools, working with students who were preparing to perform his music in concert. The residency culminated with a Thursday night show with the eighth grade, concert and symphonic bands each playing one of his pieces. A saxophone quartet from Bowling Green State University were guests at the concert playing another of Taylor’s compositions.
He went on to learn other instruments, including trumpet.
“In college I loved playing,” he said, “but the thrill of writing and having all those sounds in my head come to fruition was the real kicker. That’s what got me started.”
Devoting himself to composition meant graduate school. He came to BGSU for his masters where he studied with Marilyn Shrude and Elainie Lillios, graduating 2011. After BGSU he earned a doctorate at the University of Indiana in Bloomington where he and his wife, Allyson, and their five sons, one month to 9 years old, still live.
It’s where he makes his living as a freelance composer. He works by commission only, and has a year’s worth of commitments on the books.
The demand for his work grew at first from friends, then others he knew through conferences and other encounters. Just recently, he said, he was approached by two strangers who asked him to write a piece for them. That was a first. Taylor said he’ll accept after they talk for a bit. He wants some familiarity with the performer.
The Brigham Young University graduate says that the life of the freelance composer has its challenges, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He makes enough to support his family, he said “We’re blessed.”
Taylor gets up in the morning and sees his school age kids off, then composes until lunch which he shares with his wife and their youngest children. Then in the afternoon he teaches lessons, trumpet or composition. The schedule allows him to pick up gigs on trumpet or stringed instruments – guitar, banjo, and ukulele. He leads his own Dixieland Band.
“And I have the time to dedicate to all the administration of running my own publishing company and maintaining a website (http://www.benjamintaylormusic.com),” he said.
He owns a commercial printing press so he can publish his own scores. That’s preferable to having a contract with a publisher and only earning 9 percent on his compositions.
His wife contends, and he agrees, that were he not a freelance composer, he’d engage in another entrepreneurial activity, probably real estate.
For now, music, especially composing or wind ensemble, is his territory.
Soon after earning his doctorate in 2014, he realized “I could make it as composer if my work was more slanted toward wind bands.”
He estimates his piece “Shattering Infinity,” one of those on Thursday’s program, has been played more than a 100 times.
The piece was inspired by fractals, visual patterns that appear throughout nature. In honor of his visit, middle school art teacher Cindy Marso had her students draw fractals, which are on display in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center.
Band Director Bruce Corrigan said Taylor’s residency is part of a tradition started by Thom Headley of having composers visit the school and work with students.
Corrigan said it’s valuable for him as a conductor as well.
He always tries to conduct in a way that’s true to the composer’s intention and having the composer there helps him better grasp the details of what he has in mind.
While the other composers have been well established, Corrigan is excited to have one of the best young composers visit. Taylor has built up an impressive resume of performances and awards, including honors from ASCAP and BMI and three Barlow commissions.
Wind band music accounts for half of Taylor’s work, with the rest written for orchestras – youth, community and professional, soloists and small ensembles.
His compositions, he said, tend to be “lively and fun.”
“That’s who I am.”
He doesn’t have a signature sound. “My pieces from one to the next can be radically different,” he said.
Corrigan said he appreciates that about Taylor’s work. “I like that variety, that creativity.”
Looking to the future, Taylor just hopes to continue writing music and engaging with people. He said he loves residencies because he gets to meet people.
Taylor said he enjoyed meeting with a trumpet quartet of eighth graders. One had a sticking valve, so Taylor pulled the mouthpiece from his horn and let the student use it. Of course, when offered, the other three also wanted to play the composer’s trumpet.
That’s what music can do.
“I feel that music brings people together,” he said. “If my music can bring a smile or uplift people, even laugh or cry or remember something meaningful, then I’m satisfied.”