James Ricci

Assistant Professor
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  • Career Highlights
    • B.M., Berklee College of Music
    • M.M., New England Conservatory (with distinction)
    • M.F.A., (ABD PhD) Brandeis University
    • Studied with Donald Martino, Martin Boykan, and Harold Shapero.
    • Recipient of Abram L. Sachar Award (Brandeis University).
    • Studied with Milton Babbitt at the Indiana University Composer’s Forum.
    • Studied with Elliott Carter at the Yale Norfolk Summer School.
    • Attended master classes by Gy├Ârgy Ligeti, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Earle Brown, Jacob Druckman, Ralph Shapey, Betsy Jolas, Sylvano Bussotti, Anthony Payne, Charles Wuorinen, Pierre Boulez.
    • Music performed by Collage New Music, the Lumen Contemporary Music Ensemble, the QX String Quartet, the Solar Winds, Symfonietta Purmerend (the Netherlands), and Xanthos.

In Their Own Words

In the 1980s, when I lived in the North End, I kept hearing the bells in the tower of Old North Church. One day I knocked on the door and asked if I could watch them, so they invited me up. I then became an apprentice bell ringer. It takes about a year to learn the basics of English change ringing: you start with handbells to learn the mathematics and the methods, which are like musical scores. Tower bells can weigh tons and it’s not easy to get them moving. You also have to memorize enormously long, complex methods without making mistakes or losing your spot, and you have to stay in rhythm.

I come from a musical family on both sides. My father’s family was filled with classical musicians; my grandfather, a trombonist, toured the world with John Philip Sousa’s band. My mother, who grew up in rural West Virginia, wanted to be an opera singer and graduated from Juilliard. But in the '60s she got interested in country music and recorded a country album in Nashville. My brothers and I played in her band. 

My teacher, Donald Martino, was the quintessential composer’s composer; he lived music. Every day he would get up at three or four in the morning and start with a little piece of coal—craft just a couple of notes, and change the voicings or the rhythms. By the end of the day he created a diamond. After doing that day after day, he would arrive at a beautiful 30-minute orchestra piece filled with enormous detail and perfect from beginning to end. I learned by his example that if music is going to be your life, you might as well dedicate your life to it and practice your craft at the highest possible level.

The beauty of composition is that you can essentially slow down time; you can focus all your energy and attention on a microsecond of music. In a sense, that gives you an equal playing field with some incredibly brilliant improvisers.