ISHPEMING - To say music has been a big part of Brandon Nelson's life would be an understatement,
"I can't remember a time when I wasn't involved in music," the Ishpeming musician-composer said. "I was especially drawn to printed music - anything I could get my hands on.
"I liked to look at it and draw it on paper. I tried to imitate what I saw."
Brandon Nelson of Ishpeming, shown above at the keyboard and at left at his computer, has turned a life-long love of music into a budding sideline as a composer. The Ishpeming native and Ishpeming High School graduate has comleted a number of commissioned pieces and has published two of them. While he teaches and plays music, he said he’s always focused more on composition than performance. (Journal photos by Craig Remsburg)
Though he didn't know what they were or represented, Nelson liked to draw musical notes.
"I just liked the way they looked at first. It wasn't until later that I started to organize them more," he said.
That has led to several musical compositions by Nelson, two of which - "American Snapshots" and "Festival Suite" - have been published.
An Ishpeming native and 2000 Ishpeming High School grad, Nelson, 28, started playing music when he was in fifth grade. He eventually played in the IHS band for four years, including pep band, marching band and at band festivals.
"I mainly played the French horn," he said, "but I played whatever (instrument) was needed, including saxophone and trumpet."
Nelson said at that point, he knew he'd always be involved in music in some way.
"My teachers were positive and encouraged me to be in a leadership role in the classroom before I got to college," Nelson said. "I conducted the band and discovered I had a real passion for that sort of thing."
A 2004 Northern Michigan University grad with a major in Music Education, he obtained a Master of Music degree in composition at Central Michigan University in 2006. At CMU in 2005, he won the Studio Prize for Orchestral Composition.
He has spent the last three years as a K-12 music teacher in Baraga, though he was looking for a new job for the current school year.
"The time was right to move on," Nelson said. "I'm looking to teach at a Catholic school.
"I don't mind working in public schools, but I really want to try to integrate my faith with my work."
In the Baraga school district, he taught elementary and high school band, choir and both music appreciation and general music.
"I started a choir at the high school, and an elementary choir last year as an after-school program." Nelson said. "I tried to increase the standards there musically."
Saying his music is "still evolving, I don't like to stay in one style too long," Nelson's musical influences range from J.S. Bach and Igor Stravinsky to George Crumb and Morton Feldman.
"I like to compose more than play (music)," he said. "I've always focused more on composition than performance. It comes more naturally to me from the creative end.
"The challenge is to take the 12 tones we have in Western music and do something different harmonically and melodically."
Nelson has several commissioned compositions to his credit, including those for St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Ishpeming; the Ishpeming Blue Notes Drum and Bugle Corps; the downstate Alma High School band and choir; and the Engadine High School band.
"I used to compose something once a year," he said, "but now, it's every couple of months. When you build a reputation, people start to notice."
Nelson also received a commission for a new work for a former teacher of his in Ishpeming, Dave Dagenais of Gwinn.
"It's a piano piece, about six minutes long," Nelson said. "It's for a birthday present for his mother. I finished it around July 4th."
He often reads books and listens to musical recordings to "try to come up with something unique and conveys what I want to convey.
"Lately, a lot of what I've written has been directed to student musicians, high school bands and choirs. It has to be interesting, but playable."
Nelson has spent the last 10 summers as a member of the Negaunee City Band, playing the French horn. He has also performed with the Blue Notes, the Baraga High School band; at CMU and NMU; and with the Duluth-Superior (Minn.) Symphony Orchestra.
He said he'd like to publish more music and finish a dozen compositions and as many arrangements a year. But with his family - wife Tina, twin sons Robert and Peter, 3 1/2, and daughter Aili, 15 months - finding time makes it difficult.
So does making a living.
"I'm not getting rich or famous," Nelson said. "My satisfaction comes with creating something for other musicians or audiences. I also like to share new ideas."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.