William James Ross

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This prominent composer and organist was born September 6, 1937, in Dallas, TX. He attended Trinity University in San Antonio, where he studied organ with Donald Willing and received his B.A. in 1960.…
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This prominent composer and organist was born September 6, 1937, in Dallas, TX. He attended Trinity University in San Antonio, where he studied organ with Donald Willing and received his B.A. in 1960. He taught in the San Antonio Public School system between 1960 and 1969, during which time he continued his musical education and received a degree in that subject in 1967. He later attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he studied composition with Ross Lee Finney and Leslie Bassett and organ with Marilyn Mason, receiving his master's degree in music in 1971.

He has lived mostly as a freelance composer and performer, working as organist and choir director for Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church between 1980 and 1993, and from 1993 to the present at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, both in San Antonio. He has been on the faculty of St. Mary's University since 1980.

His compositional output is considerable and he has received several awards for his works; in the area of chamber music, for example: Messages From a Private Universe: Settings of Emily Dickinson for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (1971); Mountains and Spaces for oboe, trumpet, and organ (1973); Reconnaissance and Reflections on an octet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, and two pianos (1975); two wind quintets (1976 and 1990); Alpha I for flute, violin, and harpsichord (1977); Summer Harmonies for five flutes and two percussionists (1978); a Concerto for Organ, Wind Quintet, and Percussion (1979); a Divertimento for flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, and percussion (1980) (winner of the New Music for Young Ensembles Award, 1980); Aria and Dance for tenor saxophone and piano (1981); Three Dances of Man, a chamber ballet for organ, two percussionists, and six dancers commissioned by the Alamo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (1981); Always Before Your Voice My Soul (text by e.e. cummings) for tenor solo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, vibraphone, and violin (1986); Romanza string quartet in five movements (1991); Serenade for clarinet, marimba, and harp (1991); Dance Variations for brass quintet (1992); Liberty Variations for chamber orchestra (1976); Music of the Water Brotherhood: Three Pieces After Robert Heinlein for chamber orchestra with narrator (&Water Music II) (1981); Aeolus: God of the Wind, a concerto in three movements for eight flutes, three piccolos, five alto flutes, and four bass flutes (1994); and Seasons: Four Fantasy Pieces of Time and the Spirit for harpsichord.

For orchestra alone, he has written several works, including Prospritis for large orchestra (1971) and Final Harvest From the Last Great Days of Planet Earth (Three Pieces for Orchestra) (1992 - 1994).

William James Ross is also the composer of much organ music, including Variations for Organ (1966); Sun Traces (1970); Viet Nam Memorial (1971); The Way From Earth (1972); A Book of Changes for organ, narrator, and slide projections (Water Music I) (1975) (first prize winner in the University of Texas System Composition Contest, 1976); Homage to J.S.B. for J.S. Bach's 300th birthday; for the July 1985 issue of The Organist's Conpanion; Partite on a Methodist Hymn (1986) (commissioned by the Marilyn Mason Fund for the International Organ Playing Competition of the University of Michigan); A Solemn Magnificat (Magnificat Tertii Toni) (1986) (commissioned by Marilyn Mason); and These Forty Days (Fifteen Hymn Preludes for Lent) (1987).

As an active choral director, his compositions for choir are quite numerous, but several deserve particular mention: Missa Brevis for two- and three-part mixed choir, optional unison voices, handbells, and organ (1973); Answer Me When I Call for mixed chorus, string quintet, and organ (1982); They Cast Their Nets in Galilee for mixed chorus (text by William Alexander Percy) (commissioned by Travis Park United Methodist Church) (1985); The Beatitudes for bass solo, mixed chorus, and organ (1989) Veni Sancte Spiritus for mixed chorus, brass quintet, and organ (1992) (commissioned by St. Mary's University); many responsorial psalms for chorus, organ, and various instrumental groups; and several works for keyboard and some electronic music.

Ross' compositional style varies according to the needs of the musical context, though most works are marked with a distinct freedom of tonality and some (like the award-winning Divertimento) are based on flexible tone-tows. In the same way, some works are musically difficult and others are composed so as to be more easily performed by student or church ensembles.