Behind the Job #4 – Bill Campbell

by / January 1, 2012

This Edition of Behind the Job takes a look at a local composer who has won prestigious competitions and has had his work performed by world class orchestras with many broadcasts on BBC, RTE and Slovenian radio. Bangor based Bill Campbell (who can also rock out on the guitar) gives us an insight into the world of composition, the pros and cons and tips on how to get your work heard.

What is your name?

Bill Campbell.

► What do you do?

Teach / Compose Music / Perform and i’m a Facilitator.

Like many who work in the music industry, Bill has a number of jobs sustaining his income.

► Can you tell us about some of your recent projects?

I have been working with the Pushkin prize which helps primary school children create their own music. It’s a residential week where children come from all over Ireland and the workshops take place at Baronscourt Estate (Omagh), the residence of The Duchess of Abercorn, who founded the Pushkin prize. The Last commissioned piece of music I composed was a short piece for Cello, Violin and button accordion as part of ‘Concorde’s’ 25th anniversary tour. They are Ireland’s principle contemporary music ensemble.I have performed in contemporary music groups, mainly the Brian Irvine ensemble (for 18 years). I also play in ‘The Brewhouse’ (8 years) a similar style of group based in Edinburgh. At the minute I have been rehearsing with an alternative country band and will be ready for gigs end of this summer.

► How did you get into this line of work?

I have been working as a facilitator for 20 years, mostly with primary school kids. I got into this through my work as a composer. Composing was just something I wanted to do. The best way to get into it is to enter competitions, send in scores and hope the judging panel like it enough to give it a performance or run through. This helps get your name out there.

► What would a typical day consist of?

I don’t have a typical day, but if I am working on a score, (and my little girl is at school) I would write until she came home, then again at night, especially when working to a deadline. A working day could be 15 – 18 hours – head melt!

► What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Getting a great idea, one that you could say is the best music you’ve heard in a long time. This is priceless. Next best, is getting it performed, especially when there were no score writing programs. I didn’t start using them until relatively late (2003 was my first piece using Finale). There was a sense of mystery about the music, you weren’t too sure how it would sound, but the overall sound was always a pleasant surprise.

► Tell us something annoying about your job?

It used to be part- writing (parts of various instruments). When it was done by hand, I’d write the score out neatly using pen, ruler and tippex. Then all the individual instruments had to written out separately. It was a tedious affair, but there was something comforting about it, the fact that you could check each part in great detail.

► Is there any particular thing you are proud of doing?

I think winning the Cornelius Cardew composition prize would be up there.

► Have you any exciting projects lined up for the future?

I am writing an orchestral piece on my own time (no commissions) I will take my time and when it’s good and ready, send it off to prospective orchestras.

► What kind of characteristics (personality) do you need to do a job like yours?

I think the best composers are people who as individuals have a strong personal view of the world at a different angle than most. They tend to write the best music. Others have strong ambition and drive and the ability to network. Going to concerts, talking to influential folk and selling yourself. I am no good at this.

► What skills are needed for this job?

A good ear, strong music theory, good instrumental skills or at least an awareness of the mechanics of playing and good time management.

► Working hours/patterns of work?

Early morning is the best time, take afternoon off, night time is good too.

► Are there any qualifications needed for your job?


► Have you any advice for anyone looking to get into this area?

It’s difficult to say as there isn’t a lot of money around for paid work at the moment. For a few who have done the long leg work, apprenticeships and then maybe get lucky, they can earn a good living. It is lonely profession most of the time. To get your work out there, there is a society SPNM (Society for the Promotion of New Music), who have competitions and calls for scores. It is worth entering these. They usually ask for specific instrumentation. If you don’t have something in the drawer for that, write something. Give yourself plenty of time, so look for competitions as far ahead as possible. Other competitions are advertised on the CMC Ireland website and Composition Today. Competitions allow you to get your work performed by a professional group! If you are a finalist in a competition, you at least get a run through with the group. The winner will get a public performance and a professional recording. It’s also useful to get to know other composer’s work. Attend modern music concerts, meet people there, talk to them and get advice (also known as networking). Listen to Radio 3’s new music programs, read scores and learn how to achieve instrumental colours and effects.

► Do you use any technology to help you compose?

Yes I use Finale mostly. It is unbelievable for a score writer. I could spend 2 months writing up a full orchestral score neatly, after composing onto paper with a pencil and scribbles and arrows. Then sit down and get the ruler and pen out and rewrite it all again neatly. After that I’d spend another two months doing all the instrumental parts separately. With Finale and other tools I can now simultaneously compose and write the score. Finale also prints the separate parts for me- it is unbelievable!

► How did you gain your knowledge of instruments in the orchestra?

I have several books on orchestration which have good sections, each on various (mostly orchestral) instruments. It is worth reading through each instrument to see what special characteristics are inherent within them.

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