Participation: Co-founder and Treasurer, Inventing Earth
A composer now collaborating on operas with Mary Lin. Their first co-written work is set in the 12th Century in the Frankish Rhinelands, based on the life of Hildegard von Bingen, called The Greenest Branch. The second is a steampunk opera, called Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders. Several other works are in early stages of preparation.
Early influences: Machaut, Dufay, Ockeghem, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Berg, Reich, Glass
Recent influences: Masters of Persian Music, John Sheppard, Arvo Pärt, Hildegard von Bingen
“The music we are writing now contains the sounds and styles of many musical traditions, from Gregorian chant and medieval song to renaissance polyphony and early opera, to Mozart, Wagner, and Berg,” says Ben. Some people will hear influences of Steve Reich or John Adams, especially in Ben’s early works. Ben first heard Philip Glass’ opera “Einstein on the Beach” in 1978, and met the older composer in 1981.
Ben was trained in renaissance polyphony and in serial atonal music, but now uses both 12-tone tonalities and modal/diatonic systems without prejudice. He is agnostic in terms of music theories and sees all world musics as equally relevant to his practice. “It would probably be more correct to call my music pan-tonal,” Ben has said. “I do not write serial or atonal music, generally speaking. The 12-tone I write is post-12-tone tonality, not atonal.”
In 1984 Ben went to New York City to study composition with George Perle, a proponent of 12-tone composition, an important theorist of atonal and post-atonal music including 12-tone tonality. Perle was also an important analyst of Alban Berg’s music, including the two operas Wozzeck and Lulu.
From 1979 to 1983 Ben studied theory, composition, history, and musicology with Stanley Charkey at Marlboro College. Formal study in counterpoint led to a self-directed two-year long study of the history of Western vocal styles from Gregorian chant to Mozart. Ben’s final year at Marlboro was spent in an exhaustive analysis of the score of Alban Berg’s Lulu.
While at Marlboro, Ben also received guidance and coaching from Luis Batlle, Blanche Honegger Moyse, and many others, including participants in the Marlboro Music Festival. He sang in the bass section for numerous performances of the St. John Passion with the Blanche Moyse Chorale.
During his high school years, Ben studied music theory and composition with Morton Gold, then a professor at Nasson College, and performed in Gold’s oratorio Songs of Praise. During these years Ben also performed in professional and semi-professional theatre troupes, including a stint with The Maine Puppet Company with Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover Vermont. Ben also performed as a drummer in a rock band, with Moroccan hand drums in a Middle Eastern-influenced folk band, and with spoons in various old-timey American folk and contra dance bands. He grew up in a house full of music, studied piano and percussion, and wrote his first song at approximately age nine. He still loves to contra dance.
To learn more about Ben’s other professional pursuits, see his profile on LinkedIn.