Mark Bruland’s life is all about balance -- between making music and farming, between family and work, between caring about people and taking care of animals, between working his land and creating in his studio.
This careful juggle of all that is important to him becomes manifest in the music he has created on his third album, BEEing Human.
Mark Bruland makes music similar to how he farms. He finds the seed of an idea and makes it grow. He pollinates it, prunes it, feeds it with natural nutrients, and nurtures it until it is ready for harvesting.
He utilizes a wide variety of instruments and tools to accomplish his goals.
He cares as much about the bees he raises as he does a B-chord he plays in his home studio located on his 46-acre organic farm. One of his main cash crops is apples so he calls both his farm and his record company Appley Ever After (one of his daughters came up with the name when she was seven).
After two-and-a-half-decades in the fast-lane as a food and beverage industry executive who played a little music on the side, Bruland decided what he really wanted to do was to get back to basics. “I wanted to create and market my music, and at the same time have a farm and market my own produce. It seemed like the best of all possible worlds.” So he moved from the bright lights of Southern California to the outskirts of a tiny town in southwestern Wisconsin.
Bruland creates carefully-arranged contemporary instrumental tunes ranging from catchy pop-new-age material to cinematic themes to more ambient textured pieces. The instrumentation on his three recordings -- Wisconsin Dawn, Heritage and the new BEEing Human -- includes piano, synthesizers, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, trumpet, French horn, saxophone, clarinet, flute, strings and percussion. Bruland’s music can be purchased online at a variety of web-stores and digital download sites such as CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic and many others. More information about Bruland is available at his website (www.markbruland.com).
The music on BEEing Human, as the title hints, reflects both the farm (the bees, animals and plants) and Bruland’s life with family and friends.
“Initially I started to write music inspired by my bee colony,” explains Bruland. “The bees are an integral part of the farm, not only because they produce honey, but also because they pollinate the apple orchard and our raspberry crop. But during the recording process, I shifted my emphasis to the human side of my life, not only my wife and children, but also towards my friends, especially since several of them died during this period or were diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. It makes you appreciate life, but it also makes you understand more completely that we are all part of the natural cycle here on earth.”
The recording opens with the track “BEEing Human.” “As a beekeeper, I love sticking my head down into the boxes of bees and hearing their humming which is like an electric current, and after awhile you recognize the tone of whether they are happy or fighting mad.” The next three tunes are tributes to his family -- “Suite Honey Bee” (for his wife, Nancy), “OMS Child” (for his daughter, Chloe, diagnosed in 1993 with the rare Opsoclonus-Myoclonus Syndrome) and “Eclaire” (for his daughter, Emma Claire).
Other pieces on the album are dedicated to many different people -- the French horn player who lived next door when Mark was growing up, the friend who travels and sends Mark email photos, a co-worker who lost her five-year-old daughter in a car crash, someone who came to the farm to buy pigs, his daughter’s flute teacher, a struggling-but-determined family who lives on a nearby farm -- and several friends who recently died of cancer.
“I wanted the music to serve as a memorial to these good people, and hopefully the listener will feel the passion of their lives and the way it inspired me to make these melodies.”
The majestic and forceful “Alexanders’ Grove” features trumpet and French horn, while “Eclaire” mixes piano and hollow-body electric guitar. Both “Elk and Little G” and “No Matter What” have wordless vocalizing in the background as well as chimes. Acoustic guitar is high-lighted on “An Afternoon with Steve,” “My Laughing Heart” and “Natylee’s Bench.” Other music ranges from the solo piano piece “Marking Time” to the ambient synth number “Tom Parker’s Wind Chimes.”
Bruland’s full-bodied arrangements and utilization of the sounds of so many varied instruments comes from his interest in playing several when he was young. He began picking out melodies on the piano at age three, learned to play trumpet and read trumpet music at school when he was seven, and taught himself to play acoustic guitar while he was still in grade school.
“My mother played piano and so did the high school guy who lived next door, Roger Reynolds, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Who and all the Motown acts since I lived in the Detroit area. Diana Ross lived in my neighborhood.”
When Mark was in high school, he taught his younger brother, Jeff, to play bass, and they started a rock band. “I was getting into Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills & Nash, Santana and Dave Mason.” Mark went on to study Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University where he met and married Nancy Casper, a wildlife biologist. Mark graduated with a B.S. degree in Dairy Science with his minor in Food Technology. Bruland began his professional career as a manager in a Kraft Foods plant in northern Wisconsin.
With a strong desire to continue working in the food industry while pursuing a parallel musical career, Bruland relocated to Southern California because of the career opportunities in both fields. For the next 23 years in California, Bruland says he was “on the fast track in the business world working at many different food processing plants involved with ice cream, cheese, bottled water and candy.”
But at the same time, he and his brother played music in nightclubs throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties, and also spent their free time writing and recording original songs in their own studio. “Slowly my musical tastes evolved beyond rock’n’roll to also include instrumental music from George Winston and the Windham Hill crowd, David Arkenstone, Tingstad & Rumbel; and classical composers like Aaron Copland; and film composers such as Thomas Newman, Randy Newman and James Horner.”
Finally the Brulands decided to make a lifestyle change that would allow Mark the opportunity to record solo albums and their daughters to be raised in a rural environment. So they became farmers in Wisconsin, and Mark also serves as a food and beverage consultant with companies in his region. On the farm he raises chickens, turkeys and pigs. The spring, summer and fall seasons require extensive outside work that includes organically cultivating and then harvesting asparagus, berries and apples. The down time for the farm is the cold winter stretch which Mark uses productively to work on his music.
“I like to experiment with different types of arrangements, a variety of instrumentation, and counter-melodies,” explains Bruland.
“I usually come up with a melody-line and then build layers around it. Sometimes I develop the initial ideas on acoustic piano or acoustic guitar, and I write them down until I can get into the studio and use the synthesizer to expand on the concepts. I like to do many different types of arrangements on each album because I know there are listeners out there who feel the same way I do. They don’t want to hear the same sound over and over again throughout an entire album. They want to be pleasantly-surprised from track to track as the music progresses through a range of sounds, styles, tempos and ideas.”
Bruland goes on to say, “I feel blessed to be able to pursue my two main passions -- music and farming. Farming keeps me grounded. I like to work with the livestock and the soil and the plants. But I also enjoy stretching my imagination and having a creative outlet like music. My farming gives people food and my music gives them mental pleasure -- two essential forms of nourishment.”
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