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!
James K. Ballard
A sometimes insightful, hopefully entertaining look into my career and everyday life.