Graham Reynolds creates music inspired by Marfa, Texas

Lauren L'Amie

Graham Reynolds is not from Texas. Or anywhere in the South, for that matter. But the Austin-based composer’s appreciation for banjos, fiddles and all things country surpasses even the most avid fans of traditional Texas music. 

Reynolds’ melodic display of Texas pride is captured in the opening act of his three-part piece, “The Marfa Triptych,” a musical portrait of life and culture in West Texas. Part one will be performed at The Long Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, featuring Reynolds on piano as part of a 13-piece instrumental suite. 

Ballroom Marfa, an art collective located in the West Texas arts hub, commissioned Reynolds to create this trilogy of distinctly different performances that will premiere annually over the next three years. Daniel Chamberlin, Ballroom Marfa’s communications coordinator, has worked with Reynolds throughout his conception of the piece. 

“The project came, in part, out of the fact that Graham was traveling out here on his own,” Chamberlin said. “That’s where the inspiration comes from. He’s been interviewing people, taking pictures, reading books. He’s just really marinating in the culture of far West Texas.” 

Reynolds described his first composition as a mix of “West Texas, country music and Western movie sound tracks.” The piece will feature contributions from veteran guitarist Redd Volkaert and up-and-coming fiddle player Ruby Jane. 

“I was fascinated by country. It seemed so other-worldly to me,” Reynolds said. “[The musicians] are so generous in letting me pull them out of their box and letting me explore their world a little bit.” 

Lead guitarist Volkaert, who has worked with the likes of Merle Haggard, Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins, has played gigs in and around Austin for more than 20 years. In regards to “The Marfa Triptych,” Volkaert urges his audience to pay attention to the way the 14-piece ensemble works together.

“It’s a challenge, but that’s why I’m in it,” Volkaert said. “Reynolds, is a wonderful talent and I really enjoy working with him.”

This type of collaborative project is a different venture for Reynolds, whose work is predominantly composing, performing and recording for films. Most notably, he composed scores for Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” (2006) and “Before Midnight” (2013). 

“While I do film, I like to balance out with other things,” Reynolds said. “I think Austin helps me keep that balance. I didn’t grow up on country music at all, so when I came here I was just as familiar with country as I was with Turkish music. Now to this day, I’ve decided the best players in town are country music players.” 

Though each of Reynolds’ three parts jumps between different music genres, they all focus around the same theme — the geography, history and culture of West Texas. 

Part two of “The Marfa Triptych” will feature layered piano scores which rely heavily on acoustics. The final performance in part three is focused more on Mexican-American traditions, both musical and linguistic, in West Texas. For this third composition, Reynolds includes vocals by a multi-lingual chamber opera. 

“With this project, I am in full control,” Reynolds said. “I get the final say over what gets played. With film, you’re trying to complete the director’s vision. This is really a collaborative process.” 

Reynolds, the staff at Ballroom Marfa and the host of musical innovators that make up “The Marfa Triptych” will premiere their final work at the Crowley Theater in Marfa on Nov. 16. The Long Center performance is scheduled as a preview event. 

Chamberlin believes the preview “will be all the more resonant here as it will in Austin.”

“We are very excited about the upcoming installments and finally seeing the whole of this epic piece of musical performance,” Chamberlin said.