Following the rules pays off
Walter Ross retires in May
by Andrew Shurtleff
By Jane Ford
writer and critic H. L. Mencken once wrote that music composition
is enormously handicapped as an art by the fact that its
technique is so frightfully difficult.
Walter Ross, professor of music
composition and theory at U.Va., composition is a game with an
elaborate set of rules that need to be learned.
has not only learned the rules well, he also has made it his lifes
work to teach students those rules.
was recognized for his contributions in the classroom in 1994-1995
with an All-University Teaching Award. No stranger to honors and
awards in the music world, Ross is most proud of this recognition.
loves the classroom. He chose teaching so he could spend his life
learning and exploring.
students questions help me rethink things and explore more,
he said. They have been a great help in my own growth as
classroom portion of Ross career will end in May, when he
retires from teaching. But his influence will continue to be felt
in the community and in the world.
prolific composer, Ross has more than 140 compositions to his
credit, including 18 concertos. His works have been played in
more than 40 countries and across the United States. He keeps
a long list of the known performances and imagines his works are
performed somewhere around the world each week.
compositions also have been included on numerous records and CDs.
A recent CD release, Three Concertos, by MMC in Massachusetts,
is devoted solely to his work. Another CD is due out soon.
requires precise knowledge of musical structure and technique,
which Ross has studied since he was a 17-year-old member of the
community symphony orchestra in Lincoln, Neb.
keep in mind the analysis of music pieces you like while you are
writing music, he said.
before Ross puts the first note on the page, he diagrams the structure
of the piece. He starts by asking questions: What is it for? How
many movements? What is the emotional level? What is the length?
time architecture. I have it all planned out before I start,
firmly believes that anyone who is not deaf can learn to write
music, and thats the way he teaches it. He actively involves
the students in the creative process.
the start of the semester, he tells his beginning composition
students that hell let them in on the game. He gives them
the rules for the way Haydn wrote and tells them that by the end
of the semester they will be able to write a short composition
in that style. And they do.
as well as students and listeners, have felt his influence. Ross
has been an integral part of the cultural community both at the
University and in Charlottesville.
Ross arrived at U.Va. in 1967, he was instrumental in forming
the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra and in bringing
professional musicians to play alongside community and student
musicians. Recruiting professionals allowed the McIntire Department
of Music to offer music lessons and expand its offerings.
the years, he composed pieces for the University and for visiting
performers and special events. The inaugurations of U.Va. presidents
Frank L. Hereford Jr. and Robert M. ONeil as well as the
Universitys observance of the nations Bicentennial
were enriched by compositions he created for those celebrations.
tribute to Ross contributions over the past 36 years, the
orchestra, the Albemarle Ensemble and other groups have performed
his compositions throughout the year.
Ross will miss his time with students in the classroom, he will
continue to compose. In fact, to echo Mencken, it will be frightfully
difficult for him not to compose.
dont know how many years Im behind in requests for
compositions, he said.