I recently interviewed David Bell again for a new book of poetry for adults that I’m completing. I found the interview below as moving now as when I first read it. In the New Year, may we all, to use David’s words, express our imagination more completely.
1. How did your interest in music begin?
I don’t remember that my interest in music ever began, it just always seemed to be there. As a kid I would make up little songs on the piano and sing in choir, and later in grade school I played the trumpet. But, looking back on it, music seemed more like something diverting or amusing, like just another toy to be played with for a while. There was a moment in 8th grade when I was playing in band and we were just playing, not rehearsing or worrying about rhythms or notes but just playing, and that was the first time that I was exhilarated by music. Then in high school I discovered “Classical” music and I was hooked.
I had been exposed to Classical music before, going to occasional concerts and hearing it on the radio or tv, but sometimes things come into your life when they are supposed to. A teacher in high school gave me a recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and I was thunderstruck by its combination of power and grace; it was so energetic and dramatic (much like the hard rock I was into at the time) but it also had these wonderful moments of quiet simplicity and depth. I discovered just how much expressive power music had listening to that work for the first time and I knew then I wanted to create music like that; that passionate and expressive and communicative.
3. Have you always thought of yourself as creative?
I never had that word for it, and even now creative makes me slightly uncomfortable because it has connotations beyond simply “creating something”. But I always knew that the way I looked at the world and the way I expressed myself was slightly different than the way others did and it took me a long time to accept that that was ok. I think that difference was that I had a little more imagination, or perhaps that I indulged my imagination more than others did, and I expressed my imagination more completely.
4. What were key challenges to becoming a composer?
My biggest challenge was, and remains, overcoming my fear that my music wasn’t (isn’t) good enough. For me, writing music is expressing a piece of my soul and an intimate act that is exposing a part of who I am. But there’s an equally important piece that’s about sharing it with others, which is scary because it invites judgement and criticism not only about the work but also about me. It’s rewarding in so many ways, but it is a challenge.
5. Are you a reader? If yes, is there a connection between your reading and composing?
I have always been an avid reader; it’s probably easier to list the categories I don’t generally read than all those I enjoy. There’s a huge connection between my reading and my music! For works that are set to words, the connection is more obvious in that the text is either the inspiration for the music (as in the case of Adobe Odes) or influences the expression of the initial musical idea. For other works, the creation of a consistent yet diverse sound world, large or small, or the use of a specific stylistic language, or the expression of a scene musically all come to me through ideas I pick up from reading. Language and music are similar in many ways, especially how deeply they can both express emotions, ideas, stories, and our shared humanity (although perhaps music has an edge there!).
6. You are also a choir director. What do you most enjoy about that role?
What I like best about directing a choir is the collaboration between myself and the singers to make the music come alive. I like taking what’s written on the page and creating a shared experience for the singers and eventually also for the audience where everyone is part of something much larger than themselves.
7. What is your favorite time of day?
My favorite time of day begins before dawn, when the stars are still out and everything is silent and still. Then, as light gradually creeps into the darkness the silence is also gradually interrupted by birds, insects, and whatever else is waking up. The world gets lighter and louder until the sun kisses the horizon. Alas, I don’t often get to experience my favorite time of day with evening rehearsals and such, but it’s a real treat when I do.
8. What are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on a few different projects: a violin and viola duet based on a friend’s novel, a cuatro (Puerto Rican folk instrument similar to a guitar) chamber piece with two violins and cello, a commission for a choral piece, and a commission for a Native American flute piece.
You can find out more about David at his website.