A Conversation with Vivace Youth Chorus's Resident Composer, Brian Holmes


Brian Holmes is a man of many

talents: he is a Physics professor at San

Jose State University in San Jose, California,

a French Horn player, and

of course, a composer of note. He has

numerous pieces currently in print, and

his compositions are known to choirs all

across the country and abroad. He has

won several composition prizes, most

notably the 2012 American Prize in Choral

Composition for Amherst Requiem, whose

premier Vivace Chorus participated in.

For the past five years, Brian has also

been Vivace’s Composer in Residence. In

that time, Vivace has commissioned three

pieces, and he has written several more

for us, including The Song of Mr. Toad

and two pieces for Vivace’s Poetry and

Song Project, one of which, The Perfect

Beginning, was on our program for our anniversary

concert June 1st, 2013.   We also performed his

Pie Jesu accompanied by Brian on French


Recently I spoke to Brian about his

life and work: In an auspicious start,

he quit piano in 5th grade to join Little

League. But parents, there is hope! Just

a year later, he took up French Horn,

which he plays to this day. His interest

in composition started in high school,

and music theory courses in college gave

him the confidence to start composing in

earnest. The Pomona College fight song,

When Cecil Saghen Chirps, was his first

piece, and is still sung at football games.

The interaction of text and music is

an important part of music for Holmes,

and he has said that “the text drives

the music.” He has written ten song

cycles and three operas. To find texts

of interest, Brian looks for poems that

“sing on the page.” He also looks for

humorous or unusual writings. Purely

instrumental works are more difficult for

him to write, though he has several pieces

including a concerto for Brass Trio and

Orchestra and a number of arrangements

for instrumental ensembles. Brahms’

symphonic writing has really influenced

him, and he’s thought about writing a

symphony on the subject of the Hawai’ian

temples, called heiaus.

This summer Brian will be finishing

a Physics and Music textbook. He also

has a commission to write a piece for

the 1st year anniversary of the Newtown,

CT massacre from a Newtown Catholic

church. A possible project for Vivace is an

opera incorporating the poetry of Edward

Lear. We are delighted that with so many

projects on the go Brian is still writing

fresh works for Vivace to perform.

- Peggy Spool, Artistic Director,

Vivace Youth Chorus

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