Author Archives: brienh

About brienh

Brien Henderson is a composer in Buffalo, NY. He has had works performed by Ensemble SIGNAL, Ensemble Dal Niente, Elevate Ensemble, and Ensemble Linea. Working primarily in the acoustic domain of chamber and choral music, he is strongly guided by the aesthetic claim of the architect Antoni Gaudí that “originality means returning to our origins.” Henderson’s work is always seeking to derive newness by modeling on some of the earliest European music. Henderson studied composition at San Francisco State University, where he earned both a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts degrees, studying with Richard Festinger, Christopher Jones, and Benjamin Sabey. He is currently working toward a PhD at the University at Buffalo, where he studied with Jeffrey Stadelman and presently studies with David Felder.

A Long-Awaited Publication

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Megan McDevitt premiering Confession for double bass, 2/17

I had hoped to make this announcement months ago, but now I can finally go public. Megan McDevitt is an excellent bassist and (full disclosure) my partner in life. She commissioned me to write a piece for her in 2016. This was part of an ambitious recital project in which she commissioned four new works as responses to, and performed along with, established bass repertoire. Confession for double bass was written with Persichetti’s Parable for solo double bass in mind. This is partially because my plan is to write a series of solo works all under the title of Confession, just as Persichetti did with his Parables. Since the premiere, I have made some small revisions to the piece, and reformatted the music from its original, and somewhat unwieldy, 17X11 format to a more portable 11X14 size, which is now available for pre-order in my shop. The official release date is November 15.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine, a book that is essentially an autobiography framed as a confession to God, serve as the namesake of the series. In confessing to a higher power, we invariably move into our own minds, and this kind of inward spiritual expression is precisely where my Confession lives. Its virtuosity is not in the traditional outward mode, but in a highly exposed, vulnerable mode.

While this piece certainly isn’t the kind of show-stopper one might expect from solo repertoire, I hope some members of the bass community will find it suits them for performance.



New Piece, New Recording (choral)

Back in 2015, I had just started the PhD program at University at Buffalo and an opportunity arose to have Voxnova Italia sing my piece, Noli esse vana, in a workshop at UB. I wanted to make some small revisions to the piece, which I wrote in 2013 and premiered with the (now-defunct) group I was singing in at the time, Ut Re Mi.

Instead of revising the first piece, I wrote a new piece entirely, but set the same exact text as in 2013 from the Confessions of Saint Augustine. The reading session with Voxnova was very instructive and illuminating, but we didn’t get a good recording of the piece.

Luckily, my friend and colleague Jessie Downs started a group here in Buffalo called the Sotto Voce Vocal Collective. From Sotto Voce’s Facebook page: “The group aims primarily to perform works by living composers, with a focus on fair representation of early to mid-career, women, and other under-performed composers.”


Sotto Voce Vocal Collective

At Jessie’s request, I delivered the score of the 2015 version of Noli esse vana to Sotto Voce, and joined the group as a singer too, to have it performed.

The concert took place on 15 March 2017, with Jessie conducting the group: Julia Cordani (soprano), Kristen Smigielski (alto), Jonathan Sandberg and Ethan Hayden (tenors), and myself singing bass. The recording is below. The earlier version can be heard here.

Choral Piece To Be Premiered In Buffalo

The Sotto Voce Vocal Collective will premiere my second setting of a text by St. Augustine, Noli esse vana. This piece will open Sotto Voce’s first concert of the spring season on March 15 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo. I’m even going to sing in this performance, lending my bass voice to St. Augustine’s words as well as Sylvia Lim‘s Landscape Fragments. I will be singing with Ethan Hayden, Jonathan Sandberg, Kristen Smigielski, and Julia Cordani. Jessie Downs, Sotto Voce’s leader, will be conducting.

Also on the program will be stay me with flagons by Porter James and Lamentations by Jessie Downs.

I wrote the first setting of this text in 2013 for a Renaissance choir I was a part of in San Francisco called Ut Re Mi, which has now disbanded but several of its members remain actively singing in the San Francisco Bay area.

Upon moving to Buffalo and presenting that first setting to my composition seminar, I realized that I wanted to make some revisions. What happened, instead, was I wrote another setting entirely. They are both made of the same DNA, and my approach to the text was the same in both. This newer setting is only more refined than the first.

The text (in Latin):

Noli esse vana, anima mea, et obsurdescere in aure cordis tumultu vantatis tuae. Audi et tu: verbum ipsum clamat, ut redeas, et ibi est locus quietis imperturbabilis, ubi non demeritar amor, si ipse non desertat.


Be not vain, O my soul, and do not let the tumult of your vanity deafen the ear of your heart.  You must listen: the Word itself calls you to return, and there is the place of rest imperturbable, where love is not abandoned if itself abandons not.

Listen to the 2013 setting below, and follow me on Soundcloud.

Solo for double bass premiered in Ann Arbor, MI


(L to R): Carolina Heredia, Megan McDevitt, Brandon Scott Rumsey, and Brien Henderson

February 10, 2017 — Bassist Megan McDevitt gave the world premiere to four new works, all of which she commissioned herself, from emerging composers. Among these was Brien Henderson’s Confession (for double bass).

McDevitt, a DMA candidate at the University of Michigan, commissioned the new works to be programmed alongside four well-established pieces of repertoire. Confession was paired with Vincent Persichetti’s Parable XVII for double bass. McDevitt also commissioned new works from Carolina Heredia, Rex Isenberg, and Brandon Scott Rumsey.