'Composing is a bridge'
For the past seven years, she’s been pursuing another musical passion as well — composing her own piano pieces. She termed it an enjoyable, satisfying and fulfilling activity.
“It’s a way for me to communicate my feelings, my emotions, my joy, and to bring joy to others,” she said. “I’m not a talker, so music is a good way for me to express myself. It’s a way to connect.”
Other people agree. They listen to and purchase both her secular and sacred compositions from her website, www.annebrittmusic.com. And the annual LDS Church Music Submissions competition has recognized her twice, with an honorable mention in 2010 and the top instrumental award in 2013.
Last month, Britt and her husband, Dave, traveled to Salt Lake City to hear her version of “Master, the Tempest is Raging” performed in the contest’s concluding concert. It was a joy to sit in the audience in the Temple Square assembly hall and hear her piano solo performed, she said.
“I was thrilled,” said Britt, recalling her excitement when she opened the letter informing her she’d won. “I would have been happy with honorable mention.”
Britt composed a version of “Master, the Tempest is Raging” because it’s a favorite of her mother-in-law — one she requested every time she visited.
It’s one of many pieces her family inspired her to write. In fact, she has a whole collection, “A Family Suite,” filled with songs capturing her own personality or those of her husband and their six kids.
For her husband, she wanted to write something filled with humor and energy. “He’s a kid at heart,” she said.
Remembering a vacation that included staying in a hotel featuring a rubber ducky in the bathtub, she wrote his song, “March of the Rubber Duckies.”
When other family members heard the humorous, lively march, they agreed it captured his personality perfectly. “That’s Dave!” they said.
Britt’s own piece, “Bridge to Tomorrow (Anne’s Song),” started with a dream. It’s not the way she usually finds inspiration, but proved successful in this case.
She awoke with a snippet of music in her head and quickly wrote it down.
She chose the tune’s name because it fit her new hobby. “Composing is a bridge to a whole new part of my life,” she said.
Sometimes Britt starts with well-known melodies, such as children’s songs or folk pieces, and adds her own twist, creating the likes of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Estrellita” and “Froggy Went A’Courtin’ (A Wedding Disaster Story).”
“I like to take something simple and familiar and give it a different feel,” she said. “Maybe pick a different style, like boogie-woogie or swing, jazz it up or slow it down, maybe use minor chords if it’s in major.”
Familiar hymns like “Master, the Tempest is Raging” and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” are frequent starting points. “With hymns, I try to keep it fitting with the emotion of the song, keep it respectful,” she said.
She enjoys working with sacred music. “It’s one of the best ways to connect ... to make people feel that spirit,” she said.
When she had completed more than a dozen hymn arrangements, she put them together into a book. She is selling “Eventide” through her website and selected sheet music stores.
She’s currently at work on a second volume of sacred arrangements, with a Christmas music book in the future.
Although she has composed many pieces, sacred and secular, and in a variety of genres, Britt is still a little surprised by it all. She never thought she would become a composer.
Britt started playing piano as a child in Cave Junction.
Her mother was a piano teacher and tuner. While she didn’t provide her daughter with any formal lessons, she offered suggestions and helped her find different pieces to play.
Instead of reminding the youngster to practice her keyboard skills, “she’d have to tell me to stop,” said Britt, who couldn’t get enough of the piano.
They loved sitting down together to play duets — something they still do. They played duets on the accordion as well.
As a high school student, Britt accompanied singers and choirs. She continued playing at college, majoring in math and enjoying music on the side.
As an adult, she played — and still plays — piano and organ for church services. And when her children were in middle school, she got involved with their activities, including musicals directed by Deborah Johansen, who needed an accompanist.
“When Mrs. Johansen moved up to the high school, I moved up, too, with my kids,” said Britt, who now accompanies high school and middle school choirs when needed. She also serves as a rehearsal pianist at Linfield College.
In 2007, she helped with a Mac High production of “Guys and Dolls” that Johansen was co-directing with vocal music director Dana Libonati. “I knew Dana taught music theory, and I asked if he could give me things to work on,” she recalled.
Under the tutelage of Libonati, a composer and arranger, she studied musical structure. He asked her to write short pieces to demonstrate the concepts she learned. Working a little at a time, she soon realized she, too, could create music.
Her many years of playing and listening to various genres helped when she started composing on her own. “I had developed an ear for what sounds good, what’s interesting to play,” she said.
As a player she looks for variety — something not always predictable, or which incorporates different rhythms and structures. She also looks for pieces that are evocative, whether they express peace or excitement.
She tries to incorporate those requirements into the pieces she writes.
She sits down to compose at an electronic keyboard hooked to a laptop loaded with music-writing software. As she builds the musical structure, the computer turns it into notations on a staff.
Writing a piece of music might take a couple days. “I like to have a chunk of time to focus on my composing,” she adds.
When she’s satisfied with the results, she plays and records her new composition.
“I love to play my own work, and to know that others play it,” she said. “When I started composing, I had such a sense of accomplishment and growth.
“Now, when I hear from others who’ve listened to it, or played it, I know I’ve touched them. That’s motivation to do more.”
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.