The Adapter

Scot Buzza

By Suzanne Buzek

Scot Buzza?s life is a whirlwind of music, language, travel and discovery. His love of instrumental music carried him around the world with a number of orchestras, but his love of language ultimately led him to become director of liturgical music for Xavier University.

?The one piece of my background that fits into what I do now is my love of language,? says Buzza. ?I see now in retrospect integrating that love into music. Something like choral music would be something really obvious for me because choral music is just that: language and music. I didn?t see that at 20 years old; I thought these were just two interests that would never intersect.?

If that sounds like an apparent contradiction or major direction shift, well there are plenty of both in Buzza?s life, and his ability to adapt is a big part of his story. For starters, Buzza grew up in an all-Polish community in central Wisconsin, where all communication?in churches, schools, groceries and family life?was written and spoken in Polish.

?I remember my first-grade teacher asking me if we spoke Polish or English at home. I answered ?English,? which was not the case,? he recalls. ?But at that age, I didn?t distinguish between the two languages, it was just a big pot that kept getting stirred?even eighth-grade English class was taught in Polish. Back then it was an isolated sort of thing; it?s all different now.?

Buzza began his ?Americanization? in high school, but it was brief?he completed his credits in two years. He then attended the University of Wisconsin for a short time before shifting direction again, transferring to the University of Cincinnati?s College Conservatory of Music. Shortly thereafter, he took his first professional orchestral job as the appointed principal violist in the Tokyo Philharmonic in Japan. Abroad he went.

After three years in the Tokyo Philharmonic, Buzza was appointed to soloist-principal violist of the Chamber Orchestra of Barcelona, Spain. His international travels expanded his ability to adapt to different lifestyles and styles of performing.

?In the performing arts, being foreign isn?t a liability,? he says. ?When we?re performing Brahms, we?re performing in the 19th-century German style. It doesn?t matter whether I?m Japanese or American or Polish. My American-ness is irrelevant.?

Upon returning to the United States, Buzza studied Slavic languages at Yale University and desired to return to Barcelona?which he still calls home?but instead came to Cincinnati to be close to his family. He joined the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and soon took on a second job, playing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It was then that Buzza?s musical interests started to shift.

?I remember sitting in orchestra rehearsal downtown thinking, ?20 minutes, then I can spend time with my choral scores,?? he says. ?That was a red flag, a sign that something inside of me was changing.?

Buzza?s newfound passion for choral music combined with his keen sense of adaptability provided a channel to create a score for "Nisi Dominus, Psalm 127," composed by eighteenth-century Venetian composer Baldassare Galuppi. Buzza spent countless hours digging in electronic catalogs and adapted a score from a once-indecipherable manuscript. The piece was performed for the first time in the United States during evening vespers this past March.

?When I first discovered the piece I didn?t set out to do all of this stuff, it?s just that at each step along the way, I wondered, ?What if??? Buzza recalls. ?I sat down and created this score and wondered what it would be like to perform this, and ended up doing the first and only American performance of it ever, with the second ensemble to perform this piece in modern times.?

Buzza came to Xavier in 2001 and currently works with the  Schola Cantorum, Harmonia Sacra Xavierana, and the 10 p.m. Mass Choir. He's even begun to put down some roots; several years ago he got his first dog. "I can't believe I waited this long to get a dog. They really are family members, not just animals," he says.

But staying in one place for eight years should not be taken as an indication that the whirlwind is losing momentum. He?s off again this May to teach and conduct?by invitation?for five weeks in Salzburg, Austria, at the prestigious Salzburg Mozarteum.