Biography: Larry Brian Binns
I was born on March 16, 1953 in Hampton, Virginia to Dr. and
Mrs. Leon W. Binns, the second of seven children. My father
was a trauma physician and musician, a trombonist. Music was always an intricate part of my life. At the tender age of five my childish curiosity impelled me to attempt to play my father's trombone. However, this was a futile attempt which led to my damaging the instrument beyond repair. Despite this disappointing experience and a painful derriere, I began formal music instruction on the trombone at eight years-old when I joined the elementary school band at Pearl Elementary, in Nashville, Tennessee. This was a daunting and challenging task in that the instrument was nearly as tall as I. In fact, I recall that I could only barely reach fifth position and then only with a lot of stretching and maneuvering.
Two years later, in the fifth grade I auditioned and made all city for
elementary school as third trombonist. Appreciating the need to be more attentive to practicing I began spending several hours a day doing just that. This was rewarded the next year when I was assigned first chair and section leader in my school band and also in the all-city concert band. I also formed my first combo when I was 11 years-old in the sixth grade. The name that I selected for the group was "Larry and the Lovers". My reason and rationale for the group's name was that "Larry" and "Lovers" both started with "L's" and was catchy. At that age I certainly did not comprehend the significance of the latter word. It was a strange combination of instrumentalist consisting of a trombone, trumpet, bass and snare drums. We only had three songs in our repertoire. We would perform on the playground amid girls jump-roping and boys playing marbles. When the girls would hear the trumpet and trombone heralding the introduction to our rendition of "Soldier Boy" they would go wild and start screaming "Larry and the Lovers!" and surround us to listen to our three songs. Afterwards we would pack up and return to class. Nevertheless, this left quite an impression on my mind. I enjoyed the response and the attention that playing music produced. I continued this pattern of forming groups and performing in the marching, jazz, and concert bands throughout my middle school years and excelling.
The years of 1967-71 was a period wherein I acquired valuable
experience as a performer. Actually, I was being groomed to follow a
family tradition. As stated earlier, my father and uncle were both
trombonists and medical doctors, and that was my aspiration. Thus,
in high school I was first trombonist, section leader, and president of
my high school marching, concert, and jazz bands as well as a member of the "Medical Explorers of America" club, class president, and president of my high school biology club. Concurrently, I semi-professionally performed as a trombonist and writer/arranger for some of the local Jazz and R&B groups in the
In 1970 my love for music won out and medical school was no longer an option. Several of my classical compositions were shown to a local high school band director who also was a tuba teacher at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He brought the scores to the attention of composer, Dr. Louis A. Mennini, Dean of the School of Music, who then invited me to NCSA for a series of interviews over a two-week period. Dr. Mennini had served as the interim president following the untimely death of NCSA founder, composer Dr. Vittorio Giannini. He was the older brotherof famed composer and former president of Julliard, Dr. Peter Mennin (Mennini).
Composition students at NCSA then and now are taught principally
classical composition and receive very little extensive instruction in
jazz and other genres. Following these interviews, in late June 1970, at
age 17, I accepted an invitation from Dr. Mennini to attend NCSA as his only high school classical music composition student. In fact, there were only two composition students on campus that year, me and a Canadian composer by the name of Daniel Foley, who was a college freshman in 1970. I met my match in Foley, with regards to "strange" and unusual. This fellow was a serialist, a disciple of the principles of tonality enunciated by Hauer and Schönberg, and later Webern. Composition class at NCSA reminded me of a statement by Philip Glass, who once described the School of Paris as "crazy creepy people writing crazy creepy music." In September 1971, I was privileged to become a composition student of the President, and later the first Chancellor of NCSA, Pulitzer Prize winning composer, Robert Ward with whom I studied with until April 1972.
Although still fascinated today by the potential freedom that this
compositional technique offers I am reminded of Dr. Mennini's
and Dr. Ward's advice to me to "compose from the heart, and not from
the head." I especially remember how one morning I was summoned to Dr. Ward's office to address some concerns about my class attendance and my music. During this meeting I expressed concerns and fears that my music sounded too familiar, commonplace and was wrought with simplicity. Dr. Ward asked me to hum a memorable phrase or motif by any of the aforementioned composers (Schönberg and Webern), which of course I could not. Then he asked me to hum or whistle a tune or melody by Bach, Beethoven, or even Bartok or Stravinsky. That was a simple task. Dr. Ward placed his hand on myshoulder and looked me in the eyes and stated:
"It is better to write a single simple but inspired tune that will survive the ages than to write an entire catalogue of intellectual music that is not remembered beyond the instance it is performed." I was again admonished and reminded that "music is more art than science and that composing was to be a venture nurtured by inspiration and not a scientific experiment plotted with complex schemes and formulas." These are valuable lessons thatI wish to pass on to my students someday.
On July 1, 1972 I was married to the love of my life. After marriage it was our intention to take a year off from school and then return to finish college. That didn't happen due to parenthood. Thus, my aspirations to be a composer had to be put on hold until September 2000 when I returned to school to complete my education. John Barrymore once stated: "A man is not old until his regrets take the place of dreams". I have held onto my dreams by continuing to compose and perform as well as manage a professional jazz group and several songwriters during this interim. Additionally, I began embarking on a new career as a music publisher. Now, it is also my aspiration to become an educator.
A dear friend and former classmate at NCSA, Patrick Byers, wrote to me in December of 2004. He enabled me to view my life from a different perspective. Patrick pursued his dream with all earnest. Yet, reflecting on the sad state of affairs in the realm of classical music and life in general he shared an honest and thought-provoking appraisal of his pursuit and stated:
"Confession. This year my string quartet will be played at NCSA
by faculty. In May, my piano sonata for four hands gets a premiere in Chicago to be broadcast on a Chicago public radio station. I should be feeling the peak of a composer's life. In fact, I feel a drain, a decidedlack of spirit. I'm 54, the long haul has taken a toll. Around me is the vestige of a decided decline in interest in classical music... We dreamed big dreams in our youth. Music the greatest adventure ahead. Stravinsky was alive, Bernstein inspiring a nation. Pop orchestras had orchestrators, as did MGM that required A-list musicians. Now we stand on the cultural corner with hands out begging for refined listeners, and the masses pass by with Walkman permanently positioned for the ear's abuse... This confession to you is for the gift made to me of your friendship. Should anything come of all my labors that makes you reflect regrets of what you should have done in your own life, cast them away from you. My price was too high. You placed your candle on a lamp stand, I burnt it too fast before it could be placed. You acted on faith in pure heart. I hear it in your music. It is what pleases my ear and soul listening to you both."
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