Derek Ball is a composer and amateur string, woodwind and brass player who “took 30 years off” to work as a doctor and then at the end of 2004 returned to a musical career he had never really left. Born in County Donegal, he spent his teens in Dublin and studied composition with the larger-than-life Archie Potter and later with Jim Wilson, winning various competitions, having chamber pieces performed, and having some orchestral performances and one broadcast, as well as being represented in international festivals in France.


What drew you to a career in music?

The question ‘what brought me to music?’ can best be answered by saying what kept me away from it. I was making up wee tunes from childhood, and at the end of my secondary education I spent a 6th year trying to decide between music and medicine. It was a tossup! I often wonder how my music career would have turned out if the metaphorical coin had come down the other way. I’d probably be long dead now from poverty and alcohol. The philosopher Wittgenstein advised his followers to do something useful, not make philosophy their career! I’m not cut out to be either a teacher or a performer, and I’d never have made a living from composing, so maybe I was wise to unwittingly follow that advice. (I opted for medicine.)


How would you describe your work? 

How would I describe my music? A Scottish composer I know says he writes the sort of music he’d like to listen to. I think that’s a good lesson and probably a description that applies to most composers. 


What positive and negative aspects have you found lockdown has had on your work?

Lockdown:  Several performance projects for later this year have had to be abandoned. On the other hand, with fewer demands on my time, I’ve been writing like a maniac. It’s like a long retreat.



The idea for the piece came directly from reading and enjoying the poem Tree by Richard Berengarten, who is one of my favourite poets in the English language. The poem looks like a tree on the page, tall and thin, and it’s bursting with ideas, like Mahler’s idea of a symphony, containing the whole world.

Premiered in Dublin in December 2017 by Elizabeth Hilliard, Mark O’Keefe and David Bremner

This score, and some of Derek’s other works are available to buy via the SMC shop. 

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