Composer Spotlight: Richard Nichols

Richard Nichols is one of those rare talents who is able to live as a composer/arranger in both the instrumental and choral worlds.  His orchestral and brass writing sparkle with originality and his choral compositions are filled with stylistic diversity.  Widely published his works are growing in popularity with each passing release.  He took time away from his day job aa Dean of Fine Arts at Butler Community College in Wichita, Kansas to answer our composer questionnaire.  (Make sure you linger with the links at the end of this BLOG to hear some of RICK’S music.

WHAT WAS THE MUSIC OF YOUR YOUTH?

I SUPPOSE I WAS A BIT NERDY BECAUSE I LOVED CLASSICAL MUSIC EVEN WHEN I WAS A KID. MY PARENTS LET ME JOIN THE HILLSBOROUGH YOUTH ORCHESTRA IN TAMPA, FLORIDA WHEN I WAS IN THE SEVENTH GRADE, SO I WAS PLAYING CLASSICAL MUSIC EVERY WEEK THROUGHOUT HIGH SCHOOL.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW THAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE MUSIC AS A CAREER?

PLAYING IN THE YOUTH ORCHESTRA CULTIVATED A DESIRE TO PURSUE A CAREER IN ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE. I MAJORED IN MUSIC IN COLLEGE AND WENT ON TO COMPLETE A MASTER’S AND DOCTORATE IN MUSIC. MY FIRST JOB OUT OF GRADUATE SCHOOL WAS PRINCIPAL HORN OF THE CAPE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA IN CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. SINCE THEN, MY INTERESTS AND CAREER HAVE EXPANDED TO INCLUDE COMPOSING, CONDUCTING, TEACHING, PUBLISHING, AND RECORDING.

WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO NOW?

I STILL LISTEN MOSTLY TO CLASSICAL MUSIC BECAUSE I ENJOY IT AND BECAUSE IT EXPANDS MY MUSICAL PALETTE IN A WAY THAT MOST OTHER STYLES OF MUSIC DO NOT. THE BROAD VARIETY OF FORM, STYLES, INSTRUMENTATION, CHORD PROGRESSIONS, MELODIC CONTOUR, ETC. IS MUCH WIDER THAN MOST OTHER GENRES OF MUSIC. I LIKE TO THINK OF IT AS EXPANDING MY MUSICAL VOCABULARY IN THE SAME WAY THAT READING GOOD LITERATURE EXPANDS ONE’S LINGUISTIC VOCABULARY. WE WRITE WHAT WE HEAR INTERNALLY AND, IN TURN, WE HEAR WHAT WE LISTEN TO.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAITH JOURNEY, AND HOW IT INFLUENCES YOUR MUSICAL CHOICES.

FOR 35 YEARS MY FATHER WAS THE MUSIC DIRECTOR AT HILLSDALE BAPTIST CHURCH IN TAMPA. HE IS, BY FAR, THE GREATEST INFLUENCE IN MY LIFE. HAVING WATCHED HIM IN HIS WORK, I LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT SERVING GOD BY SERVING OTHERS. HE HAD A CHOIR OF 80 MEMBERS AND AN ORCHESTRA OF 40. HE ARRIVED FAR AHEAD OF THE REHEARSAL DOWNBEAT AND WAS ALWAYS THE LAST ONE TO LEAVE. HE TAUGHT SATURDAY MORNING VOICE LESSONS FOR FREE TO HIS CHOIR MEMBERS AND, CONSEQUENTLY, HAD OVER HALF OF HIS CHOIR TAKING LESSONS. I REMEMBER HIM PERFORMING EVERYTHING FROM CRAIG COURTNEY AND LLOYD LARSON, TO TOM FETTKE AND CINDY BERRY. AND WHEN I WOULD WRITE A CHORAL PIECE, AS CRUDE AS IT WAS, HE WOULD SACRIFICE REHEARSAL TIME TO READ THROUGH IT. I LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT GOD BY WATCHING HIM. HE AND MY MOM INSTILLED WITHIN ME A LOVE FOR GOD AND A LOVE FOR MUSIC.

NAME THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE.

I’VE VISITED 49 OF THE 50 US STATES. ALASKA IS THE FINAL FRONTIER.

I ENJOY CREATING HOME MOVIES AND VACATION VIDEOS. WHILE I’M FAR FROM GOOD AT IT, I LOVE THE MEDIUM OF VIDEO AND THE CREATIVE EXPRESSION THAT IT IS. MY OFFICIAL PAGE IS RICNICPIX ON VIMEO WHERE I’VE PRODUCED CLOSE TO 20 VIDEOS.

HAVING NO EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND IN BUSINESS, I RECENTLY COMPLETED AN MBA. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I WAS THINKING WHEN I STARTED, BUT IT’S COMPLETED NOW, SO I’M RELIEVED.

WHAT PROJECTS ARE CURRENTLY ON YOUR HORIZON?

AS A COMPOSER, I’M ALWAYS WORKING ON CHORAL AND INSTRUMENTAL PIECES, AS WELL AS TEN TO TWELVE ORCHESTRATIONS PER YEAR. AS CHORAL EDITOR FOR FRED BOCK MUSIC, I’M CONSTANTLY SEARCHING FOR SUBMISSIONS TO PUT INTO PUBLICATION. STEVE BOCK IS A VISIONARY AND I LOVE WORKING WITH HIM.

WHEN ARE YOU MOST CREATIVE?

WITH FOUR KIDS, I’VE ALWAYS BEEN MOST CREATIVE BETWEEN 11:00 PM AND 2:00 AM. THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT QUIET, UNINTERRUPED TIME THAT CREATES A BLANK CANVAS.

WHAT’S YOUR SACRED SPACE?

THE FRONT ROOM IN OUR HOUSE KEEPS OUR BABY GRAND PIANO. IT’S THE QUIETEST ROOM IN THE HOUSE, SO IT IS CONDUCIVE TO BEING A SACRED SPACE AND PERFECT FOR COMPOSING.

WHICH COMPOSERS/ARRANGERS INSPIRE YOU?

IN THE CLASSICAL WORLD, I LOVE THE ORCHESTRAL WORKS OF RICHARD STRAUSS, MAHLER, AND SHOSTAKOVICH. WITHIN THE SACRED MUSIC WORLD, I HESITATE EVEN TO BEGIN MENTIONING NAMES BECAUSE I’M INSPIRED BY SO MANY. CRAIG COURTNEY WAS ONE OF THE FIRST MODERN SACRED CHORAL COMPOSERS I WAS INSPIRED BY. I CAN’T IMAGINE A COMPOSER MORE CREATIVE AND PROLIFIC THAN JOE MARTIN. THE GUY IS A MACHINE! I LOVE ORCHESTRATING MOLLY IJAMES’ CHORAL SETTINGS. WE HAVE AN ONGOING JOKE OF “NICHOLS AND IJAMES” (SOUNDS LIKE “NICKELS-AND-DIMES”) COLLABORATIONS. I’VE ENJOYED ORCHESTRATING MARY MCDONALD AND PATTI DRENNAN WORKS, AS WELL. CHOPLIN, JOHNSON, NIX, SORENSON, LARSON, SHACKLEY, SCHWOEBEL, PINKSTON; I LISTEN TO ALL OF THEM. DAN FORREST…DO I NEED TO MENTION HIM? PAT MOCK AND I HAVE COLLABORATED ON COUNTLESS PIECES. AND I’VE BEEN INSPIRED BY LYRICISTS, TOO. CHRIS ANDERSON AND I HAVE WRITTEN A DOZEN HYMNS TOGETHER, AND JENNIFER KLEIN IS A GIFTED, RECENT COLLABORATOR ON SECULAR TEXTS PUBLISHED WITH HINSHAW. WE ARE BLESSED TO HAVE EASY ACCESS TO SO MUCH DIVERSE AND CREATIVE OUTPUT.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT COMPOSING?

I LOVE TO TRAVEL; ESPECIALLY TO WARM CLIMATES! MEETING NEW PEOPLE, SEEING UNIQUE PLACES, EXPERIENCING DIFFERENT CULTURES ARE ALL INVIGORATING TO ME. SEEING GOD’S GREAT HAND OF CREATION IS INSPIRING AND HUMBLING.

WHERE DO YOU SEE CHURCH MUSIC GOING IN THE FUTURE? ARE THERE TRENDS YOU THINK ARE IMPORTANT IN THE CURRENT CULTURE OF SANCTUARY MUSIC?

THE FUTURE OF CHURCH MUSIC IS DIFFICULT TO PREDICT. WITH SO MANY DENOMINATIONS, STYLES, AND WORLD VIEWS. IT’S ANYONE’S GUESS WHERE WE GO FROM HERE. ONE ACTIVITY THAT HAS EXISTED SINCE THE CHURCH BEGAN, AND THAT I EXPECT TO CONTINUE, IS CONGREGATIONAL SINGING. CONGREGATIONS CAN TEND TO VIEW THEMSELVES AS THE AUDIENCE, RECEIVING THE PERFORMANCE OF THE CHOIR, WORSHIP TEAM, OR BAND. THIS IS PROBLEMATIC IN THAT IT ENCOURAGES A SPECTATOR OR CONSUMER PERSPECTIVE. MEANINGFUL, INTENTIONAL CONGREGATIONAL SINGING SHOULD PLACE THE FOCUS ON GOD—THE TRUE AUDIENCE OF OUR WORSHIP. HE DELIGHTS IN HEARING ALL OF HIS CHILDREN SING.

WHAT IS YOUR #1 TIP FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

LISTEN TO GREAT MUSIC. THE SAYING GOES, “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.” THE BEST CHEFS ACQUAINT THEMSELVES WITH A WIDE RANGE OF INGREDIENTS IN ORDER TO PREPARE THE FINEST MEALS. AS I MENTIONED EARLIER, WE WRITE WHAT WE HEAR IN OUR HEADS. IF WE LISTEN PREDOMINANTLY TO MUSIC WITH LIMITED CREATIVITY, WE WILL TEND TO WRITE LESS CREATIVELY. LISTEN TO AND STUDY THE FINEST MUSIC (IN ANY GENRE) AND IT WILL EXPAND ONE’S COMPOSITIONAL INGREDIENTS.

I SING THE MIGHTY POWER OF GOD

WE ARE BLESSED

 

Richard Nichols is Dean of Fine Arts and Communication at Butler Community College just outside of Wichita, Kansas. His musical background is quite diverse with areas of expertise in teaching, performing, composing, orchestrating, conducting, publishing and recording. He has served as a professor of music, as a performer with several major symphony orchestras in the US and abroad, as the director and editor of music publishing companies, as a conductor of choirs and orchestras, as a producer and director of over 25 commercially released recordings and as a composer of over 200 published compositions.
He completed a Doctorate of Musical Arts from The Ohio State University after receiving degrees from Southern Methodist University and Bob Jones University. Recently, he finished an MBA from Louisiana State University. 
As a performer, he held appointments as principal horn with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra in Cape Town, South Africa and with The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington, DC, where he performed for two US presidents and multiple foreign Heads of State. Additionally, he has played with the Dallas Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, Jacksonville Symphony, Columbus Symphony, Boston Brass and has performed recitals and masterclasses at the Eastman School of Music, the North Carolina School of the Arts, Florida State University and the Odessa Conservatory in Ukraine.
While Director of Soundforth, a music publishing and recording company, he oversaw the production of choral, instrumental and keyboard sheet music and produced choral and instrumental recordings. He is currently Choral Editor for the Fred Bock Music Company.
As a composer, his list of commissions includes Stuart Neill (tenor, Metropolitan Opera), David Kim (concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra), Anne Martindale Williams (principal cello, Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra) and the American Guild of Organists.
As a passionate advocate for careers in the arts, he travels the US speaking to high school students interested in pursuing the fine arts and has created a multi-media lecture series entitled “You Don’t Have to Be a Starving Artist.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s