Headshot of Bethany Brown, ASU double major in music composition and filmmaking practices

So many new sounds to explore

By

Deborah Sussman Susser

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Bethany Brown was 11 years old when she started making her first films: a short documentary on Cave Creek, her hometown, and a stop-animation Western using Legos. Around the same time, she says, she started “taking my piano lessons seriously.”

This month, she graduates from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with a double major in music composition and filmmaking practices. (Her twin brother is also graduating from ASU, with a degree in journalism.) She entered college planning on becoming a film composer, but a concert she attended her freshman year expanded her musical horizons beyond what she had previously imagined. 

As Brown recalls it, “An ensemble was performing George Crumb’s ‘Vox Balaenae’ (Voice of the Whale), which requires blue lighting and the performers to wear masks. It was a completely different kind of music than what I was used to, and I was simply amazed at the sound. I realized then that there was so much to learn and so many new sounds to explore, and I was really excited to do so.” 

After graduation, she anticipates working in film/video production while she continues writing music for local musicians and ensembles, and she plans on eventually going to graduate school to study musicology or ethnomusicology.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I have always loved music and film. I started making films when I was around 11 years old, and started taking my piano lessons seriously around that time as well. I wanted to combine my interests to be a film composer, so I entered college with that aspiration. My career goals have since changed over the course of the four years earning my degree. While I always had a passion for music, my first “aha” moment was during a concert I attended my freshman year. An ensemble was performing George Crumb’s “Vox Balaenae” (Voice of the Whale), which requires blue lighting and the performers to wear masks. It was a completely different kind of music than what I was used to, and I was simply amazed at the sound. I realized then that there was so much to learn and so many new sounds to explore, and I was really excited to do so.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: It is hard to pinpoint just one moment from my time at ASU that changed my perspective. I have changed and grown so much in four years as a result of continuously challenging but rewarding experiences and classes, and also as a result of fantastic professors. My relationship to music and composition has changed drastically, and I feel more confident in my own style of expression. Learning about music and composers of the 20th/21st century, music’s therapeutic properties in a class on music and healing, film history, film production, etc. (because of great professors, the list extends to nearly all my classes I’ve taken at ASU) all challenged and/or changed my preconceived notions from my relatively limited experiences with music and film. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in the UK for a summer, and briefly visit Japan through a government ambassador program. I learned so much about other cultures and people on these trips. But perhaps my jobs as a Student Academic Mentor and Community Assistant at Barrett provided my most valuable lessons. Through these positions, I realized the immense importance of community, and the value and necessity of creating a network of support. At ASU, I learned to keep an open mind and be open to opportunity, new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was interested in ASU because my twin brother decided to attend this university, members of my family (including my mom) had attended, it was close to home, and I received a full scholarship. I chose to attend ASU, however, because of the great music program, and the interactions I’d had with my future professors on the day of my audition at the music school.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Be present. It is so easy to think in the future tense — next semester, next milestone, next degree. While some anticipation and planning can be beneficial, recognize how amazing it is to be where you’re at right now. It is something I need to work on as well! 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The second-floor balcony of the music school is good for early-morning studying, reading or naps. I also frequented e2, the Secret Garden and the rocking chairs at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Currently, I do not have any definite plans after graduation. In the summer, I will be working at a fine-arts camp in Alaska for a month. I was also commissioned to write music for the TALIS Festival/Saas-Fee Film Festival annual silent-film collaboration, which will premiere in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, in July. I hope to travel, continue writing music, produce my capstone feature screenplay that I worked on for my film degree and, after four years of hard work, rest! I am applying for jobs around the Valley, and anticipate working in some form of film/video production while continuing to compose for local musicians and ensembles. I hope to remain active as an artist — either here in Phoenix, or perhaps Los Angeles or New York in the future — before eventually applying to graduate schools for musicology or ethnomusicology.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Hard to choose! Funding for the arts, funding for education, issues concerning the environment ... I’ll have to get back to you! 

 

The music composition major is out of the Herberger Institute's School of Music, and filmmaking practices is out of the institute's School of Film, Dance and Theatre.