Benjamin Shirley


“I’m a former professional bassist for hard rock turned composer through a foundation of recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. I fell in love with composing because its everything—all things work through vibration and music is a language that every living thing responds to. My style thus far, as I understand it is an incorporation of everything I listen to. I want melody and I want dissonance that resolves back into the melody. I want the attitude and swagger of Black Sabbath while NOT being “symphonic metal.” I want Debussy coupled with Beethoven’s 9th and Tchaikovsky’s no.6 Pathétique with Prokofiev and jazz chords riding along. I want attitude and delicate beauty.”

— Benjamin Shirley

Ben Thinking in Italy.jpeg

Drawing inspiration from a life lived on the edge, Benjamin J. Shirley is a Los Angeles based composer-orchestrator who is known for succeeding against most odds. After spending more than two years as a resident of the Midnight Mission, a homeless shelter on Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row, Benjamin has emerged a respected composer, orchestrator, and arranger who brings a distinctive perspective, and relentless work ethic to film composition and concert music.

Benjamin was the first Composer Fellow for Street Symphony, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to engaging underserved communities experiencing homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles through musical performance and dialogue. Founded by Artistic Director Vijay Gupta (First Violins, L.A. Philharmonic), Street Symphony is comprised of members of the L.A. Phil, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. As Composer Fellow, Benjamin studied composition under internationally acclaimed composer, and Street Symphony Composer in Residence, Reena Esmail.

Through this fellowship, Benjamin’s commissioned piece, “We Need Darkness to See the Stars,” (orchestra, double choir) had its world premiere at the Messiah Project on December 8,
2017. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts livestreamed the Messiah Project, giving the piece a global release.

Street Symphony has also commissioned numerous works based on the writings of Rumi. Benjamin’s “ the Spirit of Rumi,” (bassoon/tenor) has been performed several times. The pieces “Brother Burn” (clarinet Bb/tenor), “Don’t Go Back to Sleep,” (oboe/alto), “Whitley Heights,” (brass quintet) and “Intelligent Eyes” (flute, oboe, clarinet Bb, trumpet Bb, double bass) are set to premiere in October 2018.

In addition, the Street Symphony regularly performs “Midnight to 12:01” an original string quintet composition written as part of Benjamin’s audition for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and gifted to the Midnight Mission. “Midnight to 12:01” premiered at the 2015 Annual Golden Heart Awards Gala.

In 2018, Benjamin was elevated to the position of Co-Composer in Residence at Street Symphony alongside his mentor, Reena Esmail. Ben’s responsibilities in this role include working as a Teaching Artist, now providing composition lessons to a new composer fellow within Street Symphony. He continues to receive lessons from Reena Esmail.

In addition, Ben has been commissioned by the Sarlo Foundation for George Sarlo’s 90th birthday, is working on original music for the Canadian film entitled, “The Guardian,” and has been commissioned by UCLA student Stephen Ryder for a bassoon/piano piece for his recital.

Benjamin has worked as composer assistant to award-winning film & television composer Kim Planert. Planert wrote the original motion picture soundtrack to Skid Row Marathon, a feature length documentary, which follows the story of a Los Angeles judge who starts a running club on Skid Row, giving members -including Benjamin- a second chance at life as they battle their addictions. The film has won numerous awards while on the festival circuit, including awards at

the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival, Napa Valley Film Festival, Coronado Island Film Festival, and the Port Townsend Film Festival.

As one of the runners profiled in the film, Benjamin was invited to work on the score with Planert, providing additional sound textures, and conducting a piece at the final scoring session. Ben also serves as co-orchestrator for Planert’s forthcoming debut album, which will be released later this year.

Benjamin’s arrangement of Miltaa Jaa Jo will also appear on Saili Oak’s forthcoming album. His wind works will be performed by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra players and Anthony McGill (principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic) later this fall at special engagements. He is also set to being receiving conducting lessons from Derrick Spiva at the end of August 2018.