Allan Gordon Bell Composer

Congratulations on your Juno nomination.

Thank you very much.

Is it specifically for Field Notes?

It is.

So one section of the larger album Gravity and Grace by Land’s End Chamber Ensemble?

That’s right. There are various categories so this one is for composition. There’s a category for best classical recording and all that sort of thing but this album didn’t make that one. But you’ve got to bear in mind that the composition in order to qualify for the Junos has to be recorded. So it’s not just my work it’s also the work of the fantastic players and the recording engineer Mark Ellestad and Allegra Young everybody else involved with Centrediscs too. It is a recording project that’s being acknowledged here.

Centrediscs released the album?

That’s right.

Where was it recorded?

It was recorded here in Calgary. We used the Rozsa Centre which is a fabulous concert hall and it’s also a great recording studio for this kind of music. It’s one of the best recital halls in the country for sure.

Was the piece created for the ensemble?

This piece was written specially for them because I had done a concert with James Campbell before and he played in a trio of mine called Trails of Gravity of Grace from which the tile of the album comes. That went very well and the request came from the group to have a piece that made use of all of them.

Did they lay out parameters?

The only parameter was sort of a rough timing somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes of music because that’s something that you have to bear in mind: these things have to be programmed right. Too large a piece and it dominates a program and if you write too small a piece it doesn’t provide enough weight.

I’m not as familiar with contemporary composition as other forms of music but it seems like the Junos are safe and this doesn’t feel like a safe composition.

I don’t know that I would place myself on the very cutting edge of contemporary music mainly because I don’t make a lot of use of electronic computer media. But yes it was my attempt to write something that has adventure in it at the same time there’s enough that people can relate to and connect to. The realm of what I do is not to write things to entertain people but to engage people. I want to get them really thinking about sound and what sound can do in new ways.

Did you study as a musician and start writing or were you always composing?

As a child of the ’60s I played in lots and lots of bands. I pursued my university education in different ways. I did an undergraduate degree in philosophy but about three-quarters of the way through that I discovered that one could study music in a serious way and so that’s where I began. Once I was accepted into various music courses and finally into the graduate program for a masters of music it just really opened up an entire universe for me and I just went after it.

Now you’re also acting director of the department of creative and performing arts at the University of Calgary.

For our inaugural year that’s right.

Does that eat into your composing time?

Completely. I’m in the beginning stages of a work that’s going to be done in May so this month really I have to carve out some time for myself so I can really get immersed. I’m doing a piece for Jeremy Brown and the Kensington Sinfonia. Jeremy Brown is another fantastic performer and the Sinfonia is a wonderful group.

Is it surprising that there’s these wonderful performers in Calgary?

Not at all for me. One of the things that I hope that the award brings is increased attention to the remarkable talent that’s here in the city.

Why is that talent here?

Well we have a first-class orchestra and the players in that orchestra form the backbone of instrumental instruction. The Mount Royal Conservatory is one of the best in North America for training young musicians and the University of Calgary our music division is really a first-class place for people to come and work. We’ve had lots of people who’ve done well here either stayed on or left and come back and made careers.

Are you from Calgary?

I was born here I grew up in Edmonton and I came south for a job. I’ve been in the West all my life. I’ve travelled. For me the great fortune of being a composer in this time is that of course we’ve had increasing access to more and more music through originally recordings on vinyl and then CDs and now the Internet. So you can encounter all the music that you want and you can live anywhere. As long as you listen carefully and study and then think you can have a remarkable music education.

Do you still teach courses?

I taught a course last term and I work with graduate students this term. I will get back to it. I’ll be teaching next fall. We’ll have a new director here. We’ll hopefully have someone in place pretty soon. There’s a process in play right now and we’ve got a hundred applicants for the job.

How is it going within this newly merged department?

Well it’s I think the right idea. Lots more communication lots more interaction we are maintaining our solid commitment to making sure the disciplines are well taken care of. At the undergraduate level that’s so important because a good solid training in music dance or drama requires a lot of commitment from the students but also the entire operation. The good thing is that we’re also able to better co-ordinate with University Theatre Services which is part of the school as well. We’re working on the ways in which we can really support the academic programs and the research profiles; research for artists means creation and performance essentially. How can we support that and move it into new areas? And collaboration now becomes easier and easier.

Which is so important.

At a certain level yeah. You have to have good training. You have to have a discipline before you can be interdisciplinary. But yes at the level of professors and graduate students and senior undergraduates there will be more and more activity as we discover the things that are of interest to us.