James Knox
James Knox
About the composer


26 May 2019

My story

James W. Knox, composer shares a brief story about his journey as a composer.

Music has always been a part of my life and as a child I would often sit at my upright piano in the dining room making up songs.  I did this for years not fully knowing what I was playing because my musical knowledge was limited.  I knew in my teenage years that I wanted to pursue music as a career and so I began the journey of college life as a music major.  Taking music courses gave me a wealth of knowledge and I began writing down what I was making up in my head.  My first compositions was not for choirs because I was so used to making up songs for the piano.  I had a handful of short pieces that had a combination of classical and jazz forms.  I still have these pieces, but I would not consider them for the public.  

As a music major, my prime focus was vocal and I was involved with various solo competitions and choirs ranging from jazz, madrigals, church choirs to auditioned based only choirs.  Over the years I had a lot of opportunity to travel with choirs to Japan, Canada and Europe.  Traveling gave me inspiration to want to write choir music.  I heard a huge variety of music and I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas to other choirs.  My first compositions that I wrote for a composition class was Raggle-Taggle Gypsies-O, Greensleeves and Goober Peas.  My professor came up to me after class and said, "You know, Jim, you are known as good soloist and chorister, but I do see the potential in your writing.  You should do something about it." His message inspired me to write a piece for the chamber choir that I was involved in.  As I began the writing process I wanted to write something based on my travels.  I pulled out my journal and ran across a part about traveling in Scotland.  In the journal entry I explained how I woke up in the morning after traveling through the night on a train to small town called Oban.  I was simply amazed at the scenic views surrounding me.  I saw rolling green hills, lakes and mountain peaks.  Reading this small passage gave me a thought to entitle the piece, Awake.  The chamber choir could sing just about anything so I knew that my writing was not limited.  I went for it and wrote my first a cappella piece for 8-part!

When I handed out my piece to the choir my heart was pounding because I was exposing something that emotionally moved me for the first time.  The people in the choir were my friends so I knew that they were looking out for my best interest and that gave me a little comfort.  At first, I thought that my director was going to lead the way, but rather told me that this was my piece and that I should direct it.  I was a little timid, but knew that he was right.  When we read through my piece for the first time I was hearing something that I created in front of me while directing.  After a short pause, a soprano from the choir said, "Can we sing this for our upcoming concert?"  I looked at my director and he said, "Of course!"  The next few weeks we rehearsed it and when the performance came that afternoon I had a lot of compliments about the piece. I was truly inspired and wanted people to sing my music.  This is why my logo has the words, "Inspire and Sing."  

Throughout the years I would look for pieces to write about and found that I would start pieces, but never would finish them.  I was stuck and needed to draw back from my traveling experiences to help inspire me to commit and finish my compositions.  20 years ago, I began to teach at various colleges as a Music Professor.  Besides my normal academic music classes I had choirs that I would direct.  Time to time I would have them sing some of my pieces and that satisfied me and I was humbled by the support from our program and community.  

In 2018, I had the unique opportunity to take my sabbatical with my family.  For 5 months we did a road trip across Europe starting from Germany up to Estonia down to Italy.  I had plenty of opportunities along the way to work with directors, choirs and students.  Most of our time was in Belluno, Italy (our sister city of Bend, Oregon).  On a weekly basis I would head to the community music school where I would write on my nearly completed work, Pura Lux Mass.  Back home, I had an incredible community choir and I knew that I wanted to premiere this work with them.  

Upon my return in July, I was excited to announce that we would be premiering my latest work in March, 2019.  As September approached and the start up for the new academic year began an idea popped in my head after feeling the turmoil that our country was going through based on our last election.  I needed to write something that was bold.  I ran across the poem of the most popular British poet, Alfred, Lord, Tennyson.  The poem was "Ring out, wild bells" and the text was gripping and powerful (google it and read it sometime).  My mind went into a whirlwind of ideas and within 2 weeks I finished my piece, Ring out, wild bells for SATB divisi, string orchestra and sleigh bells.  We featured it for our annual holiday concerts in December.  These two major pieces sparked a writing frenzy and I have completed over 25 pieces less than a year.  Most of my pieces are on here and some are simply an archive and maybe some day I will let the world see them!



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