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Memorial Nico Brandsen (7 August 1960 – 10 January 2024)


Birds of a feather flock together, put two fanatics together and you have a tied bond.


In 2004, from day one, Nico and I appreciated each other's temperament, the drive and accelerating emotions, the need to see results from our intense involvements, the love for and fascination with music education, the how, what, where, why of students we took under our wings; we were never lost for words when together.


In 2004, here we were, totally new at this pop education thing under Jack’s vision. “Hey Jack, thanks for the invite but what and how?” Both of us were unsure of our place in this greater scheme of things. So, what did we do? We just dived in headfirst, getting our feet wet and our hands dirty, muddling with the Amack. We liked exchanging our experiences, finding our way in this exciting new adventure.


All in all, there was a general fighting spirit, we were the pioneers of pop education covering new grounds. And we felt the need to protect what we built. I remember a final exam in the early days in the Melkweg or Paradiso where we, the exam comitee, were backstage discussing the presentations. One of the band members, who hadn’t been to our school, kept coming in and interfered, nagged and provoked us. At some point Nico had enough, jumped up and ran out the door after this guy, then Jack jumped up and ran after Nico. Someone in the corridor shouted “ze gaan vechten!” (they’re going to fight). To this day I’m not sure if Jack wanted to protect Nico, protect the guy or wanted to join the supposed brawl. Don’t worry, no person was harmed that night, but if Nico felt an injustice needed to be set straight, when enough is enough, he would not hesitate.

Within a few minutes both men came back, totally calm Nico said: “Dat moest even gebeuren” (that needed to be done) and proceeded analyzing the exam. That’s how protective and fierce he was.


I remember him coming to me in some kind of despair, because he mentored a student who hadn’t shown him any songs and had a final exam coming up in a few months. I calmed him down because I had heard at least ten songs in my lyric lab class. You should have seen his happy face the next week when he had heard her songs, ready for take-off. He was truly delighted with a student’s progress. That’s how invested he was.


Not being a musician at a conservatory can be pretty daunting, challenging to say the least, and it is through Nico’s unjudgmental acceptance and appreciation of me that I felt more at ease in this musician’s world; he never talked musical lingo with me. That’s how sensitive he was to my situation.

During teachers’ meetings, he asked about every student “And what’s your experience, how goes in your class, Blanka?” That’s how interested he was, taking my observations and opinions serious.

And he shared his professional world, connecting me to Angela Groothuizen for a podcast on musical contests during my masters, and when receiving an email asking about that ‘chick with the lyric lessons’ looking for lyrical input, he forwarded it to me, quickly making clear that ‘chick’ wasn’t his word, just in case it would bother me. That’s how generous he was.


The last few years we hardly saw each other until we bumped into each other here at the Q-factory where he had found his own workspace. And I’m so happy now knowing that I always noticed him and always took the time to sit down and discuss life, love and the consequences of our daily choices, and what not. We had a genuine interest for each other’s well-being. It’s crazy in hindsight to realize I talked to him not knowing that would be the last conversation we would have.

And here’s the thing, here’s my little analyses trying to understand why he disappeared the way he did. Nico was a very proud man, who loved to shine, to be the best he could be. And he wouldn’t have liked being pitied. If he had to choose between pity and admiration he definitively would choose admiration above all. If he couldn’t be the best he wouldn’t want to be part of it. I believe he wanted to be remembered in his shine, not being seen in his defeat.


In this context there’s one more heroic story left for me to share.

You might not know this, but Nico was officially a walking medical miracle. It reads like a manual on how to overcome tragedy.

Once after his last lesson in the late afternoon and before a band presentation in the early evening, Nico drove his scooter full speed home to get a quick dinner. It’s then and there that he passed kids playing on the street, and their ball rolled under his wheel, and he fell on both his hands breaking his fall and breaking his wrists.

Imagine the horror! The doctors told him he should be lucky if he would recover 75% of his manual abilities. But they didn’t know Nico, did they. Even when both hands were fully plastered, leaving only the tiny bit of fingertips free, he would move and move and move whatever minimal movement was possible. That’s how tough he was.

After the plaster was off, he showed the medical world the definition of ‘drive’. They thought it might become 79% recovery, then 86%, than 94% as he practiced and practiced. They simple couldn’t believe the result.

If you really want to play, and play well, ‘dedication’ is an understatement.

When we spoke about it he told me, “Ja, gaat goed, ik kan alles weer spelen…maar mijn handen vliegen nog niet over de toetsen… Yeah, I can play everything again, but not yet flying my hands over the keys. Ik ben er bijna, het komt wel… I’m almost there, it will come.” That’s how confident he was.


And that’s how I want to remember him, flying his hands over the keys…like some magician.

Whenever I watched him play he had that fascinating ability to hold still. Like all great film actors show us everything by seemingly doing nothing, he would hold his hands still above the keys, like a praying bird of prey, with the concentration of a hunter, the ability to wait…creating the supreme silence from which music manifests. Music that at that point only exists in the imagination of the beholder.


Timing is everything. And that is how I want to honor him today, with the most beautiful Dutch poem on time. Nico loved the Dutch language, so I think the poem Ebb by M. Vasalis is most suitable.


Imagine him behind the keys, waiting, his hands ready, willing, and able to fly over those keys…

Ik trek mij terug en wacht.
Dit is de tijd die niet verloren gaat:
iedre minuut zet zich in toekomst om.
Ik ben een oceaan van wachten,
waterdun omhuld door 't ogenblik.
Zuigende eb van het gemoed,
dat de minuten trekt en dat de vloed
diep in zijn duisternis bereidt.
Er is geen tijd. Of is er niets dan tijd?

Vaarwel Nico, ik zal je erg missen. Dank voor je geweldige collegialiteit en vriendschap.




I retreat and wait.

This is the time that is not lost:

Every minute turns into future.

I am an ocean of waiting,

water thinly coated by the moment.

Sucking ebb of the mind,

that draws the minutes and the flood

Deep in its darkness prepares.

There is no time. Or is there nothing but time?

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