Brian Belet: 2017 President’s Scholar

By Julia Halprin Jackson

“Composing is making decisions. There’s no global right or wrong. That is what art is about.”

Photo: David Schmitz

Photo: David Schmitz

A string ensemble is on stage and a violinist has her bow poised mid-air, listening to a computer perched to her left. They appear in musical conversation, reacting to each other. Welcome to the world of Brian Belet, accomplished composer and SJSU professor of music.

“Composing is making decisions,” Belet says. “How do I start? What’s measure one going to be? It’s all context. There’s no global right or wrong. That is what art is about.”

The 2017 President’s Scholar sees music as a vehicle for teaching critical thinking. Though he grew up playing piano, guitar, bass, violin and viola, his focus is composition. As part of his process, Belet writes programs that allow computers to react in real time to music being played on stage.

“I’m interested in trying to do something that I don’t currently know how to do,” he says. “I have no interest in writing music I already know how to write. I challenge accepted norms of what music is, and therefore I am confident challenging what I read in the newspaper and challenging what my leaders say. The arts are not just about entertaining, but about pushing boundaries and encouraging others to do the same.”

Belet has taught at San Jose State since 1994. In addition to teaching and performing, he has published papers on music theory, composition and aesthetics. For more than 20 years he has composed original works for performers and ensembles around the world.

When people ask Belet how long it takes to write a piece, he answers: “all my life. One piece is an outgrowth of other pieces, and they are all stepping stones. I’ve had a lot of fun working with really good performers for many years. It’s been a good run.”

The President’s Scholar Award recognizes a faculty member who has achieved widespread recognition based on the quality of scholarship, performance or creative activities. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts. He will be honored at the 18th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 9, 2017. Tickets are available for purchase.


Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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