Laurier graduate Kyle Brenders (BMus ’05) was appointed program manager for performing arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in November 2016. A composer and multi-instrumentalist who plays tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and clarinet, Brenders had been a central figure in Toronto’s improvisational music scene. Along with his wife, Jess, and two sons, Felix and Bram, he left the city behind for a new life out west.
What duties does the job of program manager for performing arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity involve?
I manage the classical music, theatre, opera and dance programs offered by the Banff Centre. This entails working closely with artistic directors in each discipline to design and implement multiple arts programs. The artistic directors come from all over the world and I’m the connection that they have to the centre. I’m here to help translate their vision to the various departments here that will make the programs happen. I work closely with the marketing and recruitment departments to reach prospective artists who will attend these programs.
What made you want to make the move to Banff?
The Banff Centre has a very special place in the artistic world. People who attend programs here tend to have transformative artistic experiences. I wanted to be able to support artists in their exploration. On top of that I get to live in one of the world’s most beautiful natural environments.
How would you describe the music you write and create?
This is always a tough question. It’s easiest to say “experimental music” or “creative music,” experimental with the intention that some of what I write is unknown. There’s always a part of the music that’s designed to allow for a surprise (sometimes it’s a good surprise and sometimes it’s not, but that’s part of the music). Creative music means music that is trying to create something new (not re-creative, which is music designed to sound like something that came before). Or you could call it jazz, but I think that’s a little reductive.
Much of your work in music is focused on improvisation. Why do you think you are so strongly drawn to improvisation?
The unknown, the surprise. That’s what I love. It’s what excites me about hearing a great performer or being involved in a great performance. The openness and collaboration that improvised music fosters is also a driving force in my creative life.
What first inspired you to want to pursue music and arts as a career?
It really came from the first time I felt like I was creating something in the moment. Taking a solo in jazz band in high school was foundational. It helped to have a teacher who encouraged my curiosity.
Who are some of the musicians you have been most influenced by?
Another difficult question. If I needed to narrow it down, it’s my teachers: Anthony Braxton, Alvin Lucier, Peter Hatch, David Mott, Ab Baars and Evan Parker. There are many more that have influenced me, but these are the ones I’ve been influenced by and then had the opportunity to study with.
Prior to moving to Alberta, you lived and played music in Toronto. What are the most important things you learned about your music and yourself living in the city?
It’s one thing to establish yourself as a musician in the city and continue to foster your role in the city. It’s another to carve out a place that allows you to continually create and explore new work. I have always wanted my music to change and progress and I was able to find a group of musicians in Toronto that I worked with that shared similar interests.
While living in Toronto, you released a recording called Toronto Duets with Anthony Braxton. How was the idea for that album born?
Anthony was one of my teachers during my master’s at Welseyan. He has a history of creating recordings with his students and he and I talked often about finding the right project to record together. I had worked with a group of musicians in Toronto to bring up Anthony and play his music at the Guelph Jazz Festival. On the same weekend that Anthony was here for that festival he and I went into a studio and recorded our record.
You are a former president of the Canadian New Music Network. What is the role of the network and how do you define “new music?”
The network is a National Arts Service Organization that was established to advocate on behalf of its membership to raise awareness of “new music” across Canada and internationally. New music is a tricky one to define. For me, it’s music that crosses stylistic boundaries and explores a style in a unique and creative way. The network represents everyone from independent noise musicians to the Toronto Symphony and everything in between. It’s a wide-reaching and inclusive group.
What was it about Laurier’s music program that appealed to you and how would you describe your time studying at Laurier?
The Improvisation Concerts Ensemble is what really brought me to Laurier. I wanted to be involved in music that was created in the moment and was outside of jazz. Having that opportunity to explore that world of music really was foundational. Laurier places emphasis on creating new work and fosters a sense of curiosity among its students. I was able to connect through the program to musicians who I still continue to work with in lots of different settings.
When it comes to making music, what’s next for Kyle Brenders?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. The move to Banff has really uprooted my own musical practice and I’m spending most of my time figuring out my place at the centre. I know I’ll continue working on my own music but in what form I’m not sure. I do have a saxophone under my desk and I occasionally bring it out to practice or to play with musicians who are in residence at the centre. I’ve reached a point in my musical path where things are open and where I’ll go next I’m not sure.