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Maestro James Brooks Bruzzese: Once Upon a Music Note

By Vanessa Padilla

“We must continue to enrich our youngest generations with the healing and uplifting influence of music.”

Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese began his conducting career nearly 50 years ago, and is celebrating a 29-year legacy along with the Symphony of the Americas this season as the Founder and Artistic Director for programs that reach around the world and bring pride to Ft. Lauderdale, as it expands its own international reputation. His talent and dedication have raised Florida’s prominence as a true cultural center for music and artistry. Major music capitals of the world from Budapest to Johannesburg have hailed the Maestro for his “inspiring, ingenious, and electrifying” musical artistry. The Symphony, a Broward County designated Major Cultural Institution, is based at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

When asked about his most important contributions to Broward’s cultural climate, the Maestro immediately mentions his work with children, not only in South Florida, but around the world. “We have to care about our children. They are the next world leaders, and without music in their life, there is no balance. They need an outlet to express themselves, and even if they only use their musical exposure and education to become good listeners, they will have a much better ability to meet life’s challenges and become good leaders.”

His educational commitment brings the greatest of guest artists and mentors the smallest of students throughout Florida and the Americas, bringing classical music to life by introducing masterworks in ways that are familiar and accessible. He inspires young students and life-long learners alike, taking care to especially reach those at risk. He is the first Hispanic who has consistently over the past eight years brought music education programs from the US to children in Latin America. In regards to his commitment to bringing musical education to our communities he believes that a city without music is like a human being without a soul.

Brooks-Bruzzese was born in a bilingual home in Panama to a Colombian mother and American father in the US Armed Forces. His most vivid memories of the early years that spurred him to follow music, was leading his own dance band group – playing piano and trumpet in high school. When asked how he feels today about his choice of career, he responds, “it was absolutely right! Life is so interesting with conducting in over 50 countries – the best part is learning about a myriad of cultures, customs and food!”

He arrived in South Florida in the early 1970’s, teaching in area schools and universities, where he created student orchestras and won national awards. For the past 40 years, he has been an icon in South Florida’s arts scene, shaping the cultural identity of the community. His contribution to South Florida’s professional music landscape includes the creation of the Florida Music Festival, founding Sinfonia Virtuosi and chorus, evolving into Symphony of the Americas. In 2005, he was honored at Washington’s Kennedy Center with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s award for the Arts in recognition of his lifelong work.

If he had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, he replied “Starvation. If everyone could eat, it would be a basic start to solving so many problems, helping to eliminate crime, jealousy.” On a positive note, he shares that the difference of growing up today and states, “The influence in the vast changes made in communications and medicine. Yet what has stayed constant is the enrichment and power of music to all around the world.”