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New Faculty Focus: Brandon Quarles

September 8, 2020

Brandon Quarles

Brandon Quarles: Associate lecturer of classical saxophone, Mead Witter School of Music

Hometown: I grew up in Ringgold, Georgia, which is just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Educational/professional background: I’m currently ABD (All But Dissertation) in pursuit of the Doctor of Musical Arts degree with a Cognate in Music Theory at Northwestern University, where I also completed my Master of Music degree. I completed my Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia (the town that gave us the B-52’s, R.E.M., and many other amazing artists). All of my degrees are in saxophone performance and I was fortunate to study with Taimur Sullivan, Connie Frigo, and Clint Schmitt.

Previous position: Graduate Assistant and Instructor at Northwestern University

How did you get into your field of research? I have been playing music and performing for as long as I can remember. I started by singing and doing musical theater before taking up the saxophone in the 6th grade. I taught myself how to play guitar and keyboards as well, and played in many local bands while growing up. My adolescent obsession with both Charlie Parker and the Beatles led me to pursue music with an adventurous and experimental spirit.

What attracted you to UW–Madison? UW-Madison is one of the most respected universities not only in this country, but also around the world. Its spirit of innovation and forward-thinking was extremely attractive to me. Being surrounded by colleagues who are at the top of their fields is incredibly inspiring.

What was your first visit to campus like? I’ll never forget the lunch I shared with a colleague on the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. The beauty of both the campus and the city of Madison was stunning and everything just felt right.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? It is my goal to help each of my students find who they are as artists and to discover their unique voices in the musical world. I hope that through the rigorous study of their instrument, they will be able to transcend the technique in order to make a deep and genuine connection with their audience. Music is about connecting with others.

Is there a way your field of study can help the world endure and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the health, finances and lifestyle of so many? Humans have always expressed themselves through music and this pandemic has shown us just how crucial music and the arts are to us. Music serves as a refuge in the storm and a catalyst for positive change in our society.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? Music connects us to each other in deep and meaningful ways. It is for everyone and everyone can make it. Music touches every aspect of our lives and has the ability to transcend and break down the barriers that exist between us. I love that the Wisconsin Idea guides our university’s drive to connect with people beyond the borders of our campus.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter during video chats (and eventually parties)?

Paul McCartney wrote the music to the song “Yesterday” after hearing it in a dream. With the melody in his head, he arose and went to the piano to work out the harmony. As he often did, he wrote “dummy lyrics” to occupy the space where the final words would eventually go. The dummy lyrics for “Yesterday” began: “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs…” Convinced that he had not actually composed the song and was merely remembering a song from his childhood, McCartney played it to many friends and colleagues to see if they recognized it. When no one did, McCartney finally accepted that he had composed the tune. “Yesterday” is often cited as the most covered song in history with over 3,000 recorded versions. Pretty good for a song that started off as “Scrambled Eggs.”

Hobbies/other interests:  In addition to my work as a saxophonist, I am also a singer and songwriter. My love of the Beatles led me to designing and creating a class on the music and history of the band which I taught during my time at Northwestern. I collect vinyl records and enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction (particularly in the subjects of history and culture). I love to travel with my saxophone quartet, ~Nois, and I make sure that I stop in at a vegan ice cream shop in every city.