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Interview with Arthur Campbell (Clarinet)

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Winner of 2001 International Web Concert Hall Competition

(Honorary Mention)

arthur_campbell_thu.gif (13482 bytes)"The musicianship and clarinet playing are superb." The Clarinet

"The night belonged to clarinetist Arthur Campbell" JK Grand Rapids Press

"exceptional performance" The Clarinet

"spectacular" The Muskegan Chronicle

"amazing" The Holland Sentinal

"Campbell played with flair and emotion ... He was sublime on the sweet adagio ...ultra-satisfying." AT Grand Rapids Press

"Wonderful tone and clear phrasing result in a very expressive performance." The Clarinet

"heartfelt gentleness ... a great deal of personnel expression" BA Grand Rapids Press

Dr. Arthur Campbell has established himself as a virtuosic performer of both standard and contemporary repertoire for the clarinet. He has won numerous international and national competitions including the prestigious U.S. Department of State Artist Abroad Award (2000), The 1996 International Clarinet Competition sponsored by the ICA Recording Project, and the top clarinet award in the 1988 National Music Festival of Canada. He is a Gasparo Records recording artist and is also featured on the CD recording, Music from the ICA.

MOL: Tell us about U.S. Department of State Artist Abroad Award. The mission of organization and what was the prize? Who are the sponsors?

The United States Department of State sponsors the Artist Abroad Award. The award provides financial assistance to professional performing artists who are touring internationally. Top-level professional artists compete for this award. The intent of the award is to support American Artists international concert activities. The award is given to artists who already have an international concert schedule booked.

MOL: Tell us about your interest in contemporary music.

I am passionate about performing contemporary music in the same way that I am passionate about playing Brahms or Mozart. In my case as a clarinet soloist, our repertoire is not nearly as extensive as that of the piano or violin. And so, there is a pragmatic motivation to expand the solo clarinet repertoire. But the artistic reasons are more important. I don't think we can stand still as artists. I believe we must keep looking for new ideas and means of expression. In doing so, we return to the classical master works with a deeper perspective.
Another reason for my interest in contemporary music is that I believe as a performing musician I have an obligation to be "current" and to bring new music to my audiences. In any other professional field one would be expected to be knowledgeable of the current trends and ideas. I feel that kind of responsibility toward new music. Even if the audiences are initially hesitant about the new music, I think that if I do a good job of performing it, then they will respond positively to it. I would also like to say that I don't think of myself as a contemporary music specialist. Quite the contrary - I am deeply committed to giving excellent and beautiful interpretations of the classical masterworks for clarinet. I don't think that conflicts in any way with a similar passion I have for performing new works for clarinet - in fact, as I mentioned above, - I think they support one another.

MOL: Why should understanding of contemporary music would be important to anybody?

There are so many forms of music that have artistic merit. I think the responsibility lies with us performers not to limit ourselves. If we are clever about the way we program and present, then we should be able to bring contemporary music to virtually any audience. I have never had an audience react negatively to a contemporary piece I have played. If I am playing for an audience which is expecting classical music, then of course I play mostly classical repertoire, but if I include one or two contemporary pieces in a program of "standard" repertoire the audience always responds positively.

MOL: Tell us about your musical background...
I started piano when I was six years old, then began playing the clarinet when I was 8 years old. I continued to study both until I entered university as a clarinet performance major and decided at that time to focus my studies on the clarinet.

MOL: Was either of your parents a musician?
Yes. My father was a good amateur clarinet player. My older brother and younger sister also studied music as children and my mother was an avid supporter of all of this musical activity. I am the only member of my family to become a professional musician, but my parents and siblings are still active music lovers.

MOL: Tell us about Robert Marcellus.

Robert Marcellus is considered by virtually all clarinetists in North America to be the most influential clarinet teacher of the last half of the 20th century. He was a beautifully refined clarinetist and his recordings as principal clarinetist in Cleveland Orchestra under Georg Szell are still recognized as the "measuring stick" for orchestral clarinetists today.
Marcellus was without any doubt the biggest single influence in my musical career. I studied the orchestral school of clarinet playing with him and have used that as the technical and interpretive foundation for all of my musical activities. Although now I perform almost exclusively as a soloist and chamber musician the foundation I received from Robert Marcellus are the tools that have allowed me to cope with the many different types of performing I have done, from orchestral to solo and from classical to contemporary. I should also mention that I had numerous other talented teachers as a young student before I began my studies with Marcellus. I certainly appreciate all of my teachers' support. In addition to Marcellus there are a few others that deserve special mention, Jay Morton, now deceased; Dr. James Mark, John Rapson and Bruce McKinley all did their part to help me develop.

MOL: How did your friend, parents, etc. influence you as a musician?
Certainly the support of my parents and siblings was invaluable and is worth more than I can say. I have had the good fortune to work with many fine musicians, too many to mention, and often times musical collaboration has resulted in deep and long-lasting friendships. But to comment in general, I think that the collaborative aspect of music making is one of the great pleasures of being a musician. And the excellent musicians I have collaborated with fuel my enthusiasm for music making. My last recording project is a good example. I had the great honor of having six wonderful new pieces written for me by some of today's leading composers. Working with such gifted creative musicians was truly fulfilling.
They gave me lots to think about and lots to practice! The CD is called "Premieres" and is released on award winning Gasparo Records.

MOL: Tell us about University where you teach?

Grand Valley State University is only a little over 30 years old. The upper administration decided in the mid-1990's to build what was a small but functioning music department into a top-notch undergraduate program. The goal was to build a program which would offer an excellent educational environment to well-qualified music students. The administration set out to recruit faculty with active professional careers and excellent teaching credentials. The university recruited me, having been told by Northwestern University that I was one of only three people to have completed a Doctoral Degree as a student of the late Robert Marcellus. I was playing clarinet with Symphony Nova Scotia - Atlantic Canada's premiere orchestra - and I had just won the 1996 International Clarinet Competition sponsored by the ICA. I was ready to begin working exclusively as a soloist and I thought that an Artist-Faculty position would suit my solo activities better than an orchestral position. So I accepted the position that they offered me. When I arrived at GVSU there were only two students in my studio, two years later I had 22 students. So the university was very happy with the rate students were coming to study with me and recruiting students was relatively easy for me because of the my active schedule of concerts and master classes. It has been a good place to work, I teach a full load, but I have the flexibility to maintain my busy performance schedule. I have been here six years now and I have a studio full of very talented young clarinetists. I was the first new faculty member recruited to GVSU and since then the faculty has almost tripled in size. My wife, pianist Helen Marlais, is coordinator of piano pedagogy so it is an excellent "home base" for us.

MOL: Do you practice what you preach to your students?
I certainly hope so. I am often asked how I balance my performance schedule with my teaching load. And my response is - of course I am very busy, since I teach full university studio and play almost 40 concerts a year - but I think those two activities serve each other well. My performing keeps me artistically alive and technically sharp, and I always say that my teaching keeps me honest! If I am teaching and performing on a weekly basis then I had better make sure that I am practicing what I preach.

MOL: What was your DMA thesis on?
My degree is the Doctor of Music (DM) from Northwestern University. My doctoral dissertation was Contemporary Canadian Music for the Unaccompanied Clarinet and it is available through the Canadian Music Centre and/or the Northwestern University Library. I don't intend to publish it as a commercially circulated book, but I do still perform many of the works which I discuss in the dissertation. I did a lot of analysis during my doctoral years and my work on in-depth analysis of contemporary music certainly helped me to develop my capacity to learn and perform new music.

MOL: How much do you practice daily before a performance?
I like to practice between 3-4 hours a day before performances. Although when on tour there are many times when I get virtually no practice between concerts. This is when I rely on all of the practice I did as a student. If you practice well when you were are student and you practice intelligently when you are learning the repertoire you don't need as many hours before the concerts. Just enough to prepare and stay in good playing condition. It is awfully important to practice well when you are a student and to use practice time effectively, then you have the flexibility to cope with the real-life situations of travel and busy schedules, etc.

MOL: Do you have a practicing method you follow everyday? How much or often do you practice basic (tone production, breathing, etc.)? If so, what kind of basic do you practice?

These are big questions! I will try to give you a brief synopsis of my practice philosophy. There are several elements of clarinet playing: embouchure, oral cavity, articulation, air support, and finger technique, and my goal as a performer and teacher is to allow these elements to function at their optimum level so that they serve as tools for realizing an excellent performance. We need to develop the consistency of these elements and we need to develop the independence of the elements. To develop consistency we have to focus on one element at a time, get it working well and then work on maintaining it. Memorizing the sound and the physical feeling of the elements will help to develop consistency which you can rely on in any situation. Then, we need to develop the independence of the elements. The independence of the elements is very important so that we are able to keep five different elements functioning well at the same time. We need to make our technique habit so that playing correctly is "second nature" and not something that takes our attention away from the music. The ultimate goal, of course, is to transcend the technical challenges so that we can concentrate on communicating the music to the audience. I would be happy to go into more detail with anyone who has questions about how to practice or how to develop excellent technique on each of the elements of clarinet playing. Email questions to campbela@gvsu.edu 

MOL: How do you select repertoire for your recital?
It really depends on the venue and the audience. But given that, I look for a good balance between the works and I try to give the program a natural pacing. In a way, a concert program should have a sense of progression just like a piece of music does. I think concert programming is itself an art and a good program has a natural sense of pacing.

MOL: In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good performer?
Passion, intellect, intuition, and excellent technique.

MOL: How do you judge a good performance?
A performance which has transcended the technical challenges and lets the music exist on its on merits. One which communicates with the audience.

MOL: In your opinion, what is your strength in your playing?
Audiences, other musicians, former teachers, conductors, composers, critics, etc. have told me I have a special ability to communicate with and engage the audience. I hope that is true. Certainly that is my goal.

MOL: What do you like to read? And why?
My day to day reading tends to be issue related. Not necessarily news, but current social and political issues. I regularly read the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Review of Books. I have never watched TV very much. In fact, for most of my life since I was 6 years old, I haven't owned a television. Even now my wife and I just have a little TV in the basement that only receives two channels - on a clear night!

MOL: Hobbies?
My wife and really enjoy walking and hiking. We have some of our best conversations when we are out walking. It isn't always easy to find the time, but I really do enjoy exercising and I try to make time whenever I can.

MOL: Do you believe a performer must attend conservatory? What is your opinion on this?
Everyone is different and I think each person has to find an environment which works for them and helps to foster their artistic development.

MOL: Some people say that music allows us to express ourselves in unique ways, to both share our similarities and our differences.

The arts are one of the things that define us as "civilized". I was on tour in China last May, shortly after the US and China were "butting heads" over the spy-plane collision. I wondered what kind of a reception we would receive given that our governments were at odds. Much to my delight we had an extraordinarily warm reception and as we left each city to move on to the next I felt as if I had made friends for life. I remember what the president of the Shenyung Conservatory said as he making a toast after my concert there. "The politicians may be arguing, but we are musicians and we speak the international language." He then went on to thank me for my concert and to invite me to come back "as soon as possible." I think music does give us a common bond, a way to share feelings without words. Without fail that has been my experience every time I go on tour.

MOL:  I think we need to wrap up at this point. So on be half of MusicalOnline, we would like to thank you for your time and we wish all the success.

Interviewed by MusicalOnline on October, 2001

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