Composers

Talitha Botsford (1901-2002)

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Botsford was a musician, composer, artist, and poet. She learned piano as a child and studied violin at the Ithaca Conservatory. During the 1920s and 1930s, she toured the vaudeville circuit, playing violin with a series of all-women groups. After the death of her father, she returned to Elmira where she continued to perform. She also composed a number of songs, five of which were published by the Schirmer Music Company. Botsford accepted commissions to paint and draw people’s homes, and made postcards for area businesses and organizations. Her art was featured in a 1972 article in Hobbies: The Magazine for Collectors. She also wrote poetry which appeared in Readers’ Digest, The Sunday Telegram, and three self-published volumes.

Charles X. O’Brien

From 1899 until he moved to Texas in 1920, O’Brien taught voice and piano at his own private studio in Elmira, and conducted the Elmira Free Academy orchestra. He was also in charge of the school’s annual minstrel shows, often writing much of the music for them.  In addition, he wrote dozens of pieces for the Rorick’s Glen summer theater and for the amusement of his students. A number of his compositions were published and sold by M. Doyle Marks of Elmira.

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Esther Williamson Ballou (1915-1973)

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Born in Elmira, Esther Williamson began studying piano at age four and organ at thirteen. By her twenties, she had taken up composing.  She studied music at Bennington College, Mills College, and Julliard. In 1950, she married Harold Ballou. After her career in performance was cut short by arthritis, she began teaching, first at Julliard, then later at Catholic University and American University, both in Washington, D.C. She composed dozens of pieces for orchestra, chamber ensemble, piano, organ, and voice. Her piece "Capriccio for Violin and Piano" (1963) was the first work by a female American composer to be performed at the White House.

Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)

Born in Elmira, Griffes studied piano and organ from a young age under the tutelage of Elmira College professor Mary Selena Broughton before studying composition in Germany. In 1907, he took a teaching position at the Hackley School for Boys in Tarrytown, New York, where he worked until his death. Griffes was considered an up-and-coming composer with a unique voice which blended German Romanticism and French Impressionism with Russian and Oriental styles. He composed over 100 songs for orchestra, piano, organ, chamber ensemble, and voice including "The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan" (1912), "White Peacock" (1915), and "Poem for Flute and Orchestra" (1918). His diaries have been a valuable resource for historians researching New York’s gay scene in the early 1900s.

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