For Kuykendall, it’s all music, all the time—almost

Posted on March 2, 2011

Since joining the Erskine faculty in 2006, Associate Professor of Music Dr. J. Brooks Kuykendall has seen the publication of several academic works and compositions. He recently returned from Yale University, where he spent the month of January as a visiting fellow at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Kuykendall is a 1997 summa cum laude graduate of Erskine College. He earned a Ph.D. at Cornell University and taught for several years at Calvin College.

 

Long-term study
A significant portion of his scholarly work has focused on English composer William Walton (1902-1983), and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds about 90 percent of Walton’s autograph manuscripts.

Kuykendall, who is chairman of the Department of Music, has edited two volumes of a critical edition of Walton’s works published by Oxford University Press.

The first volume, which came out in 2007, “comprised two major orchestral works from around 1960,” he said. The second, published in 2010, includes music from Walton’s film scores.

“This was a huge project,” Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Brad Parker said of the Walton volumes. “We are so proud of him.”

Kuykendall’s scheduled address at the Beinecke Library, “William Walton’s Compositional Process,” was canceled because of a snowstorm, but he hopes to return to Yale to deliver the address.

Meanwhile, he said, an article based on some of his research at Yale has been accepted for publication and will appear in the September 2011 issue of NOTES, the journal of the Music Library Association.

In addition to his work on Walton, during his first year on the Erskine faculty Kuykendall was commissioned to write an article for the Cambridge Companion to Gilbert & Sullivan, published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

From the portfolio
One of Kuykendall’s compositions, “Scherzo on NETTLETON,” was written in 1994 when he was a sophomore at Erskine, but published in 2009.

He wrote the piece at the request of Professor of English Dr. Wilbur Reames, (now Professor Emeritus) who was directing Archibald MacLeish’s play J.B. At the time, there was an organ in Lesesne Auditorium and Reames wanted to use it for incidental music. “He wanted a ‘circus music’ sound, but based on particular hymns—this one is ‘Come, thou fount of every blessing'”

Another Erskine faculty member, Associate Professor of Music Robert Glick, an organist and composer who taught Kuykendall, is featured in the streaming recording of the piece on the Adoro Music Publishing site.

Kuykendall’s “Dancing Day,” combining several traditional carol tunes, was published by Adoro Music in 2010.

Also published by Adoro in 2010 was an anthem, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” in which he sets an early version of an old lyric to a new tune.

“I wrote that in the summer of 2003 when I was on a fellowship in the UK for two months,” Kuykendall recalled. “The apartment I was staying in had neither radio or television, and as most of my days were spent reading, I needed some sort of break in the evenings.

“So I bought some manuscript paper and wrote some things, including this anthem, written very much in the Anglican choral tradition I was hearing day and night that summer.”

He recently learned from Erskine Choraleers Director Bill Diekhoff that the choir plans to perform the anthem in April.

Staying tuned
As he honors his commitments to teaching, serving as chair, writing, directing Sinfonia, and working on college committees, Kuykendall sometimes finds that he’s “just trying to keep my head above water.”

In his role as teacher and department chairman, he has restructured the music curriculum, expanding the two-semester music history sequence to three semesters, and integrating some music theory into the courses.

A capstone class for majors, “Research and Criticism” has been added. He calls the new class “the opportunity to explore all sorts of ways people study music beyond history and theory: sociology of music, psychology of music, jazz studies, performance practice, music business.”

In his writing, he strives “to make potentially boring subjects interesting to read about,” not an easy task.

“I think that remaining active as a writer keeps me attuned to the challenges my students face in their written assignments, and I hope my suggestions to them are more useful for that reason,” he said.

“Only occasionally do I bring examples of my own research into the classroom,” Kuykendall said. “I do it mainly to show how accessible such work is—it isn’t all happening at major research universities.”

He characterizes his work with Sinfonia as “the most frustrating, the most time-consuming, and the most rewarding” part of his job.

The frustration comes from schedule conflicts which render full-ensemble rehearsals nearly impossible. Time is taken up with behind-the scenes work “just getting the music in front of the players.” The rewarding part is that Sinfonia “is almost my only outlet for music-making.”

“I think we’ve done quite a lot of neat programs in the last five years,” Kuykendall says of Sinfonia. “And we have something completely different in mind for next year, so stay tuned.”

 

Working together
Looking back over his last five years at Erskine, Kuykendall sees talented, hardworking students as well as faculty members who complement each other.

“The backbone of the music department is the music minor,” he said. “In the last 10 years, more students have minored in music than anything else. It demands a lot: ensembles, private lessons, theory, ear-training and history courses.

“But the minors really make things happen around here,” he said, adding, “We don’t have many majors—and really a school of Erskine’s size shouldn’t have very many music majors.”

He praised his colleagues, too, including adjunct professors like Diekhoff. “With Brad Parker and Bob Glick, we have an amazingly well-rounded faculty. There is very little overlap between us. And we have a splendid team of adjunct instructors, too.”

Kuykendall is married to attorney Patricia Bolen, who is also a musician, and they are the parents of two daughters, Nora, three, and Miriam, nearly four months old.

So it’s not quite all music, all the time, but probably close enough, especially if you count lullabyes.