I grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – a small town in East Tennessee that was created as part of the Manhattan Project. I never dreamt that writing music could be a viable career path, but I started composing my sophomore year of college and haven’t stopped since. As a kid, I casually sang in choir, played piano and percussion. As an undergrad at Columbia University I was exposed to the kaleidoscopic sound world that is New York City. Within weeks I saw an installation of amplified lightbulbs at The Stone, a concert of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Carnegie Hall that gave me synethsesia and heard my first Indian Raga. These experiences expanded my understanding of what music could be, and created an insatiable love of sound that has taken me all over the globe.
In Thailand, I lived and collaborated with Thai artists for several years. We created pieces for the United Nations and the Patravadi Theater. My site-specific installation Lonely Traveler was featured in the 2011 Ruhrtriennale in Essen Germany, and She Gone Rogue (dir Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker) was featured in the 2012 Hammer Biennial (LA) and 2014 Whitney Biennial. I traveled with members of wild Up and Jodie Landau to Reykjavik, Iceland to create You of All Things with the Bedroom Community.
This past season, I was a composer on HOPSCOTCH with director Yuval Sharon. My work for HOPSCOTCH was hailed as “ineffably moving” by Mark Swed of the LA Times and “radiant” by Alex Ross of The New Yorker. My percussion piece Fear | Release was commissioned and recorded by the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and will be released on Sono Luminus in 2016.
This season, I am an Artist-in-Residence at National Sawdust, where I will get to collaborate with wild Up, Jodie Landau, Royce Vavrek, Beth Morrison Projects, and VisionIntoArt. My percussion piece for LAPQ will be included on LA Phil's Noon to Midnight day of new music. My music in Buster's Mal Heart will be heard at the Toronto Film Festival.
My upcoming projects include a solo cello piece for Johannes Moser, Fantomas with Travis Preston, Prism with Roxie Perkins and James Darrah, The Colony with Sarah Adina Smith, a concept album with Jodie Landau, and a new commission from Opera America. I split my time between my two favorite cities – Los Angeles, where I attended CalArts for my MFA (2011) and New York.
ELLEN REID ON dreams of the new world:
Through my compositional work, I’m interested in expanding the American musical canon to reflect the dynamism of this country. My work is driven by themes of gender, belief systems, and the American South, and it aims to engage listeners through genre-defying composition and storytelling.
dreams of the new world is an interview-based choral work that inhabits vibrant moments in American history when the American Dream felt tangible, achievable, and perhaps being in the process of becoming. The compositions evokes the era, location, and ethos – as well as nods towards the popular music – of the historical moment featured in each movement. In the two-plus years of developing the piece, the political climate shifted dramatically. Our piece went from feeling poetic and urgent, and it became more personal than I ever intended.
dreams of the new world centers around three cities who see themselves as part of America’s westward frontier: Memphis, Houston, and Los Angeles. I chose these cities because they hold a personal significance to me and they embody aspects of the American dream. Memphis – where my family is from – is rich with stories of fighting for freedom, Houston is rich in stories about striving for prosperity, and Los Angeles is rich in stories about reaching for the frontier. Librettist Sarah LaBrie, lead researcher Sayd Randle and I traveled to Memphis, Houston, and L.A. to interview resident specialists in each city. The people we interviewed deeply informed what this project became. Sarah and Sayd’s generous collaboration allowed is to have open and vulnerable conversations about what we heard in the interviews and how it resonated with us individually. These conversations permeated the work and allowed the piece to blossom into something hopeful, painful, and bold.
Sarah wove the interviews that we collected into a three-movement libretto that both revels in a common history and raises the questions that resonate now as much as ever. The piece always tales on the point of view of the interviewee, but the embodiment of the point of view is kaleidoscopic. My aim in this kaleidoscopic setting is to point to large unanswerable questions, direct the storytelling, or cultivate understanding.
Our project centers around voices of people from the sunbelt, and it feels like an important time to be hearing these varied voices. I’m excited to be exploring stories of people who got to live their dream, people who helped others live their dream, and people whose dream eluded them because of circumstance or prejudice. These are important stories.