With curly salt and pepper hair
and a casual style, Neely Bruce looks like a composer. It’s no surprise he’s
spent more than half his life as a
composition professor at Wesleyan University.
Composer Neely Bruce checking the musical score as one of his pieces
Composer Neely Bruce at
Bruce, 65, who has a warm
Southern charm to match his slight accent, started
making music early in life.
“I started composing when I was
nine years old,” he said outside
an auditorium where an orchestra rehearsed his work. “By
the age of 12, I wrote a suite of
Bruce performed those pieces, Suite
Fantastic, in 1994 in honor of his 50th birthday. He said
it was stimulating to play some
of his earliest pieces, and did so again
Of his many
hundreds of pieces, Bruce said one
that he really likes is his opera, Hansel
“It’s been such a success,” the
Commissioned by Connecticut
Opera, where Bruce served as chorus director until the opera organization
dissolved earlier this year, the full production of Hansel
and Gretel debuted
at The Bushnell in Hartford in 1998.
In the opera, the main
characters push the evil witch into her oven at the climax of the action, and
then “they dance around the oven,” Bruce says.
Other companies have since
performed the work, and Bruce said that at a more recent show at the University
of Illinois in May, the director used modern dance throughout.
“The thing that made it really,
really good was the dancing,” Bruce said. “The cast was very good.”
Last spring, the Nutmeg Symphony
Orchestra performed the Connecticut premiere of Bruce’s Introduction
and Grand March.
The piece used aspects of two of
Bruce’s favorite composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Charles Ives.
“The piece is based on excerpts
from seven operas of Mozart’s,” Bruce
said. Bruce used those opera excerpts
to write a march in the style of Ives.
and Grand March, Bruce used some surprising methods to
decide which pieces of the operas to include.
musical phrases from some of Mozart’s operas at random, he said. He did it by
rolling dice and grabbing random photocopied bits of music from a larger pool of
the Mozart excerpts he’d assembled.
he weighted one opera in particular, The
Abduction from the Seraglio, by making more excerpts
from that opera than from the others.
so, he would have a higher percentage from that opera than from the others
included in the work.
when Mozart lived, the Turks were still there,” explained Bruce. He said the
Turks invented modern percussion.
these bands that would march through the streets of Vienna,” he said.
Consequently, in his Introduction
and Grand March, Bruce said, “I emphasize a lot of
Bruce has found useful musical ideas across the world, his fundamental interests
are American music and history. At Wesleyan, he teaches both music composition
and American studies.