James Swearingen, a name familiar to many, is no stranger to the Singapore band scene. Many of his works such as Blue Ridge Saga, Flight of Valor, In All Its Glory and Novena have been performed by our bands in the past decades.
James Swearingen’s talents as a performer, composer / arranger and educator include a background of extensive training and experience, with degrees from Bowling Green State University and The Ohio State University. Mr. Swearingen is currently Professor of Music, Department Chair of Music Education and one of several resident composers at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He also serves as a staff arranger for the famed Ohio State University Marching Band.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Mr. Swearingen is also very active as a guest conductor, adjudicator and educational clinician, as seen in his trips throughout the United States, as well as Japan, Australia, Europe, Canada and The Republic of China.
The Band Post interviews James Swearingen who is in Singapore for the first time from 16 March to 20 March to work with West Winds to present a series of workshops as well as a Sunday concert titled “Timeless”.
How did you get started in writing for bands? Was it a first choice, or it came from being a player in the band or a band director?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. Discovering what you like to do is a very long process that hopefully involves a lifetime of rewarding experiences.
Where do your ideas come from?
I generally have an idea of what type of piece I want to compose. From there, I start to hear ideas in my mind, and a few days spent at the piano finalizes the start of the next project.
What is your composing technique like? Eg. Sitting at a piano or computer, pencil on manuscript paper, or improvising with musicians etc.
When playing at the piano, I write ideas down on manuscript paper. I then formulate thoughts on how the piece will be constructed. The computer is the next and final step for scoring/orchestrating the final product.
Do you find inspirations from other band composers or music influences? What about non-music influences?
Absolutely. I learn from every type of experience. Many of my works have been inspired by great stories and the lives of inspirational people.
How would you describe your music?
I describe myself as a melodic / tuneful writer. I think people like to hear beautiful themes that are highly singable.
You have written a great number of compositions, of which most are for bands at the lower levels. In your opinion, is it relatively easier to write for lower grades?
I’m not convinced that it’s easier because there are many restrictions that apply to the various grade levels. Each graded piece poses a different set of challenges and each opportunity to compose is very rewarding.
Most of your pieces carry an educational value for students; how would you usually recommend band directors to interpret your music?
It’s important to find music that fits the ability of your group.
Finally, what is music to you?
It’s an opportunity to reach out and touch the human spirit with a highly emotional and spiritual experience.
This is your first time coming to Singapore, how excited are you to be part of a project with the West Winds?
I’m very excited! Making music come “to life” with an outstanding ensemble is the ultimate goal of any composer/musician.
The Singapore band scene has seen many of your works performed over the years in concerts and competitions, such as Blue Ridge Saga, Centuria, Majestia, In the Winter of 1730: A River’s Journey, and the most recent Forever Shining. How does it feel to know that many people are performing your music?
For any composer, it’s the ultimate compliment. It validates a great deal of hard work, but I can assure you the recognition is never taken for granted.
You will be giving two workshops “Rehearsal Techniques” and “Composition” while being in Singapore. What will participants expect to see or learn from each of them?
I enjoy the art of teaching. The by product of teaching is the wonderful opportunity for people to learn. I hope they’ll learn more about how to rehearse / compose, and I look forward to expressing my appreciation for their support.
Are there any particular rehearsal techniques that you use with school bands that you would like to share?
Each ensemble is different. The goal is to make them play as an individual group as opposed to a group of individuals.
What advices do you have for budding students aspiring to become a composer?
Know your craft, develop a harmonic language and learn from each piece that you write.
Looking ahead, will we see more music being released this year? Or what are some new projects you are working on?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on eight new compositions that reflect a variety of musical styles.
To catch West Winds and James Swearingen in concert, visit the event page below for more information.
A contributing editor at TBP.