People of Vision: Rick Brown ’69

RickBrownIn music composition, as with so much in life, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Rick Brown began his composing studies at Central, and he says eventually composers reach a place where “all the rules you learn in freshman theory, you can choose to follow them or throw them out the window. You don’t have to be too strict. As long as it sounds like what you’re hearing in your mind, it’s fine.”

A native of upstate New York, Brown was recruited to come to Central by a friend of a friend who worked as a Central admission counselor. Always a creative person, Brown also tried his hand at writing and painting before settling on music composition as a career path. He knew he wanted to study music, but as the major music schools in New York (such as Julliard and Eastman) were out of reach financially, he decided his best option would be attending a college that offered a music major. Additionally, he thought “it would be interesting to see a totally different part of the country,” he says.

At Central, Brown’s adviser Robert Rittenhouse was “incredibly supportive of my aspirations to be a composer,” even offering individual lessons in composition. After graduation, Brown attended graduate school at Florida State University, earning a doctorate in music composition. He then worked in Texas as an arranger of music for marching bands and stage productions, and also spent many years as a band director and music teacher, all the while working on his own compositions.

Now retired from teaching, Brown devotes his attention to composing and arranging, as well as publishing and promoting his music through his imprint, Dacker Music ( In 1983 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Central College. Brown considers his liberal arts experience beneficial to his overall creative viewpoint. “It gave me a more rounded outlook than if I had gone to a conservatory or a music school,” he says.

How is creativity important in being a composer and arranger?

You have to have a creative nature in order to come up with themes and ideas that are original and not hackneyed. Then you have to have an education and years of experience to know what to do with them … unless you are exceptionally gifted (think Mozart), which I am not. I really needed the education and experience.

What do people not understand about composing?

Many people think inspiration hits in the middle of the night and the music comes in one long gush, perfect the first time. But that’s not the way it works; most of us have to work it out as we write it down on paper. Nowadays, that’s usually in digital fashion, but it’s still the same process.

What aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Hearing the music that I have worked so long and hard to create come to life in the hands of gifted performers gives me the greatest satisfaction.

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