The next time you don’t feel like going to your college alumni networking event, think again. Just do it. Ask Amy Ward.
Ward is a singer, pianist, and composer who lives in Franklin Park. In 2002 Ward was invited to an event in Manhattan for alumni of her school, Berklee College of Music in Boston. She graduated in 1998. At the last minute, she decided to go. There she ran into Barbara Jordan, one of her former professors from Berklee.
“We just reconnected,” Ward says. “I had just had one class with her, and when I was in the class I knew she had this TV music production company (Heavy Hitters), but when you’re a student, professors are kind of untouchable. You’re still growing, and green. She knew who I was but there was nothing beyond that.
“But a few years later, the timing was right. So after we connected, I sent her some music, and she told me that one of the songs I wrote she could use in a scene in ‘The Young and the Restless.’ So that’s how it got started.”
In 2002 after meeting up with Jordan four years after graduating from Berklee, Ward began working as a collaborator with Heavy Hitters (which Jordan no longer owns). Heavy Hitters is a company that commissions and licenses music for television and film. Due to that chance meeting with her former professor, Ward is an established composer whose work has appeared on television shows and in films. If you listen well, or even if you don’t really hear the music behind the characters and stories on TV, you have heard her voice and/or her compositions on shows such as “The Young and the Restless,” “NCIS,” “All My Children,” “The Shield,” and other TV programs and films. A composer and performer of jingles and background music for commercials, she performs as a solo songwriter and with her band.
“It’s such a hard business to get your feet in the door,” she says. “It’s just one of those things where I got really, really lucky. A right place, right time kind of thing.”
In addition to her film, TV and commercial jingle work, Ward is now promoting her newest CD, a holiday disc called Wintersongs, released last week. The disc, her third, is available on iTunes and CDBaby.com. “It’s 12 songs, mixed with Christmas classics and songs that I wrote,” she says. One of her cowriters, also a Princeton-area native, is Terry Silverlight, as well as Steve Buonanotte, with whom she has collaborated in the past. “It’s an eclectic mix of music, everything from singer-songwriter stuff to piano stuff, which is kind of my forte, and then there’s kind of a mix, jazz stuff, dance music and popular stuff. I’m really excited about it.”
In the new year Ward will be performing at the Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon St., as part of songwriter Arlon Bennett’s “Song and Stories Series,” on Friday, February 26. She will be on a bill with Bennett, Mark Conklin, and Kim Yarson.
Her holiday CD’s cover art was shot in northern New Jersey “on a really cold day,” Ward says. That is a relevant detail because Ward is wearing a hot crimson dress with her arms and shoulders bare. It was, she said, a rather trying photo shoot.
Her husband, Frank Wurst, a guitarist, also collaborated on the record. In addition to playing guitar, Wurst is employed at Church and Dwight in Princeton. They do not have any children. Yet. “We’re going to work on expanding our family, but not right now,” Ward says.
Ward was born in South Bend, Indiana, home of the University of Notre Dame. Her family was not officially connected with the school but everyone in South Bend is connected with the school in some way. Her family is very musical. Ward’s father was a music teacher in area schools for 25 years, and her mother also played piano in her Methodist church. Her older brother is also a musician, says Ward. “My mom actually still is a musician in the church. She performs the Messiah every Christmas. Music is definitely in the family.”
‘I got much of my knowledge about music from going to church every week, from being in choruses, singing hymns, playing piano, being in bell choir, and watching and hearing my parents play, ”she says.
Ward started feeling the need to express herself early. “I started writing songs when I was 12,” she says. “It was one of those things, I had started playing piano on my own — later I took lessons — but I had a knack for writing songs, and that’s what I still do today.”
Following that pivotal meeting with her professor, Barbara Jordan, Ward says, “I just started writing a bunch of songs.” She was able to get her songs heard by “the right people” in New York and Los Angeles, and her production and performance credits began to grow. “I even, luckily, got to open for the Dave Matthews Band a couple years back through that whole music business connection. It’s just one of those situations where things just kind of lead into each other.”
It would seem that Ward, and any other musician with any degree of success, got lucky, and she readily admits that, sprinking the word “luck” liberally into her conversation. I suggest to her that people can also make their own luck and Ward readily agrees.
“It was also the result of me pounding the pavement,” she says. “Especially to have things published and on TV and in movies, that has been a huge door-opener, and I have taken great advantage of that. I have written hundreds of songs, and lots of them have been on TV, and I still do that today.”
Most of Ward’s music is now published under her own company, Vox Fox Music, but she also has done work for other companies. She greatly enjoys the feeling she gets when her music is played on TV and she stumbles upon it.
On the day we spoke, she relayed an experience from earlier in the day while watching “All My Children” on ABC. “I had the show on in the background, and suddenly I heard my voice,” says Ward. “It’s freaky, so hard to describe. I mean, I’m a singer, but when you hear your own voice on the TV, it’s just awesome. I pinch myself. I think back to when I was 12 years old, writing my first song. I never thought I would be on ABC; it’s definitely one of the things I’m proud of, and I’m grateful for.”
Wintersongs, a new holiday CD by Franklin Park singer-songwriter Amy Ward. www.cdbaby.com. Ward will also perform on Friday, February 26, at the Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street. 609-924-8777.