From time to time we ask our composers questions about their musical likes and dislikes, influences, and challenges. We spoke to Alan Bullard about who or what inspires him, his writing habits, and what he likes to do when he’s not composing.
What pattern does a typical day in your life take?
Emails, admin, some composing — usually in my studio in the garden.
What do you like to do when you’re not composing?
I enjoy country walks, going on holiday, and spending time with my family.
How do you prepare when you are beginning work on a new piece?
If it’s a vocal piece, finding an appropriate text can take as long as writing the music: but whether it’s vocal or instrumental, thinking of the mood that I wish to create, and how best to achieve that, is an important preliminary before the notes hit the page.
Do you treat your work as a 9 to 5 job, or do you compose when you’re inspired to do so?
As a 9 to 5 job, though these hours often stretch into the evening. If I’m ever ‘inspired’, it comes in short bursts, so I am often working on more than one thing at a time.
How do you know when a composition is finished, and it’s time to stop editing?
With computer software it’s much easier to continually revise than when you’re working on manuscript paper, so it is difficult to know when to stop. After a certain amount of editing I like to leave a piece for a few days and then come back to it. Then I quite often find that my earlier thoughts were better than my later ones! Having said that, there are always things in published works which one wishes one had done slightly differently.
What or who has influenced you most in your life as a composer?
The realisation that performers and audiences also have a part to play in the creative process, and a growing awareness that it is good to consider one’s music from their point of view.
What made you want to be a composer?
At junior school, aged about 8, I learned the recorder and soon discovered the joys of improvisation. Then, in a music shop, I saw that you could buy books of blank music paper. I asked my parents to buy me one and I soon filled it up. My parents were not musicians, but they were artists, and seeing them create in their way – in paintings or textiles – made me naturally gravitate towards musical creativity.
How has your music changed throughout your career?
Although my music was never complex, I think and hope that I have gradually learnt to pare down my ideas and approach each task with greater simplicity and clarity, whether writing for professionals or amateurs.
What was the last concert you attended?
A piano recital of Grieg’s music at Troldhaugen, Grieg’s country house near Bergen, Norway.
What do you listen to as a ‘guilty pleasure’?
Stanford’s ‘Songs of the Sea’ for its sheer exuberance and unfashionable non-PC text – closely followed by his ‘The Revenge’ for the same reasons!
Featured image credit: Sheet music recorder by 2204574. Public domain via Pixabay.