Written by Brett Levine
Photo by Michael J. Moor
For Brian C. Moon, president of the Birmingham Art Music Alliance (BAMA), defining “art music” is actually quite straightforward. “For me, art music is simply music created with an artful intent. It is different from classical music and contemporary music,” he explains, “because it can encompass a wide variety of compositions and forms.”
Moon makes the statement as an introduction to an organization that is celebrating its 20th season yet may be little known to many audiences in Birmingham. “What is so incredible about BAMA is that normally the opportunity to hear and experience these types of music is something that happens only in much larger cities,” he says.
He would know. As a musician he is a member of Delicate Cutters, but he has also been a member of BAMA for 15 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music technology from UAB and a master’s in music composition from Birmingham-Southern College. “The BA in music technology was a fascinating degree,” he says. “People imagine a degree that involves technology means pushing buttons, but this was a music degree first and foremost. You studied theory and ear training and had a primary instrument.” It was there that Moon began to think about composition, writing his first piece for the piano and oboe. After graduating he continued to compose, writing a string quartet. “I finally joined BAMA in 2000. Everyone was so welcoming, but because I was so young and so many of the founding members had been my professors, it felt a little like when you call your dad by his first name,” Moon says.
Joining led to an invitation from founding member Craig Hultgren to compose a piece for E-cello. “It took a year,” Moon says, “but I wrote a work called ‘Unlearn for E-cello.’ It was included on a WBHM sampler CD. What was truly remarkable about the experience, which I learned later, was that Craig had a history of inviting new composers to write pieces for him.” This commitment to developing talent and to fostering creativity within the local music community is what highlights BAMA and is what has made Moon a dedicated member for the last 15 years. “I think one of the great challenges that all music faces at the moment is that people often walk around experiencing it through headphones either as background or as something to dance to. BAMA is unique in that it creates opportunities to hear music that is not popular and is not on the radio.”
The other opportunity it creates is for community engagement. Throughout its history, BAMA has had an ongoing practice of community outreach. In 2004, BAMA founded the BAMA Players Resident Ensemble. “The ensemble tours throughout the state, and even the region. One of its regular stops is always the Talladega School for the Blind,” Moon shares.
It is this recognition of the universal power of music to communicate that best represents Moon as a musician individually and BAMA as an organization collectively. Members like Michael Angell, Monroe Golden, Hultgren, and others all strive to support opportunities for musicians and audiences across the state to experience innovations in new music and composition. Musicians like Moon, only a recent graduate when he first joined in 2000, continue this legacy, respecting the skill and commitment of those who first began to reflect the values of experimental music in Birmingham. “I think one of the truly unique aspects of BAMA is what an extensive support system it provides for its members,” Moon says. “This has been an aspect of BAMA since the beginning.”
For Moon, the biggest challenge that BAMA faces is simply continuing to expand its audiences. “If I could tell people in Birmingham one thing about BAMA, it would be that there is high quality new music being produced by people who live in their neighborhoods,” he says. In October, BAMA launches its 20th season with the second annual Birmingham New Music Festival, a four-day event that will feature, among its many offerings, music by all of the founding members of BAMA. New composers will also present their works, and innovative Alabama music will be featured. Reinforcing BAMA’s commitment to the community, all the events are free and open to the public. Moon sums it up quite simply, saying, “BAMA is very inclusive, and very supportive. It always has been. We are open to composers writing new music. What they write is open to interpretation.”