SB: One thing has lead to another. Growing up, I had a nice mix of formal and informal
music. There were some piano lessons when I was a little kid, the school band and jazz
band up through high school, and starting around middle school, I began spending more
and more time playing guitar and singing in bands with my friends, writing songs, and
performing. The same mix of formal and free-form music making continued through my
college and graduate school years: studying composition and electronic music while
performing in bars and clubs in Boston. These two overlapping spheres have formed the
basis for my compositional practice.
I knew I loved the way music made me feel. At some point, I realized I was most
impressed by the composers, songwriters, and producers. They were the ones who
designed these musical experiences that had come to mean so much to me. I wanted to
figure out how to do that.
BIBA: How did you come to work with Castle of our Skins? Was the experience helpful?
SB: In 2015, Castle of our Skins commissioned me to write a song cycle on poems by Sonia Sanchez. The result was Rocking Chair Child, a seven-song work for soprano, tenor, string quartet, and piano, which was premiered the following spring in Boston. Writing songs, and opera in particular, seems to teach me the most about composing, because it engages me on many levels at once, from the language of the text to the timbre of the band, and all the details in between. Managing all the threads of a narrative work at once is a challenge that helps me to access material and form that I might have not otherwise discovered.
BIBA: What does the title of Rocking Chair Child mean? How did the piece develop, and has
the piece had a life after Castle of our Skins's premiere?
SB: The source of the text of Rocking Chair Child comes from Sonia Sanchez’s 1997
publication Does your house have lions?, which you should all go out and read. My piece
adapts a small selection of poems from the book, primarily focusing on a central
character’s alienation from his family and his illness and death from AIDS in the first
years of the pandemic. The title phrase is uttered by Brother, sung by a tenor, at a
moment in the narrative when he is clinging to life, longing for a future that is not to be,
dreaming of the child he will never have, and how sweet that joy would be: “I want a
rocking chair child for my heir.”
Though the piece has not been performed again since its premiere, it did receive
Honorable Mention for the 2017 American Prize in Chamber Music.
BIBA: The compositional world today is hot with discussions about diversity. What are some
of your thoughts on the topic and where would you like the world to go within the next 5
to 10 years?
SB: Though I absolutely believe discussions of diversity have a positive effect on the culture of
the compositional world, from what I’ve seen in my personal experience, the field is
unfortunately still repellent to many composers whose work warrants them access to
study and resources. As long as personal ignorance and institutionalized bias exists,
serious discussions about access, representation, authenticity, appropriation, ownership,
and equity need to continue to occur, not just in the music world, but in the arts in
general. There’s a long way to go, but I think progress starts with individuals taking a
good look at their own behavior and speech, and consciously making a decision to
BIBA: I give you $10 million and tell you to compose or create whatever you want. What is it?
What are the instrumental forces? Length? etc ...
SB: I would start an organization that divided the $10 million into smaller grants that
supported a huge swath of new works, performances, and initiatives.
To learn more about Sam and listen to his works, follow him on SoundCloud at: https://soundcloud.com/samuel-beebe
To see an excerpt of Rocking Chair Child, please click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbY8zIGQISE
Next BIBA Blog: Next Sunday, September 30th! Topic: changing the Classical music stereotypes.