Tim Callobre – Exclusive Interview
Composer and Multi-Instrumentalist
Tim Callobre and music, somehow, as fate would have it, at the ripe old age of 6 these two became one. Now, after eleven years of practice, performance, composition and now teaching, Tim remains thankful that his mother Salina Chinn who urged him to begin his life with music as his primary focus. As the years unfold I get the feeling we will be hearing a lot more from Tim and his instruments and compositions.
Tim was just nominated to be a Presidential Scholar in the Arts by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and he won the Silver Award from Young Arts, the core program of the NFAA.
We have been fortunate that Tim has gracefully accepted our invitation and has granted us this exclusive interview. Due to my recent illness I was unable to meet with him personally during his recent performance on January 22, 2011. The event was held at the Ethical Society in Ladue Missouri a suburb of St. Louis. It was sponsored by William Ash and the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society. Consequently, the interview that follows was completed using e-mail. None-the-less the information learned about Tim, his music, goals and dreams, leaves us wondering how is it that at such a young age we have before us a musical prodigy who is quickly in the process of becoming one of the leading young performers and composers in our time.
Don: You have shown proficiency in music composition as well as guitar and piano performance. To what do you attribute your abilities and your skill level for music composition?
Tim: Many different things have helped me develop my skill in composition. I have spent a lot of time working on improvisation. That has been really important in training my ear and giving me an understanding of how harmonies would sound before I play them.
…playing instruments is important to composing because it provides a better understanding of what the instruments can do. In fact, college-level composition programs usually require some instrumental proficiency. Although guitar and piano are my primary instruments, I have played other instruments such as the drums, violin, erhu, and saxophone.
…in study pieces, I see what other composers choose to write, which broadens my knowledge. Finally, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program greatly helped in developing my ability to compose. That Program was taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky, who is an incredible teacher. Also, each of the pieces that I wrote while in the Program was played by professional musicians who provided me feedback on my compositions. That was particularly helpful because it is important that scores be playable for instrumentalists.
Sonata, Op. 1 by Alban Berg performed by Tim Callobre at the Colburn School year end Honors Recital May 31, 2009 in Zipper Hall, 200 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles California.
Don: …and for your performance with the piano and the classical guitar?
Tim: I attribute both my guitar and piano skills to essentially four things. First, I am lucky to have great teachers who are supportive and encouraging as well as extremely knowledgeable. They have helped to guide me and make me better, and they have been wonderful mentors as well.
Second, I derive great enjoyment in playing the instruments, and that makes it easier for me to put in the hard work necessary to develop my playing.
Third, I imagine that I probably have some innate ability in playing the guitar and piano.
Finally, I believe I practice efficiently. I am a student at an academically rigorous school with a lot of homework, and I don’t have a lot of time to practice music. I find that I have to be very efficient, which means that I focus on passages that are difficult for me and spend less time and energy on easy passages. Also, I try to practice enough but not too much that I lose the emotional impact and beauty of the music or get bored with it.
Don: How would you prioritize these areas of competence and why?
Tim: Due to my time constraints with school and homework, I rarely have the time to play the guitar and piano and compose all in one day. I generally prioritize things according to my deadlines and commitments. So if I have a guitar concert coming up, I will devote much more of my free time to guitar. For me, there is rarely an occasion when I have a composition deadline, so that often gets pushed aside.
Don: Which is your favorite and why?
Tim: I have to say that I enjoy composing the most. I feel intense satisfaction when I write something that I think is good. However, composing is also the most frustrating as well because there are definitely many times when my writing efforts come up short.
With respect to guitar and piano, I enjoy playing them equally, but I like performing on the guitar better than on the piano because I feel more in touch with my instrument and the audience on guitar. Since the guitar is quieter than the piano, I feel the performance is more intimate. Also, on guitar, I face the audience, whereas on piano, I face the piano but never the audience. Lastly, I play my own guitar in performances, and I just love my instrument and know it so well. Piano performances are always on whatever piano is in the hall, requiring me to familiarize myself with that particular instrument before I perform. Each piano has its own capabilities, and pianos can vary greatly.
Callobre performing “Fandanguillo” by Joaquin Turina
Don: You mention in one of your videos that music education and artistic development are key ingredients for your success. Could you elaborate on specifically how you see these influencing your abilities as both a composer and as an instrumentalist?
Tim: Music education has done so much for me personally that I can’t help but believe in the power of what music education can do. I think that anyone who finds success in music and loves music has an obligation to develop music for the next generation, whether via teaching, trying to inspire younger people with music, or just sharing the inherent beauty of music. I have had a number of great opportunities to perform in a music education setting and teach master classes, and I find these opportunities to be personally satisfying. I also find that teaching has made me more aware as a performer because, if I am giving a student some suggestions, I had better make sure that I follow my own suggestions first!
Regarding “artistic development,” I think the most important thing is the development of ones’ self as a human being. Doing and experiencing more things in life enriches ones’ understanding, perspective, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. All of these can then be drawn upon when one composes or plays an instrument.
Don: You have had a number of teachers. . . . How do you feel each has contributed to your personal growth and development as well as your musical growth and development?
Tim: I am so lucky to have Bill Kanengiser, Jeff Lavner, and Steven Stucky for teachers. They are not only incredibly knowledgeable and great teachers, but they are each amazing, giving, and generous human beings that I truly respect and that serve as personal mentors.
Bill Kanengiser has been my guitar teacher for about eight years. I seriously think he knows pretty much everything there is to know about the guitar. I also believe he thoroughly thinks through every note he plays. Bill is a tremendous technician. Yet he allows great latitude in playing, which is nice. Bill has consistently nurtured me as a guitarist, first in improving my competence as a player, then as my supporter and champion. He has recommended me for gigs and sung praises of me in ways that have truly helped my career and confidence. I have been to wonderful places, experienced so many things, and met so many terrific people through my guitar-playing, and I definitely owe much of that life experience to Bill.
Jeff Lavner has been my piano teacher for about eight years as well. He has amazing ways of constantly challenging me, particularly by setting up an absurd performance date for a new and difficult piece so I’d have to master it extremely quickly! He definitely pushes me to see what I can do. Although that can be tough, these challenges unquestionably have propelled my personal and musical growth and development. Also, Mr. Lavner knows that I am a composer, so he often incorporates compositional awareness into the lessons. For example, he might point out a certain passage and explore why it might have been written that way rather than another and what makes it unusual.
Steven Stucky was my composition teacher when I was with the two-year Composer Fellowship Program. The Program had four students (“Fellows”), all in high school, and I was a 9th and 10th grader at the time. Steve is a brilliant composer, and I learned a lot from him. He generally oversaw what we Fellows composed but did so without imposing any personal bias. Each Fellows composition sounded very different, and Steve was incredibly supportive and proud of us all. From the start, he treated us like peers, not students. When our pieces were played by the L.A. Phil, Steve made sure we were treated like professional composers, which was amazing. He never failed to put the spotlight on us rather than on himself. He really showed by example how to be truly gracious and generous of spirit.
“Music education has done so much for me personally that I can’t help but believe in the power of what music education can do. I think that anyone who finds success in music and loves music has an obligation to develop music for the next generation, whether via teaching, trying to inspire younger people with music, or just sharing the inherent beauty of music.”
Don: You have had the opportunity to perform. To what do you attribute these opportunities and where would you like to go from here?
Tim: Early on, I took every opportunity to perform that came my way. I have found that sometimes the smallest audiences can include someone who leads you to yet another opportunity. In addition, there have been a number of times when I played for an organization that later wanted me to return to play at an even bigger event or venue. This was the case with “From the Top,” where I played on their radio shows and benefits and then on their PBS show at Carnegie Hall. I also have entered a number of guitar, piano, and composition competitions. Winning or doing very well in those has led to many opportunities too. My invitation to the White House came through guitarist Sharon Isbin, whom I had never met but who knew about me from a guitar competition.
I would love to continue performing on both guitar and piano. I’d like to return to places like Carnegie Hall and perform solo concerts at big venues. I’d also like to tour internationally. I also want to continue composing. I have a great interest in film scoring and would love to be able to do that too.
Don: From a composer’s perspective, what value do you find in understanding music and how do you think it has aided in your performance?
Tim: Being a composer has made me realize that writing music is far more of an exact science (when written well) than I had thought. Subtle notation makes a big difference, and I have gained a strong appreciation for the difficulties inherent in writing music. For example, I used to watch movies and thought that much of the ambient and atmospheric music in the background was simplistic. Then I tried to write some of it and realized that it is very calculated and not at all what I had imagined.
I don’t think that having a composer’s perspective has aided my performance abilities. As a performer, I feel my job is to interpret the music that was written by the composer, so my ideas as a composer don’t really have a place in this.
Don: Having attained such a high skill level this early in your career, what will keep you interested not only for performance but for composition as well?
Tim: First, I love playing my instruments and composing, so staying interested isn’t a problem. Also, I think it’s actually easier to keep interested when one has a higher level of skill because there’s more that you feel you can do. A lot of kids give up playing an instrument because they find it frustrating and hard to learn the basics. But once you reach a certain level of competency, there’s more enjoyment and fulfillment to be had. In addition, I enjoy performing and interacting with audiences. For composing, I find the creative process extremely satisfying.
“I like performing on the guitar better than on the piano because I feel more in touch with my instrument and the audience on guitar. Since the guitar is quieter than the piano, I feel the performance is more intimate. “
Don: As a musician and composer, where do you see yourself five years from now?
Tim: Five years is a long time to me at this stage in my life, and I have a hard time understanding what could happen in that time. I imagine that I would be starting grad school in music. I hope I’ll still be performing and doing bigger and better things than I am now. I also expect that I will be composing, with some pieces in student films. I am a senior in high school now and will be in college in a few months. That itself will be a big change.
Don: What advice would you give our young readers who are at the start of their own careers as a musician, a composer?
Tim: The main advice I would give is to take every opportunity that you can to perform or write. Each opportunity gives you practice and the potential for other opportunities. Also, do what you enjoy.
Don: Not intending to be redundant, please summarize as to what do you attribute your skills?
Tim: I attribute my skills to many things including innate ability, hard work, teachers, practice, love of music, and listening to lots of music.
Don: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Tim: Don, your questions really covered everything, I think! I don’t have much to add except to say that I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement I have received from people who have heard my music or heard me play. I am truly thankful for the kind words and messages that I have received over the years. That has all meant so much to me.
One thing that is for certain coming out of this interview with Tim Callobre, desire, persistence, hard work, study and patience produces excellence in just about every endeavor one undertakes, music and the performance of music in no exception to this. It also helps to have parental support and great teachers to enhance and elevate the height in which a young person can excel.
Tim has placed high or he has won many contests for piano, guitar and composition. Recently, at sixteen years old, he won the prestigious Christopher Parkening International Young Guitarist competition.
Christopher Parkening is a distinguished professor of music at Pepperdine University’s Seaver College Fine Arts Division, where he holds the Christopher Parkening Chair in Classical Guitar.
Callobre has shown the skill of a mature performer. At seventeen one can only wonder as to what height Tim will reach to. It all started with his debut CD “The Beginning”, an appropriate title for a young man of nine years old making this CD 8 years old since its recording. Certainly there has been enormous advances made by Tim in the intervening years. Hopefully this will be happening sooner rather than later.
“The Beginning” is available for purchase at Guitar9 Records.
I wish to thank Salina Chinn and Tim Callobre for their contributions in making this interview article possible.
All photos are used under direct permission from the copyright holders. All videos are used under the embed rules as provided through YouTube.
Photo of Tim holding the guitar is by- Hayden Betts
CD Cover Photo credit – M. Erbollac