Photo by Jerry Gay
Ballardite Eric Nielsen will see his dream come true next month when one of his compositions will be performed by a 40-piece orchestra as part of the Symphonic Stories concert at Benaroya Hall.

Hear Ballardite's music at Benaroya Hall in March

Ballardite Eric Nielsen will see a composer's dream come true next month when one of his compositions is performed in Benaroya Hall by a 40-piece orchestral ensemble made up of some of Seattle’s most talented musicians.

"The dream has always been to write for a live audience and to write music people want to hear," Nielsen said. "Writing for a concert is a fabulous way to realize it."

Nielsen, a very active member in the Seattle music community, is a talented musician and artist who composes imaginative works for small chamber ensembles and orchestra.

The invitation to compose a piece for a full orchestra at Benaroya Hall is his biggest opportunity yet.

"Six years ago I wouldn't have had a clue how [writing a composition] like that gets done," Nielsen said.

Nielsen has only been a full-time composer for the last two years after a film scoring course inspired him to follow his talent.

"It's been an evolution," he said.

To go back to when Nielsen first discovered his interest in music is to "go waaayyy back" to when he was just a grade schooler, Nielsen said.

"I came across [my father's] guitar hiding in the closet and people would teach me a chord here and there," he said. "There was an old clarinet in there too which I later picked up."

In high school Nielsen started playing the keyboard as well, and he continued his education at the University of Washington, where he studied the piano.

While at the UW, he developed an interest in the recording arts and transferred to the Evergreen State College, which had better facilities for the recording arts.

At Evergreen, Nielsen picked up the upright bass and got some experience playing in, and composing for, small theatre orchestras.

After college, Nielsen paid the bills by mastering music for Muzak and later Discover Music, but his heart was still in musical performance.

In 2006, Nielsen started looking for ways to get back into music and was introduced to the Seattle Composer Alliance (SCA), a non-profit organization made up of working composers, students, and others interested in professional music composition, and promptly joined up.

"I like to call it a support group for composers," joked Nielsen.

After attending the two-year Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, Nielsen learned that his real interest lies in composing music.

"I enjoy playing music but I realized that there are so many better musicians out there who I'd rather hear play something I wrote," he said. "The day after I completed the program I called my boss and said I was going to quit my job and write music for a living."

But with two kids and a wife who was finishing her Doctoral Degree it took about another year before Nielsen actually became a full-time composer and daddy.

"We just decided to switch roles around and I became Daddy Daycare," Nielsen said. "Now, two years later, I am the President of SCA and writing a lot of music. Things are going well."

It was SCA member and Composition Lab teacher Tim Huling who presented Nielsen with the opportunity to compose a piece for the upcoming Benaroya Hall concert titled "Symphonic Stories".

The concert is the brainchild of author and composer Glenna Burmer. Burmer was in Japan during the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and witnessed first-hand the courage and resilience of the Japanese people as they endured one of the worst natural disasters in their history. The experience inspired her to write an orchestral piece, and together with Huling she created Symphonic Stories as a way to share her work with Seattle audiences.

Nielsen, along with three other composers, was hand-picked by Huling to create a short piece of lyrical and evocative music that told a story.

"I guess he liked what I had written during his composition lab," Nielsen said. "Also, I think he knew I could handle the task. Writing for over 40 people and 20 unique instruments is a monumental task."

Nielsen said it has taken him six months to compose nine minutes of music, and was still putting on the finishing touches at the time of the interview.

To undertake a task like that, Nielsen explained that he first had to create a backstory to write.

Nielsen's piece, titled "Of Sailing Ships and Sea Nymphs", tells the tale of sailors coming to land after a long time at sea when suddenly they hear a strange singing. Drawn to the sound, the sailors go looking for the source and find sea nymphs. Danger looms as stormy clouds draw near and the men, captivated by the mystical creatures, get caught up in the storm and shipwreck.

Nielsen said that after he fabricated a story, he could use different instruments to sound out the temptation, danger, and fantastical.

"Strings serve as the glue of the orchestra and wood, brass, and percussion are the color choices," he explained.

With a vocabulary of various instruments in his head, he constructs the composition at the piano.
"Playing different instruments and knowing what each instrument can do definitely helps," he said.

Nielsen said that the composition for Symphonic Stories has been the biggest and most time-intensive piece he has written, and that the opportunity is a step in the right direction of reaching his ultimate goal.

"The ultimate dream is to write for live audiences or to score the next superhero film or saga," he said. "And I'll be very happy if just one person leaves [the upcoming concert] humming one of my tunes."

Nielsen's piece, along with six other compositions, will have their world premiere at Benaroya Hall on Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m.

Symphonic Stories will be conducted by Grammy award winner David Sabee, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to assist in the recovery of the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan.

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