When James Cockell was only three years old, his parents put a violin in his hands. But it was not until he was in university that the desire to pursue music professionally finally settled in. “I did English for my first degree, so I was working towards being a writer,” he explains. “I was doing music on the side, and at some point I started to work and realized it was a lot more engaging for me.”
His work in music began when a university friend needed a violinist for a Hungarian folk group, which evolved into a career as a freelance violinist, working routinely with such groups as the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Alberta Baroque Ensemble, and the Citadel Theatre. “Both my mom and my dad played in the orchestra back in the day, so it’s kind of like the family business,” says Cockell. “For me, because I freelance, it’s never the same routine week to week. You come up against new challenges all the time.”
In these months alone, Cockell is involved in several projects, either as a performer or an organizer. He’s one of the talented musicians playing in the pre-Broadway production of Hadestown and is organizing the orchestras for Legend of Zelda and Salute to Vienna.
One new and exciting challenge in particular is the upcoming production of Amadeus Live—the full-length movie accompanied by a 55-piece orchestra and a 50-person choir. “This is the first time that I’ve organized anything that involved an entire film,” says Cockell. “And there are some obscure instruments involved in this. This is the first time I’ve had to find basset horns anywhere!”
Although he does have a bias, Cockell still avidly recommends the Edmonton arts scene—particularly because of its evolution and diversity. “We’ve got the theatre, the symphony, the opera—all these great things that are actually really accessible now. It’s not just for upper-class, wealthy old people,” he says, noting the current line-up that includes classical composers, video games, and Hollywood scores. “It’s been really exciting to see it grow and change. There’s something for everyone.”