Faculty Profile: William Campbell, PhD
Whether he is walking the red carpet in celebration of an Oscar-nominated documentary film he scored or writing orchestral arrangements to songs performed by the euphonically named singer Har Mar Superstar, William Campbell, PhD, lives the challenge he imparts to St. Ambrose music students.
Explore your abilities. Test your talents. Stretch your boundaries.
"I never stopped exploring, and I wanted to talk about this amazing thing we call music," Campbell, a professor in the St. Ambrose Music Department, said of his decision to build a full-time career in teaching while continuing to work as an artist. "And when I go into a classroom, it's with that sense of wonder. I think that's true of most teachers here."
That Campbell also shares his talents so capably beyond the classroom provides a non-textbook lesson to SAU musicians and music lovers.
It is an open exhortation to try, fail, learn, grow and succeed.
"I would hope that when the students find out my music is going to be performed by an orchestra or be part of an Academy Award-nominated film, it makes them feel a little bit proud about what they're doing," he said. "I'm also hoping it makes them do a little extra work. Because that's what it takes. To be something in this industry, you have to do that something extra."
Scoring the film Lifeboat - which was one of five nominees for Best Documentary Film Short at the 2019 Academy Awards in February - was something extra Campbell will carry with him for a lifetime.
Produced and directed by fellow University of Oregon graduate school alum Skye Fitzgerald, Lifeboat is a poignant, heartbreaking look at the grim reality of human trafficking, reflected in the faces of those willing to risk their lives adrift at sea to escape it.
"Lifeboat is a really amazing film," Campbell said. "It has done a lot of good for the world, and it has really raised a lot of awareness. And that's really great. It's easier to go to bed at night knowing I was part of something that changed people's lives."
Campbell is consistently and creatively eclectic. His summer included playing in a Grateful Dead tribute band, while his extensive resume includes six diverse compilations of original music and more than 20 commissions for songs and scores. The latter includes two original performances by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra as well as five choral hymns putting the words of Saint Ambrose of Milan to music. Lifeboat was the ninth film released with an accompanying Campbell score.
Campbell began taking piano lessons at age 6 and began thinking like a true musician soon after.
"While I was taking lessons, I was exploring the how and why of the music," he said, "I wouldn't just practice, I would also wonder why Beethoven did this or that."
That's the kind of curiosity Campbell seeks to spark in SAU students, and with it a requisite commitment to doing that something extra. Campbell can proudly name the musicians and music educators who have matriculated from St. Ambrose with a dedication and commitment to their craft that is equal to his own.
He is equally proud of the accountants, engineers and countless other non-music majors who have walked away from a general education course he taught with a capacity to actively listen to music, to wonder why an artist chose this chord over that, to explore each note with a critical ear.
"It is totally critical thinking," he said of a foundational skill which employers say makes St. Ambrose graduates immensely valuable. "Being able to pick out what's really important or to really listen and be in conversation with somebody, that sets people apart."