Arthur Breur





Music expresses emotions that cannot be put into precise words. What I could never express in spoken language, I can very quickly share with notes and harmonies.

Portland composer Arthur Breur started seriously studying piano as a child of eight after his grandmother, Jocelyn—the second wife of his dad’s father—passed away. The two had been close, and his weekend stays at her home inevitably included him asking her to play piano. At ten he started taking lessons, having already taught himself a variety of music, including various movie score themes and ragtime pieces. He gradually discovered that he enjoyed composing and playing his own music more than playing what was assigned to him by his piano teacher. From the start, his compositions were very affected by the music in movies and on television. It is not in jest that he points to the music performed on such television shows as “Sesame Street”, “The Electric Company”, and “The Muppet Show”—not to mention the superb songs of “School House Rock”—as sources of inspiration. Further, many excellent scores for movies of that time, such as Escape to Witch Mountain, Close Encounters, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek, and others, fascinated him and formed his ideas on how music should “work”—with accessible, easily remembered themes that can be associated with specific things, people, or feelings. His music was also heavily influenced by an excellent music program at his childhood church. By that time he had been studying piano for eight years, he had composed more than a dozen pieces, and had lied about his age to get into a college-level music theory course. He studied piano performance and composition and got his Bachelor of Music degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. His college piano instructor worked with his desire to compose by assigning him works by composers that inspired him. Works by Prokofiev and Ravel in particular influenced his compositional tone considerably. Around this time, Danny Elfman’s film music also came to his attention and provided yet another dimension of sound to pursue. In the early 1990s, he collaborated with lyricist, comedian, and singer, Cristopher Blake. Between them they wrote more than twenty songs, many of which were performed live at various Los Angeles cabarets and open-mic nights. Over the more than 35 years he has been composing, he has written more than 120 individual pieces, including works for five weddings, two Christmas revues, numerous videos, and one short film, Leah (2008), directed by Neil H. Weiss. Arthur Breur currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his husband, Brian, whom he met in 1996.


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What does music mean to you personally?

Music expresses emotions that cannot be put into precise words. What I could never express in spoken language, I can very quickly share with notes and harmonies.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

I’m not sure if I would agree with that or not, depending on how you are thinking about music and fantasy. In some cases, music is very much about reality. For example, the “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” or the musical “Allegiance”—both about very real things that need to be given our attention. That said, while the messages of such works are about reality, the medium of the messages is the fantasy that the music plants into the listener’s mind. Music creates visions and emotions which are both real (they certainly exist in our minds) and illusory (when we are gone, so are those visions and emotions).

If you were not a professional musician, would would you have been?

I’ve been a professional graphic designer and a web developer far more than I’ve been a professional musician. However, if I had the chance to start it all over again, I could imagine being a therapist, counselor, or life coach. My motivation in music, web development, and life is to make people feel better and be less upset and stressed, so coaching could definitely be a more direct way to help with that effort.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?

No, because I think the younger audience is hungry for a more personal connection with music and performers. Young people today are so “used to” and jaded with ( so “over”?) our constant inundation with music from impersonal online music streams and channels. A live, acoustic performance with one or more person using physical instruments to create sound is both more personal and more meaningful than hearing a track off a smartphone, even with the world’s best headphones.

What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

I see quite a bit more chamber and live performing happening. Again, it is more personal and… visceral? … than getting streaming music off of a mobile device or a computer. As our community seems to get more and more wrapped up in “the cloud” we are losing our interpersonal connections, and I think that people—especially younger people—are discovering music as a way of connecting, in person, again.

When I say that classical music is searching for new ways or that the classical music is getting a new face, what would come to your mind?

Groups like Portland’s “Sound of Late” come to mind. This is an ensemble of young musicians who want to play and share new “composed” music in its many incarnations. Their “48-hour Composition Contest” brought together around two dozen composers and performers to create and play an entire concert of new pieces that had not even existed 10 days before the concert date. It was amazing and moving, and inspiring, and the performance happened in a local Portland restaurant and bar, NOT in a concert hall.

Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? What’s the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

I don’t think anyone has to be “more creative” than in the past. I also don’t think it makes sense to try to force more creativity out of people, or to make today’s artists feel that there is some burden of additional creativity on them. Circumstances, limitations and necessity inspire and incubate creativity, but trying to be creative intentionally, that often leads to results that look creative but are really just a manufactured product. In my experience, pushing for creativity—for example, saying things like “You have to think outside the box!”—will create some extreme ideas, but those ideas may not actually work well when they have to become reality. To me, often the biggest creative breakthroughs are very small, incremental ideas that almost seem to be nothing at the moment that they happen, and only are seen as truly creative in hindsight.

Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?

For one, our local community orchestra (the Tualatin Valley Symphony - does a “Family Concert” each year now, designed to encourage parents to bring their children to the concert. I arranged one of my pieces for the orchestra and answered audience questions after my piece was played. That orchestra also just premiered an overture I composed for the City of Tualatin, and the music references the history of the City and the region. I hope to make the recording available to local classrooms with a set of program notes that teachers can use to discuss how the music represents each different part of our local history, both in instrumentation (French horns musically imitating the calls of ancient mastodons) and in style (music written in the style of the native people who lived here hundreds of years ago).

Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favourite piece (written by you) How did you start working on it?

As is often the case, my favourite piece is the last piece that I composed, which is (again) the orchestral Tualatin Overture. This piece started with the suggestion that I compose a piece for the Tualatin Valley Symphony’s May 2017 concert, and I started thinking about what a “Tualatin Overture” would be. I used my technique of making the letters of a word into notes (Tualatin=FGAEAFBG). Then I started studying about the city and its history (which is pretty impressive) and working to figure out how to musically represent things like huge Ice Age floods and giant prehistoric animals in a concert work.

My favorite work for solo piano is still “Sky in Motion” which I composed for my MuseScore friend, composer Sepehr Keyhani. I started with the letters of his name to create the main motif (Sepehr=EEBEAD) and sort of let the music create itself from that seed.

We, Moving Classics TV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?

One of my earliest musical inspirations was seeing the original Star Wars in the theater. That movie is probably the ultimate fusion of cinematography and classical music. I have a project in mind to pair wine tasting and musical composition, having multiple composers create short pieces that are inspired by a certain wine, then having live performers play that piece as the audience tastes that wine.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

- Be willing to listen to everything twice, because often we won’t catch everything the first time we experience it. - Never feel that you have to listen to music that you just don’t enjoy. - Seek out music that is NOT in the popular repertoire, even obscure music by big names. (For example, I recently discovered Beethoven’s string trios; I’ve never seen them on a program, and they’re delightful!) - Find living composers you like online and communicate with them about their music; ask them which composers and musical works inspired them, and then go listen to those works.

Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?

Fortunately I see that composers and performers are starting to think in terms of succeeding outside of the traditional music “industry” as it has existed in the past. “Supply and demand” rules seems to imply “mass production” or “mass market” and in my experience, composers and performers today are moving in the opposite direction. Today, artists are creating new niches and being happy with “smaller” audiences (smaller being relative: you don’t need to have a multi-million-dollar hit to earn enough money to survive; rather you can have a smaller number of dedicated fans and still make a very respectable income. There are even online resources like “Patreon” that help artists build a base of small financial patrons. Of course, the artists still need to “supply” for the “demand” that they create for their patrons, but it’s more about “micro-economies” rather than trying to “break into the music business” in order to be a success.

Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?

Interestingly, I have more expectations of myself than I do for my listeners. As a composer, it is my responsibility to create a bridge between my music and the listener. To me that includes providing a musical and rhythmic framework that the audience can use as a foundation. I may choose to depart from that framework, but to me, that sort of foundation works as a “home base” for my audience. The audience is entrusting me with their time—a limited and precious resource—and it is important that they not go away feeling that I wasted it.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I’m just finishing a “wordless lullaby” for Mezzosoprano Megan Ihnen. This was challenging for me as I have not done much vocal music recently, and the piece also uses vowels and consonants—though not in the form of actual words—as part of the music. Then I have a cello and piano piece to compose for a patron.

I definitely experiment, but in small ways. I experiment with notes and rhythms, trying to do something that is simultaneously familiar and surprising. I’m definitely not what you’d call an “experimental” composer, by any stretch of the imagination!