By Janet Bresenham, Freedom New Mexico
When B.J. Brooks was a little boy in Portales, he often spent weekends side by side with his grandmother Lucille, who loved to play the piano.
“He wanted to learn ‘Home on the Range,’ so I used masking tape on the keys and numbered them on two octaves,” recalled his grandmother, who is now 91 years old. “Of course, he had his own ideas of how he’d do it.”
Those early attempts at playing piano and working out his own compositions have paid off for Brooks, who recently won a national competition for the five-minute piece of music for pipe organ and a four-part choir that he composed to accompany a song called “Thou Art the Light.”
Brooks, who is now 33 years old and finishing his doctorate degree in music composition at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, will receive a $1,200 prize, and his winning piece of music will premier May 4 by the First Baptist Church Chancel Choir in Worcester, Mass., according to the church’s minister of music and arts, William Ness.
From his early musical beginnings with his grandmother, B.J., the son of Harold and Cyndi Brooks of Portales, went on to study piano and music composition from sixth grade through high school with another relative, Cheryl Pachak-Brooks, who now teaches at Eastern New Mexico University.
“This is so exciting; it’s so rare you have a piano student who goes on and makes a career of it,” Pachak-Brooks said. “B.J. was always very motivated, and he excelled very quickly. He was just a wonderful student.’
Brooks remembers that Pachak-Brooks “gave me exposure in how the composition process works.”
“I did play other instruments, too, like bassoon and sax, plus piano,” he said. “With composition, I liked being able to write for all instruments and to be a little more creative. By writing my own music, I could make the sounds I wanted to hear.”
Brooks credits his high school band director and arranger, the late Pat Henry, with teaching him about composing large ensemble pieces.
“In my senior year, 1993, we performed one of my compositions called ‘The Journey.’ And I did a piece for Maypole there, too, in 1993,” he remembered. “I also played piano on Sunday evenings for about five years at the First Baptist Church in Portales, and sometimes I would improvise pieces.”
In 1998, he graduated with a bachelor of music education degree from ENMU, where his music composition instructors were Stephen Duncan and the late Jon Jonsson, who actually began helping him with music theory while he was still in high school.
He went on to earn a master of arts degree in music composition from West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.
While at ENMU, Brooks met Melanie, his wife of 10 years, when they were in band together. They went on to serve as worship leaders for about six years at Central Christian Church in Clovis, where he played organ and his wife played piano.
Now, their two children — Meghan, 7, and Tobin, 6 — are learning music, as well.
“They really can’t help it,” Brooks said. “Meghan plays the violin and Meghan and Tobin both play piano at home.”