Composer Bimstein to Vie for State House Seat



Phillip Bimstein

Phillip Bimstein, composer, environmentalist, AMC board member, and former two-term mayor of Springdale, Utah, is running for a seat in the Utah House of Representatives.

After talking with the man Parade magazine profiled as “The Man Who Brought Civility Back to Town,” it’s not hard to understand how Bimstein balances what are at first glance very different worlds. “I think I approach both politics and music in a similar way,” he says. “There are a bunch of ideas out there in the community, there are diverse people and beliefs and somehow you all have to figure out a way to work together as a community. I’m intrigued by that process, just as I am by the process of music.”

And it’s not just talk. His skills at building community consensus quelled the political turmoil in Springdale when he was first elected mayor in 1993. He will need to draw on those skills again as he faces off against a Republican candidate for a seat in the predominantly Republican district.

Bimstein is quick to admit that it’s a very big challenge, perhaps insurmountable, and he wasn’t even intending to run for a third term as mayor, let alone vie for the State House. Still, he’s willing to make a try for it to keep his political ideals alive in the community dialogue. “I thought I’d just get to be a composer and a musician again. But I got asked, and of course that doesn’t mean that I can’t say no, but I would love to make a difference.”

Inspired by the writing of Vaclav Havel, Bimstein encourages composers and musicians to become involved in the political scene. “It would be great if other composers and musicians ran for office and thought of themselves as having the skills to do it. It’s not just lawyers and real estate salesman who are good at it,” he assures. On the contrary, fundamentally it draws on all the skills of ensemble performance. “It’s a skill for collaboration, the experience of working together with other musicians, particularly when you’re performing. When somebody else is soloing you need to be respectful and be aware of what’s going on in the group, and when it’s your turn to solo, even if you want to go in a radically different direction from the way the piece has gone so far it helps if you know where you’re coming from. For that, you’re listening to your community.”

There’s a useful analogy there, even for the non-musician. “I think that people on any level, elected officials or citizens, would benefit if they approached the process of the community dialog with some sense of that. Whether it’s a musical idea or a political idea, I’m fascinated by the processes of communicating–how one finds a way to put it all together in a kind of ongoing collaboration which is what any kind of politics is.”

Bimstein takes the parallel even one step further. “As composers and musicians, we understand the use of dissonance, we understand counterpoint, we understand the fact that many different kinds of voices can be blended together, and we understand the way pieces can stop and start and change. It also helps to approach politics that way. Sometimes you can see that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an argument where people are at each other’s throats. It might be more of a contrapuntal relationship.”

Interpreting it that way, politics almost starts to sound wholesome. “Politics is a dirty word for some people,” Bimstein acknowledges, “but I think ultimately it can be a noble thing. It’s the way in which we make decisions, and I think it works pretty well most of the time. For it to work well politicians are employing these sorts of things on some level.”

Just as Bimstein links his musical knowledge to his political career, he now brings his political experiences to the music, albeit abstractly. “Using found sounds or using the things that I find in my environment to create something out of is actually kind of the same whether it’s politics or music, so there’s a similar process that goes on. There is a similarity in listening to the environment, listening to people, and what the issues are.”

Perhaps because of the inspiration he finds in his environment, Bimstein has long been one of its political champions. He works to help people understand the relationship between their environment, their quality of life, and their economy so they can see that preserving these things will not be a detriment to their lifestyle. “Over the course of time if it’s articulated, maybe more people will begin to see that,” he hopes.

Ultimately, Bimstein views his political career in much the same light as he sees his musical one. “When I was asked to run [for mayor] in ’93, I already had my composing life and I thought these would be in conflict. Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, think of your composing life. It’s really a creative life and it’s a communicative life, so just raise the umbrella on that to be above both the political life and the composing life. Then you don’t have to see them as being in opposition.’ And that truly is the way I see being involved in this race now. It is sort of formulating and putting things together in a way that communicates. They’re really kind of part and parcel of the same thing when I look at them that way.”

No matter how well he communicates, however, his upcoming race may be just too tough to win. To illustrate the kind of attitudes he’s up against, Bimstein points to places like Virgin, one of the towns in his district, which passed a resolution mandating that everyone in town own a gun and keep ammunition for it. One of the men he may face in the race voted against officially observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the state of Utah.

Still, win or lose, Bimstein sees the process as an opportunity. “It will give me the chance to try and articulate why environmentalism is actually good for them and for our economy in southern Utah. It may at least plant some seeds for the future for those ideas. I think everyone will benefit. So yes, I think that win or lose, there’s a lot of value that could come from the campaign.”