Get to know one of our Student Composer Fellowship Mentors with these six questions.
David Ragland is a vocalist, arranger, composer and pianist. He is the artistic director of Inversion Vocal Ensemble, who he has led in performances at Cheekwood Gardens, the Noah Liff Opera Center and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. His music arrangement for ‘Nick Cave – Feat. Nashville’ in 2018 was nominated for a regional Emmy award. Ragland is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and is currently a collaborative pianist at Fisk University.
Did you always know you wanted to be a composer? Or did you come to composition more gradually through your instrument?
Growing up, I knew that there was something there. When I was a young kid, I would make up songs on the school playground. In fifth grade, I had an assignment to find a song that matched the book I was reading for book report presentations. I couldn’t find a song that matched so I went to the piano and wrote one.
Tell us about a favorite music teacher who inspired you.
There are many but two particularly stand out: as a clarinetist, high school band director Jim Ransom motivated me to step up, push harder and take my musical studies seriously. The Director of the TSU Showstoppers, Mrs. Diana Poe, opened up my mind to a world of musical possibility. I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do today, if it wasn’t for her.
What music do you like to listen to?
I love opera; Italian verismo, in particular. I love jazz pianists: Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver, Nat King Cole, Errol Gardner and Ray Bryant. It has always been a secret dream of mine to be a pop/R&B producer. I love studying the production of Pharrell, Timbaland, Rich Harrison and even Franklin [TN] transplants Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony.
Which composer do you wish the world knew better?
Clarence Cameron White. Asides from us both having strong ties to Chattanooga, TN, I am a strong admirer of his compositions and compositional style. I am anxious for the day when the world could see a reprise of his opera “OUANGA!”.
What’s an instrument or ensemble for which you would love to compose and are waiting for the invitation?
Without a doubt, full orchestra. To me writing a full orchestration is the test of true mastery of texture, form, dramatic arc and harmonic discourse.
What do you hope students will get from this fellowship?
There are so many possibilities with this fellowship. It is quite possible that students could discover and develop their musical voice. Students may also be inspired to write for different instruments and in different forms than they are accustomed. Mostly, I hope that students gain confidence in themselves as composers.