Fremont Bridge Artist-in-Residence Application
LETTER of INTEREST
My name is Stephen O’Bent and I am a composer, conductor, professor, and performer of a wide range of musical styles. My experience creating community-driven music experiences makes me ideally situated to celebrate the Fremont Bridge’s 101st year. For the purposes of this residency, I’d like to focus on three musical styles: brass band, singer-songwriter, and choral. For each style, I will produce a concert inspired by the Fremont Bridge, its history, and its surrounding communities.
In 2016, I co-founded the Give Back Brass Band, a public service-driven ensemble that provides music for underserved populations in the Seattle area. With GB3, I have composed and performed music influenced by New Orleans second lines, big band swing, and socially-conscious hip-hop. I would love to bring this energy to the Fremont Bridge - our fast-paced style mimics the mingling of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers across the bridge, with the occasional interlude when a ship causes the bascule bridge to go up.
As a Seattle-raised songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, I would love the chance to observe and compose in the Northwest Tower. I’ve crossed the bridge countless times via every mode of transport and in every kind of weather. I’ve seen the transformation of communities around Fremont and am intimately connected with its past, present, and future. I will collaborate with other Seattle songwriters to curate a locally-sourced, bridge-inspired concert.
Lastly, as a choral conductor and composer, I have the distinct ability to gather large numbers of performers to harmonize around the bridge. In 2017, I organized a five-choir performance of the Fauré Requiem to celebrate a Bellevue church’s new sanctuary, conducting 120+ singers and a 60-piece orchestra. I am well-connected in the Seattle choral scene and I know many people who would be eager to participate in a performance celebrating one of our city’s most iconic structures.
1. "You Are Enough" (Give Back Brass Band)
When I co-founded the Give Back Brass Band in 2016 with a group of fellow music educators and professionals, our goal was twofold: to create exciting, high-energy music and to use that music to uplift people with limited access to the arts. In the past two years, we have performed and given workshops for homeless shelters, food banks, community festivals, retirement homes, and a youth prison. A common theme I’ve observed, both within these communities and within the band membership, is a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. Whether it takes the form of imposter syndrome, creative anxiety, or a shortage of self-love, the struggle to fully accept one’s self seems to be a universal human experience. I composed “You Are Enough” as a musical rebuttal, an affirmation of the inherent value of all people regardless of life circumstance. “You are loved / you belong / and you are enough” has become something of a mantra, a message we share within the band and amplify to the broader world.
2. "End of the Line"
“End of the Line” came out of a collaboration with two brilliant creators: Bellingham-based poet Ellie Rogers and Fremont-based arborist Shannon O’Bent (full disclosure: the latter is my songwriting partner and wife). Ellie crafted a sonnet exploring the liminal space at the end of a relationship, setting a parallel between the literal and figurative heart (“Could you turn back like blood that’s found / the end of the vein, end of the line / back to the heart, home to be mine?”). Shannon and I sought the music in Ellie’s words, starting with a heartbeat-inspired body percussion motif. Moved by the intimate group sound of the UW Choral Cohort (the ensemble of choral-conducting graduate students), we expanded the original two-part harmonies to create a hybrid pop-choral texture. The recital performance can be seen here: https://youtu.be/MBNookaMGK4, but I prefer the first memorized rehearsal, spontaneously sung outside on the UW quad on an unexpectedly warm March afternoon.
3. "America" (Paul Simon arrangement)
Sometimes art asks more questions than it attempts to answer. I wrote this choral arrangement of Paul Simon’s 1968 song for the conclusion of my graduate conducting recital. Scored for strings, piano, drums, and choir, it preserves the wistfulness of the original song, a complex amalgam of equal parts heartache and optimism. Simon’s lyrics speak to the duality of the American experience, of great hope paired with great failure, of infinite potential meeting a vast aimlessness. The young singers here give voice to those feelings, ending the concert in a state of unresolvedness. As the choir reaches the final chorus, they leave the stage, declaring that they’ve “all gone to look for America”.