Books and plays and exhibits, oh my! ArtistHop is a new column spotlighting talented artists in the Columbia community who have recently done something notable. This week, we profile Brent Morden, composer for the upcoming musical Once Upon a Fortnight and the 125th Annual Varsity Show.
Name, school/year, and tools of your trade?
Brent A. Morden. Columbia College ’19. A creative vision, coffee, and Sibelius.
What work or project are you recently known for? Why should people care about it?
One notable project was conducting the Columbia University Wind Ensemble this past March in premiering my original piece Danzón. It was a dream come true. My current project is a new comedy musical called Once Upon a Fortnight, which I co-wrote and composed over the last several months. It premieres in the Lerner Black Box on November 9th through 11th. Why care about this show? Because it’s fantastically fun(ny), and we all owe ourselves more opportunities to laugh in life.
A story from the process?
In December 2017, on the heels of our first collaboration in Written in the Stars, my pal David Treatman and I decided to rendezvous at Tom’s Restaurant for a lunch that would soon send shockwaves ‘round the world. It was there that I popped the question… “Hey, want to write a new show?” And it was there that I heard the sweetest word ever uttered in history: “Yeah!”
Which groups or people on campus helped you develop the work (or generally as an artist)?
CU Wind Ensemble and Uptown Vocal (Columbia’s jazz a cappella group) have been the soil for my artistic development at Columbia. There I learned how to be a better musician, how to collaborate with other musicians, and what it means to create meaningful art for the community. As for specific people: shout outs to Peter Susser of the Music Department for being an awesome mentor and to Jaimie Krass of Hillel for her unending support.
Most difficult obstacle in your process, and how you overcame it?
With Once Upon a Fortnight, I was underprepared for the staggering amount of work and effort that goes into creating a production of this size. There has been so much music to write, orchestrate, and edit. There have been so many moving parts behind the scenes. So I’m incredibly grateful to my team—cast and crew—for their dedication and hard work in helping make the process smoother. When motivated people come together to realize a common creative vision, then magic happens!
If any artist in history could be your editor, who would you choose and why?
Leonard Bernstein. The great maestro and composer himself. One of my idols. A brilliant mind to match his legendary musicianship. One of the most accomplished musical figures of the last century. I feel that Lenny would be brutally, insightfully honest about my work… which is exactly what I crave. Tell it to me like it really is.
Advice to your past self from when you started this project?
Don’t leave orchestrating to the last week or you’ll pay the price. Namely, that’s needing literally every free minute of the day in order to work on it. And experiencing lots of stress. Just… do it early, man. Please let me know if you have any questions!
Analyze one of your own works as if you’re a freshman in a First-Year Writing/core class who did none of the readings.
The unabashed, ballsy wit of Morden’s humor in Once Upon a Fortnight suggests one of two ideas. One the one hand, it may reveal his underlying desire for the world to love and accept his artistic voice for what it is. On the other hand, it may reveal that Morden just simply wants people to laugh at his naughty jokes. Are these two ideas mutually exclusive? Is the answer to that question the same as the answer to this one?
What’s next from you?
The next big project on my horizon is The 125th Annual Varsity Show, for which I was selected as a co-composer/lyricist. Other that that, I will continue composing, arranging, conducting, and performing as much as possible. I want to keep making amazing art with amazing people. I want to keep pursuing a fun, meaningful life.
Your advice to aspiring artists in your field?
Don’t just seek out opportunities: create them for yourself. Form concrete plans to fulfill your ambitions. Work hard. Learn how to communicate well with others. Speak your mind: let the world hear what you have to say. Champion yourself. Enjoy yourself.
Photo via Anna Beloborodova
Know an artist who’s done something notable you’d like to nominate for ArtistHop? Contact email@example.com.