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A Classical Note: Sarah Ballard

‘A Classical Note’ is 8 quick Questions with Wellington Classical Musicians & Composers.

A chance for us to catch up with people & see what they’re up to, or introduce you to a new musician/band and their music. Up next is composer Sarah Ballard.

Who are you? Please tell us a bit about you and your music.
My name is Sarah Ballard. I’m a composer. I’m really interested in using the qualities of instrumental sound to generate musical shape and structure. I’m also interested in exploring the potential for music’s ability to transport and uplift the listener. For the last few years, alongside completing a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition at Victoria University I’ve been living in a contemporary Vedic ashram learning the wisdom of the cream of the Sanskrit literatures and meditation. Since coming across this knowledge my music has been concerned with illustrating concepts from these texts. I was of the opinion before I came across these ancient texts that the intention of the composer/musician can be transferred from the consciousness of the creator, through the material sound-medium and to the consciousness of the listener. The texts that I study state that this is indeed the case. I find this fascinating, and I’m excited to embark on a journey of elevating my consciousness and sharing this with others through music.

What pieces of music have you been working on or playing lately?
I’m just finishing a string quartet called Acintya, which means ‘inconceivable’ in Sanskrit. It refers to that which is inconceivable to us through our present material senses. Previous to this I wrote a piece called Paramātmā for the Wellington-based new music ensemble Stroma and a quartet of monks on various Indian instruments. This piece sets texts from the prime yoga text the Bhagavad Gītā. It is much more reflective of my music currently and represents one of the directions I would like to take with my music.

SARAH BALLARD: Synergos from SOUNZ on Vimeo.

Do you have any favourite pieces of music you enjoy playing?
I love kirtana – call and response Sanskrit mantras set to music. I particularly enjoy singing the maha mantra. Maha means ‘great’ and mantra is made up of two Sanskrit words – ‘man’ coming from ‘manas’ – the mind and ‘tra’ from trāyate, which means ‘to free’. So, it is the greatest means by which to free the mind. Ancient texts state that this mantra holds the potency of all other mantras combined, and the results certainly speak for themselves throughout the community of experienced bhakti practitioners. Kirtana never fails to satisfy the heart.

Do you have any favourite composers? Can you recommend any NZ composers whose work you like?
Olga Neuwirth and Georges Ligeti are two that really stand out for me. I sense a strong creative empowerment in these composers. There are so many wonderful composers here in New Zealand. Two I can particularly relate to musically and conceptually at the moment are Salina Fisher and Michael Norris (not being biased or trying to score points because he is my current teacher!) There is a great diversity, so many voices. It makes our small community very strong collectively.

What were the 3 most influential pieces of music to you growing up?
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VII theme, Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu and Holst’s The Planets. I have always been into sci-fi/fantasy worlds. The Vedic texts I’ve been studying, particularly the 12-volume Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the pinnacle and source of all fantastical themes imaginable that are permeated all through popular culture so I was elated to learn that my affinity for these fantastical concepts have a strong basis in reality after all. Everything that exists here on the temporary material platform is simply a distorted reflection of what exists in its permanent state on the transcendental platform.

Where is the best place people can follow you & find your music?

Where/when is your next performance?
I’ll be taking part in the annual Nelson Composers Workshop in July where I will get the chance to work with some accomplished players on my recent string quartet. When I complete my studies at Victoria I’ll be performing a lot more at Bhakti Lounge in Wellington singing kirtana with the harmonium and karatalas and I also hope to start learning some traditional Sanskrit songs. The Bhakti Lounge space is very special. When I first set foot in that place I knew I’d returned home. It was what I’d always been searching for through my music. There was an immediate connection with the energy there. It is like stepping into another world. That is a common experience for many people who go there. So come along to a Sunday soul feast sometime and join me for kirtana!


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