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Esther Ballou

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Esther Williamson Ballou


Esther Williamson Ballou (1915, Elmira, N.Y. - 12 March 1973, Chichester, Eng.) was an American composer and keyboardist.

Ms. Ballou trained at Bennington College, Mills College, and the Juilliard School. An accomplished pianist and organist, her work as an accompanist to the dance studios at Bennington and Mills led to her first attempts at composition and also provided a musical impetus to the modern dance movement in America.

After completing composition studies at Juilliard with Bernard Wagonaar and Wallingford Riegger, she taught theory, harmony, beginning compositions, and ear training there for seven years, during the William Schuman era. Relocating to Washington, D.C., she taught piano and theory in the preparatory department at Catholic University from 1951 to 1954 and then theory, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, ear training and sight singing, and music appreciation at American University beginning in 1955, a position she held for the rest of her life. At American University she was instrumental in developing an innovative theory program that served as a model for similar programs at other colleges. In 1971 she completed a teacher's manual for beginning theory classes, Creative Explorations of Musical Elements.

Practically all of Ballou's works from the fifties and sixties were commissioned by a variety of ensembles in the D.C. area, and she often performed in solo and chamber recitals in galleries and concert halls throughout the city. Her composition Capricio for Violin and Piano was the first composition by a woman composer to be premiered at the White House.

In the fall of 1972 Ballou travelled with her husband to England in preparation for her 1972-73 sabbatical leave from American University, during which she hoped to devote much of her time to completing a number of commissions while also investigating new educational approaches being pioneered in England at the time. She fell ill that December and died in England in 1973.

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