Frank Felice, Butler University

Q&A with Frank Felice, Music Prof and Classical Composer

By Katie Grieze

Last year, Butler University Associate Professor of Music Frank Felice decided it was time he put together a new CD. The composer had written several songs for both string instruments and voice, accumulating a diverse array of one-off chamber music pieces. After writing just a few more new compositions, the CD’s track list was ready to go.

By the summer, Felice had teamed up with local musicians to make recordings for each of the songs. By the fall, he was working on post-production. The finished album, Reflections and Whimsies: Chamber Music for Strings and Voice, hit the market in February 2020.

We all know what happened next. The COVID-19 pandemic struck two weeks later, closing event stages and delaying shipments all across the nation. Like many others in the music world, Felice had to cancel performances and just stay home. Still, he’s finding ways to move on to new projects and stay creative in a difficult year.

We touched base with Felice to learn more about his recent album, his experience as a musician during COVID-19, and why he became a composer in the first place.

How does this CD compare to your previous work?
This is actually a good representative slice of my music. It’s eclectic: everything from something that’s humorous or tongue in cheek and might be a little theatrical or bizarre, up to something very straightforward. Some of the music on here is sacred, and some of it is very secular. Some of it is something you could very easily hear on an elevator, and some of it will make you go, “What did I just listen to? That sounded like a weird acid jazz piece from a 1950s nightclub.”

How did you decide which musicians would perform the recordings of these compositions?
One of the pieces I wrote for my wife, so I wanted to have her sing it. A couple other pieces are also performed by the people I originally wrote them for, like one for Butler’s own David Murray. The other musicians were people I knew and admired. For example, I was very happy to get The Indianapolis Quartet on this disc.

How did COVID-19 affect the release of your CD?
Everything just stopped. People could still stream the music through platforms like Spotify, but the physical disc was difficult to purchase for a while due to COVID-related delays. Now, it’s sold out on Amazon, and they won’t get new ones in very quickly just because of COVID. There were also five or six performances of these pieces that had to be canceled. That’s just been the story for classical musicians during the pandemic.

Do you have any alternative plans moving forward?
I haven’t made new plans for the album myself, but I’ve had a few people request to perform the music virtually.

I’ve been at kind of a loss since COVID happened. So much of what I like about this kind of classical music is the interaction and socialization, where you can make music with friends and colleagues and for an audience. That has been very tough to lose. I’ve been playing some jazz on back porches, but that will go away soon with the weather changing.

So, I’ve been moving to a couple different projects. One of those is electronic-based, where I can do a recording and put that out virtually. I’ve also done some research in recent months about possibly writing some brass quintets, or doing a really ultra-difficult virtuosic piano solo. In some ways, I’ve just been nesting in my studio, saying, “Alright, I have to make music for me and just put it out.” I can’t rely on going and doing this with a group, or for a particular audience.

You mentioned you prefer working with smaller groups of musicians. Why?
I love the intimacy of it. I love the fact that you can put four singers together and perform that in a recital hall, but you can also do that in someone’s living room. That collaborative intimacy is a marvelous thing. And as a composer, I can really get to know the performers I’m working with. That’s tougher to do with a large ensemble or a symphony.

Why did you first get involved with composing?
I first started composing in high school for the rock band I was part of. While we loved getting together and playing music we all knew and loved, we also liked just sitting and playing. Pretty soon, we started coming up with new melodies and lyrics, and then putting them all together. That process became really quite fun.

When I went off to college, I was attracted to classical music through soundtracks by composers like John Williams. In music classes, I found myself loving the interaction of how music is all put together. During my practice times, I grew to like writing music as much as I liked practicing my instrument.

I love to create. I love to cook, write poetry, and paint. Tomorrow when I rake my leaves, I’ll probably make shapes instead of going in straight lines. I think all humans have that creativity in us to one extent or another, and I think I just got a double dose.

Q&A with Frank Felice, Music Prof and Classical Composer

After releasing a new CD two weeks before pandemic shutdowns hit Indiana, Felice is finding new ways to stay creative