Professor William Ellis’ new album ‘Ghost Hymns’ called a ‘musical masterpiece’

October 20, 2023
Izzy Quam ’25

This summer, William Ellis, Chair and Associate Professor of Fine Arts/Music, released a new album, Ghost Hymns.

Ghost Hymns is the first album Ellis has made in about a decade. “It was nice to make a record again after all these years and flex those creative muscles and remind myself who I am and what I love to do,” Ellis said.

Ghost Hymns

The album is rooted in the pandemic. Ellis said during COVID-19 he had a lot of time on his hands, so he used it to write songs. The album was made over 18 months, from June 2021 to January 2023.

Ellis described the style of the album as “a blues record without any blues on it,” and said this album is the most diverse record he has made. “It’s all over the map, but what holds it together is my guitar and my songs.”

According to Ellis, one of his favorite songs is the opening track, “Cony Catch the Sun.” The album had been complete for a couple of months, but then this song came along and tied it all together Ellis explained. This track is also one that Ellis believes people respond to the most.

Ghost Hymns featured many local musicians including Tom Cleary, Mikahely, and Hannah Assefa, a Saint Michael’s class of 2013 alum.

The making of this album was low budget and largely DIY. “It was made in dorm rooms and recital halls — wherever the engineer and I could find time to record,” Ellis said. “We made it happen by our own tenacity.”

The engineer, co-producer, and mixer of the album is Saint Michael’s alum, River Hartley. Hartely graduated from Saint Michael’s in 2022 and majored in music and English.

“Working with Bill was incredible. I had never made a full album before, and he basically had this unfaltering belief that I was capable of handling a project of this scale and making it good,” Hartley said. “He’s obviously a super talented musician, and there was this environment where I could learn and grow but at the same time have agency over the direction the album was taking.”

Hartley is now working as an audio engineer in venues across the Burlington area. She is also working as a youth coach at Spectrum Youth and Family Services.

“I started learning audio engineering because I wanted to record my own music, and all of a sudden, it snowballed into something I do as a career,” Hartley said. “I love music, and I find a lot of joy in helping others get their music out there.”

On October 1, Ellis played NPR’s Mountain Stage. Mountain Stage is live music on public radio. The show is recorded in front of a live audience and then aired at a later date. Ellis’ show is scheduled to air on November 10. It will also be available to listen to on the Mountain Stage Podcast ten days after the premier broadcast.

Ellis played Mountain Stage with other artists such as Mick Flannery, Viv & Riley, and headliner, Hot Tuna.

In addition, Ellis performed at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 16.

Ghost Hymns has received great reviews. Living Blues states, “Ghost Hymns is a musical masterpiece, an artistic triumph.”

Ellis, however, does not seek attention and is surprised by how people have responded to the album. He said, “I am just a little professor at St. Mike’s who likes to play the guitar. That’s all.”

It was made in dorm rooms and recital halls — wherever the engineer and I could find time to record. We made it happen by our own tenacity.

William Ellis

Follow us on social.