Hello all you avid readers! I hope the four or five of you are doing just swell. So here is the much-anticipated recap of my weekend at VMEA. WOO!
For starters, the drive down to Norfolk was absolutely gorgeous. Never hit bad traffic, couldn’t have asked for better weather, and I put together a pretty epic road trip playlist on my iPod, so all was well. Also, I have to say I was very impressed with whomever the city planners are for downtown Norfolk; I was entirely expecting to get lost and drive in circles about a hundred times before finding my hotel and being able to park, but it turned out to be a cinch. So city planners, if by any infinitesimally small chance you are reading this: nice work. The Norfolk Waterside Marriott (where the conference was held) was absolutely stunning, save for the fact that it was FREEZING cold in the hallway outside the room. Just being at the site was quite exciting, as it seemed like I would run into someone I know every time I turned around, not to mention the fact that I was invited to a wine and cheese reception within half an hour of arriving. There wasn’t too much going on for the rest of the day after we arrived, but I did get to hear the U.S. Army do a reading session of new concert band music, which needless to say was just fantastic. I could tell right away it was going to be a lovely weekend (it usually is when wine and cheese is involved).
That first night, Angela (my girlfriend) and I walked around downtown Norfolk a bit to have a look at the local cuisine, and ended up going to a Japanese sushi bar right up the street from the hotel. Angela freaked out a bit when I told her that there were no forks and they only offered chopsticks, but she managed to get the hang of it in no time flat. Why, just look at her go:
Isn’t she precious? Anyway, I decided to do the John Mackey thing that night and take pictures of my food, so here’s Miso Soup with a Japanese Beer:
And of course, THE SUSHI!:
As you can see, dinner was quite lovely. Afterwards, we decided to change into our swimsuits and go find the hotel at the pool, which after some searching we discovered to be on the sixth floor. The best part? Outdoor terrace Jacuzzis with a full view of the harbor and skyline. Jackpot. So we relaxed beneath the stars in the hot tub on the terrace of the hotel. It was one of those moments where you just sit back and think to yourself, “… why the hell do I still have a day job?!” It was nice.
We concluded the evening with some lovely English cider provided by Kip McCharen, a good friend of mine who is versed in the ways of music and happened to be at the conference as well along with his girlfriend Bethany, a music teacher. So we chatted and sipped cider and discussed many fascinating things, and all was well with the universe. Then, seeing it was getting late and I had to be up early the next morning, I caught the tail-end of Conan and hit the hay.
Friday morning I was up bright and early to embark on quite the adventure. I was to find the JFHS Wind Symphony at their hotel about 15 minutes away to sit on their morning rehearsal as they were rehearsing my piece, but all did not go quite as planned. I drove to the middle of a residential neighborhood and my GPS told me “You’re here!”, when in fact, I was most certainly NOT here. I still don’t know what went wrong, but I typed in the address again and managed to get to their hotel, albeit about twenty minutes late. Moral of the story: never trust technology. Not even iStuff. It’s all just really, really evil. Anywho, turns out I didn’t miss too much, and the rehearsal went really well. After driving back to the conference site and grabbing some Starbucks with Angela, I headed over to the exhibit floor. There were many exciting things to see and do, not to mention absurd amounts of free food from companies trying to sell their goods for fundraisers; it was tempting not to walk up and say “I’m not a band director or anything, I just want pizza”. Perhaps best of all were the instruments on display which were available to try out. In particular, I found a Selmer Conn Flugelhorn that was absolutely GORGEOUS and played like I dream. I want that instrument. There’s just the small matter of the considerable price-tag… but that’s just inspiration to start working hard and making more money. That and, you know, paying the rent.
Early in the afternoon, I headed up to the ballroom on the fourth floor to catch a little bit of the bands rehearsal, when who I should run into but Samuel Hazo, fellow composer on that afternoon’s program. I never quite know what to think when meeting a new composer, as they can sometimes be pretty weird (not that I’m any exception), but it turns out that he’s an incredibly cool guy, was very easy to talk to, had nothing but great things to say about the band and was very congratulatory of me and my music. He’s also Lebanese, in case you wanted to know. Then came the concert. I make no exaggeration when I say that this may have been the best high school band concert I’ve ever heard in my life. The whole group was just ON that afternoon and sounded phenomenal, and I feel like everything on the program went every bit as well as it could have possibly gone. Many congratulations to David Webb, Harry Farmer, Jennifer Burger, T.J. Cross, Sam Hazo, Nathan Moffat, and everyone involved in making the performance a success.
I stuck around after the performance to schmooze and sign a few programs (maybe I should create a “Merch” page in case someone starts a fan club), then headed upstairs to the JMU Alumni Wine & Cheese reception for continued schmoozing, elbow-rubbin’, handing out my business card, and of course, wine and cheese. Afterwards, I headed out with Angela and my family to a fancy Brazilian restaurant just a few blocks away. It turned out to be one of those places where they bring out giant hunks of meat on swords and carve off slices for you until you can eat no more, so needless to say, it was kind of awesome. I did feel bad that there wouldn’t be enough there for Angela, since she doesn’t eat red meat or poultry, but they had quite a lot else there that was very delicious, including smoked salmon and grilled pineapple.
Then after dinner came the crowning achievement of the night: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1. I went with Angela, my brother Wes, Kip, Bethany, and Laura Bock and Martha Hensler, friends and Music Ed majors at JMU. IT. WAS. PHENOMENAL. And I’m not just saying that to say it, I really believe that it was the best film in the series thus far by a LONGSHOT. The directing was just outstanding, and I really like that they didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the book and didn’t try to go to any lengths to make it more whimsical or family-friendly. They embraced the power of the dark side, and I LIKED it. It also affirms that some of the ideas I have about my opera can exist within that universe, and that it doesn’t have to be cutesy. For those who found that previous statement very confusing, allow me to explain – I’m writing an opera/music drama about the early life of Albus Dumbledore and his relationship with Gellert Grindelwald that culminates with their legendary duel. Or at least, I will be once I get the copyright clearance. J.K. Rowling, have your people call my people – we’ll do lunch!
The next morning provided some much needed rest and relaxation, as I was able to sleep in for the first time in quite a while. Angela and I took our time to look around the exhibit floor a little bit more, then headed back to Harrisonburg around noon. All in all, it was a very successful weekend. Thank you to everyone who made it happen!
One more morning of work and then I’ll be headed home for Thanksgiving, which will be a welcome break. Stay tuned for some updates in the multimedia section that I’m currently working on, plus a possible announcement about the big “mystery commission” mentioned just a few posts ago. Have a great day everyone!
Greetings, internet folk! I currently have my suitcase open on my bed as I'm packing for the upcoming VMEA Conference this weekend, and I'm trying to decide whether or not to include swim trunks. My gut (which, according to Stephen Colbert, must be correct) tells me yes - you never know where there might be a hot tub, and when one becomes available, you just don't want to miss out on that action. So I've got my swim trunks, my flippy-floppies, my snazzy steppin'-out clothes, my ever-faithful "Trogdor the Burninator" hoodie... I think I'm pretty much ready to rock. Oh, and I now have professional business cards! So I can now walk up to people and say "Here's my card", then be able to follow up on it by whipping out MY ACTUAL CARD. It will be a much classier way of giving out my contact info than scribbling it down on a cocktail napkin with a borrowed pen.
It goes without saying that this is a big weekend for me (but I'm going to talk at length anyway since this is a blog). I get to premiere a new piece at VMEA with the fabulous JFHS Wind Symphony alongside composers T.J. Cross and Samuel Hazo, who will both be conducting their own pieces on the concert. I went to hear the preview concert last night at Lynchburg College, and let me tell you, this band sounds INCREDIBLE. Without exaggeration, it might be the best high school concert band I've ever heard, and I'm not just saying that because I'm an alumnus. For the record, they are the ONLY high school band in the state of Virginia that was selected to perform at VMEA this year, so... they're kind of a big deal. The program they've picked is really outstanding as well, I love the diversity of the selections and the emphasis on contemporary composers. In addition to my pieces and the pieces by T.J. Cross and Samuel Hazo, current JFHS Senior Nathan Moffat will also be premiering a piece at the Conference, so I must give mad props to a fellow up-and-coming young composer. All in all, kudos to David Webb and the band for an excellent performance on Tuesday, and I look forward to seeing the group again on Friday afternoon.
For those of you who are going to be at the VMEA Conference this weekend, the JFHS Wind Symphony will be performing at 3:45pm on Friday in the Marriot Ballroom (this information is on the Events Calendar page of this website, as well on the weekend itinerary on the VMEA website). If you're able to make it out to the performance, I would certainly love to see you there. Now it's time for me to finish packing up and get a good night's sleep, as I have quite a long drive ahead of me tomorrow. With all the fun and excitement that these next few days promise to bring, there's one thing I still need to figure out - when and where to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1" this weekend. After all, there are priorities in life, and Harry Potter is one of them.
Stay tuned for posts and pictures from VMEA after this weekend, there will surely be many stories to tell!
Hello to everyone out there in internet land! I haven't posted on this blog in a little while, not entirely for a lack of things to write about, but mostly just due to a busy schedule and not feeling like I had anything particularly witty to say at the moment. So rather than try to force out some wit and witicisms (is that a word?), I'll give you an overview of what's in store for me musically over the next few months, as many of you reading this don't typically see me much anymore and might be wondering what I'm up to.
In just under two weeks, the Jefferson Forest High School Wind Symphony will be performing an excerpt of my Requiem Symphony for concert band at this year's VMEA (Virginia Music Educator's Association) Conference in Norfolk, VA. As a proud alumni of this group, I can tell you that they're a pretty phenomenal group of young musicians, and for those of you who are going to the convention, I would strongly recommend that you come out and see the performance. Specific information can be found on the "Events Calendar" section of this website.
LENT/EASTER ROCK OPERETTA
I'm currently in talks about writing a short rock opera (or as I've dubbed it, a "rock operetta") to be premiered this upcoming Lent/Easter season. Since it's just getting into the formative stages, I can't really talk about it much because there's not much of anything to talk about yet, but I can at least assure you that it will be awesome. And it will involve a pipe organ. And pipe organs are awesome.
MAGICAL MYSTERY PROJECT
I have one additional upcoming project that I may or may not be at liberty to talk about at the moment, but let me just say this - it's gonna be big. Really big. Enticed? Then stay tuned, fair reader. Ye shall learn more of this epicness soon enough.
I should also mention that this weekend, I will be performing with the Valley Collegium of Harrisonburg in their annual fall concert. This year's program is entitled "Fortuna Desperata: Variations on a Renaissance Lament", and features the music of Josquin. The performance is going to be at 8pm this Saturday at Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg, so those of you who are in town should definitely come out and hear us.
That's about all for now, I'll be sure to update when there's more to discuss. I apologize if you didn't find this post particularly witty, but if you're in need of a good laugh, please click on the following link to watch a video of an uncooperative cat:
Greetings and salutations! The new website is up, but still undergoing some construction and maintenance. Check back in over the next few days for updated features, as well as new information about upcoming performances and commissions. Thanks!
James K. Ballard
A sometimes insightful, hopefully entertaining look into my career and everyday life.