When the International Saxophone Symposium is conducted Jan. 6 and 7 at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va., a piece composed by Booneville High School band director Brian Rhodes will be one of the pieces making its world premier.
“The saxophone professor at UAFS, Dr. Christopher Barrick, commissioned me to write him a saxophone and piano work,” said Rhodes. “It needed to be five minutes long and be on a professional level, difficult.”
“All I can say about it is, it is not easy. After I wrote it, and started playing it, it turned out pretty tough,” said Rhodes.
An accomplished pianist, Rhodes can also play the piano portion of the music.
Rhodes had to have the piece completed by Oct. 1.
The piece, entitled Thermosphere, will be played for the first time in public by Barrick with pianist Dr. John Krebs, an instructor at Hendrix College in Conway.
“I have a minor in composition so that’s why I can do stuff like this. Saxophone was my main thing but I did a lot of writing, I still do a lot of writing,” said Rhodes. “I started writing band works in like ‘97, ‘98. I started writing jazz band music in the early 2000s. I’ve been writing chamber works like this, for smaller groups, since the 90s.
“I wrote a brass quintet that’s on the Texas required music on the UIL prescribed performance list.”
There are several other, eight or nine, concert band pieces available for Arkansas band performances authored by Rhodes.
“It’s usually out of necessity. I’ll need a piece so I’ll just write it,” said Rhodes.
Although he wanted to attend the symposium, which is sponsored by the U.S. Navy Band, unfortunately, Rhodes said he will not be able to do so. He will have an opportunity to hear the piece on Jan. 31 when it makes it Arkansas debut at at UAFS faculty recital at the Blue Lion in Fort Smith.
“After he does the Arkansas premier, I’ll make it available to any saxophonist who wants to perform it,” said Rhodes. “I’ve already had several of my saxophone friends ask me about it.”
That is not surprising. Rhodes is well known across the country.
A band director in Paris, Texas for nine years before coming to Booneville, Rhodes came to Booneville because, as a Rison native, he wanted to get back to his home state.
After graduating from Smackover, Rhodes took his sax to the University of Central Arkansas, and on to McNeese State in Lake Charles, La.
While at McNeese Rhodes was called upon to back up Wayne Newton.
“When I was at Paris, I had a friend at Shreveport and if they needed a saxophonist to come in (to Horseshoe Casino Theater) he’d give me a call. I played with (Newton), I played with the Temptations. I played with the Four Tops,” said Rhodes. “Usually the saxophone and one other instrument, like flute or clarinet.”
Rhodes was also the lead alto saxophonist for the Texarkana Jazz Orchestra for nine years.
“I’ve played a lot,” said Rhodes.
He was a band director at Smackover before venturing out to Texas.
Since arriving in Booneville five years ago, Rhodes, who along with his wife Angela, a flutist who attended Southern Arkansas and Texas A&M Commerce, leads the BHS marching and concert bands — Brittany Tucker leads the flag line. He has also started a jazz band.
“We play at all the concerts. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Rhodes. “I’ve been a jazz player all my life.”
Rhodes is also the music director at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Booneville.