College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Meet Price Walden, Composer at Large

A jazzy groove that carries a hint of rock and roll and an infusion of the blues, a classical piece with a contemporary flair that is not entirely out of place on the radio: This is Price Walden’s “Hydrogen Jukebox,” and its premiere performance last year made his dream of becoming a composer reality.

“There were all these college band directors and composers in the audience that I looked up to,” Walden said. “I can still remember taking my bow and that was really a defining moment for me, all the people that I got to meet because of that. That experience I couldn’t have ever dreamed of.”

Walden grew up thinking that he would be a lawyer or a politician. His dream job was to be President of the United States.

Music was always a part of Walden’s household growing up. His mother played piano in church, and once Walden was old enough, he began taking piano lessons.

Walden also joined his school marching band.

“That was when I started realizing that I had a gift for music, and the more I got into it, the better I got with instruments,” Walden said. “I thought that it might be something that I wanted to make a career out of.”

By high school, he was arranging hymnals for piano performances in church and composing smaller pieces for full bands.

Walden was encouraged by positive reactions from his high school band director after reading his music.

The Booneville Blue Devils Band premiered Walden’s work in his final spring concert while Walden conducted.

The next fall, Walden enrolled in the University as a music major and impressed his professors with his dedication and natural talent.

“He’s an incredible musician; he’s a keyboard player who can sight-read like a machine,” said David Willson, director of bands for the University. “He’s spent a lot of time in a practice room, but he obviously has some natural talent. He can hear things that an average person can’t hear.”

Willson knew Walden and his talent in high school and repeatedly asked him to compose a piece for the band to perform when Walden became a student at Ole Miss.

“I read it and said, ‘I’m playing it,’” Willson said.

“Hydrogen Jukebox” was the piece.

Since its premiere in February 2010, three other university bands have performed the work and many other copies have been sold.

“It all began from a tune in his head,” Willson said.

“That type of inspiration isn’t uncommon,” Walden said. “My writing process is fairly organic. It always starts with the inspiration. I collect a lot of poetry and I’ll find something in a poem that speaks to me and go from there. I’ll say, ‘If I was going to write a piece on this poem, what would I think about?’”

For the past year, Walden has received requests to write additional music, including a second composition for the Ole Miss band to honor a retiring music professor.

“He puts his whole soul into every piece that he works on,” said Stacy Rodgers, Walden’s piano professor. “That is a really great characteristic and he doesn’t shy away from any challenge, which is a nice trait to encounter.”

Though Walden has only written instrumental compositions, he is currently writing a composition for women’s choir and a song set for soprano that he hopes to premiere in his junior recital in 2012.

Walden draws inspiration from composers like Benjamin Britten and mainstream artists such as The Beatles, Regina Spektor and Radiohead.

“I’m not really sure what my voice is going to be, what my music will sound like in five years or so,” Walden said. “I’d like to think that I’d write some big piece that will get played by orchestras all around the world, be the next Beethoven or something.”

And Walden’s professors think success is on its way.

“I would love to see him be a household name and a top composer, what we would call the ‘top dogs’ — someone who is commissioned to write a piece and would be paid for it because they know it’s going to be good,” Wilson said. “That is what I think Price will be.”

from the DM by Donice Phifer