photo of Brendan Slocumb

“I just want people to look at people—really see them—not just their outward appearance. Look at me. You could say I don’t look like a person who plays the violin. You could just see me as a scary black man with tattoos.”

Brendan Slocumb (’94 Music Education) says that’s one of the reasons he writes, and why one of the main characters in his new novel is a neurodivergent woman.  

“Everyone has a story. I want people to look beyond the physical characteristics of people.”

Slocumb spoke to a packed house at Footnotes Bookstore in Winston-Salem on April 18th, greeting fans with smiles and “thumbs up.”  It was the national launch event for his second book, Symphony of Secrets, which has been described as a gripping page-turner. 

In the book, music professor Bern Hendricks discovers a shocking secret about the most famous American composer of all time—his music may have been stolen from a Black Jazz Age prodigy named Josephine Reed. Determined to uncover the truth that a powerful organization wants to keep hidden, Bern will stop at nothing to right history’s wrongs and give Josephine the recognition she deserves.

A New York Times review praises the novel, and the genre Slocumb is developing: 

“Brendan Slocumb’s first novel, The Violin Conspiracy, displayed his deftness at crafting character-driven stories featuring amateur sleuths with a deep reverence for music history — and everything to lose. With his pitch-perfect follow-up, Symphony of Secrets, he firmly establishes himself as a maestro of musical mystery.” 

Slocumb grew up in Fayetteville, NC and started playing the violin at age nine, thanks to an elementary school music program. He graduated from UNCG with a degree in Music Education, with concentrations in Violin and Viola. He spoke on campus last spring during the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival.

“I’m the product of public school education. Music is a life-saving force. It took me to college, and it took me around the world. I have so many opportunities that I owe to this place (School of Music). I have “thank you” tattooed on my forearm because I have so much gratitude for the people and places who have helped me get where I am today.”

Slocumb says Winston-Salem, where the book launch was held, is a special place, too. His first teaching job was at North Forsyth County High School. Several “Vikings” were in the audience for the talk, including former band students, who cheered wildly when Slocumb took his violin out of its case to play a brief musical interlude during the Q&A with musicologist Kate Storhoff.

Storhoff asked Slocumb how he was able to bring fictional musicologist Bern Hendricks so perfectly to the page:

“It was that stellar education I got at UNC Greensboro,” said Slocumb with a quick smile. 

After the moderated conversation, attendees lined up to have the author sign their books and take selfies with them. Again, there was that Slocumb smile and his signature “thumbs up”.

Symphony of Secrets is published by Penguin Random House. Read more here.

Learn more about the Music Education degree at UNCG.

Story by Terri W. Relos