University of Calgary

Lecture of a Lifetime: Allan Bell ‘stands on shoulders of giants’

UToday HomeMarch 14, 2013

By Heath McCoy

Allan Bell will reflect on a lifetime of teaching and composing when he gives the Lecture of a Lifetime on May 14 at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. Photo by Riley BrandtAllan Bell will reflect on a lifetime of teaching and composing when he gives the Lecture of a Lifetime on May 14 at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. Photo by Riley BrandtWhen music professor Allan Bell considers his passion for teaching, and the devotion that his own mentors showed to him when he was a student, he feels a deep connection to something bigger than any one educator.

“I feel like I’m a part of a long river of connections,” says Bell, whose long record of exceptional teaching will be celebrated on May 14 when he delivers the Lecture of a Lifetime at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.

The Lecture of Lifetime is an annual University of Calgary Senate event (now in its sixth year) designed to showcase the university’s top educators, allowing them to share what they’ve learned about the value of teaching during their respective careers.

Bell – who was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada last year and elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2007 – was a natural choice for such an honour.

He helped create the Department of Music’s doctoral program in music and he has won many teaching excellence awards throughout his career. His music has been performed by orchestras across North America and his acclaimed composition, An Elemental Lyric, was performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Centre by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I was fortunate in the people I was able to study with, and they too had fine teachers,” reflects Bell. “And they, in turn, also had fine teachers. It goes back a long way.

“So, how do I repay my teachers? By continuing the process and passing on the values they passed to me, like understanding how a piece works and how to make it better. Understanding how to communicate.”

He adds: “As Newton said: ‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants.’ Those are all the people who have contributed to our understanding of the world in general, and, for me, who have worked to create beautiful things.”

Bell’s lecture will also reflect on the composer’s mortality. He has a life-threatening liver disease, which was interrupted when he received a liver transplant in 2004.

“It gave me these extra years that have allowed me to do my work,” he says. “These things teach you about being a human being. In a way, if you don’t learn from it, then you did not deserve the disease.” That, in a bittersweet turn, has helped Bell grow, he says, as both an artist and an educator.

While Bell feels greatly honoured to deliver the Lecture of a Lifetime, he stresses that he’s not ready to rest on his laurels. “It doesn’t make me feel a sense of pride so much as it gives me a deeper sense of responsibility,” he says. “I feel like the bar has been raised. I’ve got to keep doing more.” 

Lecture of a Lifetime takes place on Tuesday, May 14 from 5:45 – 8:30 p.m. at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall in the Rozsa Centre. Please RSVP prior to Friday, May 10 at


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