University of Calgary

Hitting the right notes

UToday HomeJuly 20, 2012

By Caitlyn Spencer

Allan BellAllan BellAllan Bell, a professor in the Department of Music, has been appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his decades of work as a composer, educator, and volunteer.

Despite the lifetime of experience, his work doesn’t feel routine. Although Bell has been composing since the 1970s, he says composition is still a challenge for him.

“I prefer projects that contain some element of the unknown. I struggle with every aspect of the process,” he says. “It is why I continue to do it, why it continues to fascinate me.”

Bell has written commissions for the CBC, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Societe de musique contemporaine du Quebec, and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, among others. His works have been performed throughout Canada and overseas.

For Bell, teaching is not only a source of steady income to supplement his work as a composer, but an important way to pass on the lessons he’s learned from decades in the arts.

“Teaching is the only way I can repay those who taught me well, by passing on the very best to those who are in my classes,” he says. “No artist emerges sui generis: As the saying goes, they all stand on the shoulders of giants. It is essential to understand, respect, and challenge that heritage.”

Currently, Bell is working on a piece for the Lands End Chamber Ensemble, which will be recorded for their upcoming album along with three other chamber pieces by Bell. Next, he plans to work on a piece for eighth blackbird, a contemporary sextet from Chicago, who will perform in Calgary this January. He will also be teaching several courses at the university in the 2012-2013 year.

Although Bell is keeping busy, he says he wouldn’t have been able to if it hadn’t been for the help of Drs. Joyce, Edworthy, Shaffer, Lee, Burak and Aspinall, as well as many other healthcare professionals at the Foothills and University of Alberta Hospitals.

“Because they slowed the progress of a fatal liver disease, eventually gave me a liver transplant, and have provided impeccable post-operative care, they also gave me the extra years that have allowed me to do the work,” Bell says. “My gratitude for what all these many people have given me is beyond words.”