Local resident wins national music honor

Courtesy photo Former Portales and Clovis resident B.J. Brooks recently won a national competition for his musical composition to accompany a song called “Thou Art the Light.”

By Janet Bresenham: Freedom New Mexico

When B.J. Brooks was a little boy in Portales, he often spent weekends 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, 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 he composed for pipe organ and a four-part choir that 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 be premiered 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. 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.”

In high school, Brooks credits his band director and arranger, the late Pat Henry, with teaching him about composing large ensemble pieces.