Student Spotlight with Erica Ball


EARLY START: Erica Ball was just 3 years old when she begged her parents to let her play the piano. Ball doesn’t remember exactly what sparked her interest, but she says her fluency grew quickly as she progressed from playing on a tiny keyboard to a baby grand by middle school. Ball, now a fourth-year graduate student in composition in the Department of Music, also plays the violin. “I learned to read music probably a few months before I learned to read words,” she says.

WRITING HISTORY: Ball was just 5 when she penned her first composition—a little song called “Mommy Beat the Bookcase” about how her mother triumphed in building a piece of IKEA furniture. She didn’t write her own work again until high school, when she attended a summer session at The Walden School Young Musicians Program. As an undergraduate at Bard College, Ball wrote for several instrumentations, including a mixed chamber piece for two flutes, a bass clarinet, two percussionists, a violin and cello, and for the Da Capo Chamber Players, which is flute, violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Ball has also written two orchestral pieces and a viola concerto, and is working on an orchestral piece for her dissertation.

EVERYDAY INSPIRATION: Ball has been inspired by nature, and makes sure she stays alert to characteristics of noises in everyday life that may find their way into her music. This includes everything from her tea bag that makes a glissandi effect when raised in and out of a cup, to a squeaky piano lid. “I’m not going to have a piano player make the piano lid squeak when they play, but just the idea of being fascinated by sounds, I think that’s what excites me the most about music, the sounds themselves,” she says.

HAND-CRAFTED: No matter the composition, Ball scores everything by hand. “When you have to write out the same thing over and over again by hand, you really start to question what you’re doing,” Ball says. “I have, in the past, gotten reactions from players where they treat the music differently because it’s handwritten. There’s something more real in that, yes, someone wrote this, someone spent time considering every little line, every little note.”

POST-PENN: Ball is on the market for academic positions, but is also looking at arts administration jobs—any way to share her love of music with people. She still practices piano and violin every day, each for at least an hour. “I’m always pushing myself to learn new repertoires,” she says. “At the beginning of this year, I started a little project for myself. I’ve been, every single day, going through the Bach Preludes and Fugues and it’s a nice exercise and it’s a good reminder of how hard those pieces are.”

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