Greetings everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog, but I assure you it’s not because of a lack of activity on my part. On the contrary, there’s actually been so much going on that I haven’t had much time up until now to update the website. Now that my musical affairs are (for the most part) in order, I figure it’s time to let you all know what I’ll be up to for the next few months.
Within the past few weeks, I’ve had two BIG new commissions officially come through for me, which is especially exciting not only because it’s an opportunity to write new music, but because… *drumroll*… I am now entirely self-employed as a composer. Of course, I’m still living in an apartment in Harrisonburg, so it’s not exactly like I’ve come into a comically oversized Scrooge McDuck-esque mountain of money that I can jump into from a diving board, but it does mean I can be mostly financially independent (still on the parent’s health-care plan, thank you Obama). So just what kind of new compositions am I cooking up that people are actually willing to pay me for? Why, I’m glad you asked… or rather, I asked for you…
THE DARKEST DAY
A one-act Rock Opera based on the seven last words of Christ
This is being written for a Lenten program for Heritage United Methodist Church in Lynchburg, VA. The whole work is comprised of seven songs, each one based on one of the seven last words of Jesus Christ from the cross according to the New Testament. Stylistic inspiration for the music ranges from composers such as Bach and Stravinsky to contemporary groups such as Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, and Dream Theater. Oh, and the work involves a MASSIVE, HONEST-TO-GOODNESS PIPE ORGAN. The church has a beautiful organ that doesn’t tend to get played much anymore, and they wanted a program that would put the organ front and center. I would have to say that getting asked to write a rock opera with a full pipe organ as the centerpiece is the kind of thing that’s just off-beat enough and certainly epic enough to be right up my alley.
CONCERTO FOR FLUTE
I come from a family of musicians, and my cousin Stephen is an absurdly talented flautist, who in the not-too-distant future will be auditioning for some absurdly prestigious music schools. To have something fresh and exciting and new to present at his auditions, I’ve been commissioned to write a flute concerto for him. It’s an exciting project and at the same time a bit daunting, as this is one of the largest-scale compositions I’ve ever had to work with before. I’m attempting to go the route that John Mackey described for writing his Saxophone concerto, focusing on exactly what aspects of the instrument make it unique and basing the thematic material off of said aspects. Without going into too much specific (i.e. boring) detail, let me just put it like this: it’s going to be really really cool, and really really hard. I’m writing the whole piece simultaneously as a full orchestral score and piano reduction (sounds confusing, but trust me, it’s easier this way), in hopes that a few performances of the piano reduction early on could lead to the full orchestral version being performed somewhere down the road… possibly with yours truly at the helm as conductor? Possibly…
That’s what’s going on for me compositionally at the moment. I’m still out there performing as often as I can – I’ve jumped back in to the Madison Singers for their spring semester this year (despite being an old person), and later on in April I’ll be playing the role of Nelson Deadly in Sweet Briar Opera’s production of Edwin Penhorwood’s “Too Many Sopranos”. I’d like to find more trumpet gigs, but for whatever reason they seem harder to come by; if you’re reading this and you’re someone in my area who happens to know first-hand of any trumpet gigs, hit me up! So that’s where I am right now, making it work as a musician and composer, and crossing my fingers that I’ll get accepted into grad school for the fall. But alas, that is a topic for another blog post. Check out the rest of the website for a few new updates, and I’ll be updating the “Events Calender” relatively often for the next week or two as my plans get hashed out, so stay tuned!
James K. Ballard
A sometimes insightful, hopefully entertaining look into my career and everyday life.