Robert Sheldon is one of the most performed composers of wind band music today. He has served as a conductor and clinician throughout the United States, as well as Japan, Canada, Australia and The Republic of China. He is currently Concert Band Editor for Alfred Music Publishing.
Some of his popular works performed here include, Beyond the Higher Skies, Celebration and Song, Danse Celestiale, Flight of the Piasa, Ghost Fleet, Hill Country Holiday, Iberian Escapades: The Villas of Boca Raton and Visions of Flight.
(This interview was conducted in May 2011)
When did you start composing? Did you go straight into this career?
I have been writing music since i was 8 years old. I taught and performed professionally for many years and always wrote music as well.
Who were your teachers and influences?
I studied with Clifton Williams and Alfred Reed but have had many influences along the way.
What is your favorite aspect about composing?
I find it stimulating, fun and a really wonderful outlet for self-expression.
How does a piece tend to start for you? Do you usually have a structure or shape in mind before you start on the notes?
I approach composing often the way I plan when I travel. I want to know why am I going, who is going with me, what I hope to gain from the experience, how long I will be gone, what I plan to see along the way, and if it is a one-way trip or if I am coming back home. if I am coming home then I hope to be changed in a positive way from the experience.
I use these same guidelines when I write so I know why I am writing the piece, the instrumentation and difficulty level, what I hope to share through writing the piece, the duration, the general format, and what I want the listener and performer to gain from the experience of having played or heard the piece.
This enables me to get a firm grip on the concept of the piece prior to beginning the writing process and therefore saves me time and sets me up for a successful and enjoyable writing experience.
Which of your own works would you call it a favourite? Why?
My favorite piece is always the one I am working on now because it is the most current representation of who I am as a composer. I feel that every piece I write is a snapshot of who I am at that time, so the piece I am working on now is the most recent manifestation of who I am, and therefore I like it best.
What advices would you give to an aspiring composer?
Write as much as you can, get outside your comfort zone, make sure you have something to say, don’t be afraid to fail.
One of your works, “Flight of The Piasa” was performed by 5 different bands in the Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging of Concert Bands in April 2011 recently. Could you tell us about the work and the inspiration behind it?
Flight of the Piasa is based on the legend of the Piasa, an enormous winged, dragonlike man-eating creature of native-american legend in Illinois. The school that commissioned me to write the piece is quite near the modern-day cliff painting of the Piasa. The piece represents the heroism of the Illini chief and his tribe during their attempts to vanquish the creature.
Who do you most admire among other wind band composers and what are your favourite works?
Composers who are alive and currently writing? I really enjoy the creative genious and craftsmanship of John Mackey (Xerxes), Eric Whitacre (October), Mark Camphouse (Fantasia on Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair for Band) and Frank Ticheli (Symphonies), as well as David R. Holsinger, Brant Karrick, Samuel R. Hazo and many others.
If not composing or conducting, what profession could you envision yourself doing?
I love teaching and would still be doing that if I had time.
To end off, what projects are you currently working on? What will we see in the near future?
My next project is a commission from the high school from which I graduated. They are building a new performing arts centre and asked me to write a piece for the opening ceremonies for combined band and orchestra. Aside from that, Alfred Publishing is preparing to release the 2011-12 catalogue which will contain several of my new pieces including:
- Rhapsodic Celebration – Grade 5
- Sag Harbor Sunset – Grade 4
- River Trail Expedition – Grade 3.5
- Spontaneous Combustion – Grade 3
- Metrix – Grade 2.5
- Crazy for Cartoons – Grade 1.5
- Big Sky Round – Grade 1
- As Twilight Falls – Grade 1
- African Adventure – Grade 1
Additionally, book 2 of Sound Innovations (the world’s first and only customizable method book) is ready to be released in may. I am incredibly proud of this project and hope that teachers all over the world will benefit from the innovative approach to pedagogy, the great music, and the fresh new look of this amazing project.