How young musician William Campbell makes Croydon proud


By - Monday 7th December, 2015

Katie Rose interviews Young Citizen and musical prodigy, William Campbell


William Campbell. Photo by Wellington College, used with permission.

A cascade of chords played with powerful passion – William Campbell is practicing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Only fourteen, he travels from his South Norwood home to perform at concerts internationally. Anna, his mother, asks him to play her favourite, Debussy’s ‘Prélude’ from Suite Bergamasque, as she begins his amazing story.

William is the youngest of six children, of whom the eldest, Kimberley, was a great influence – “it wasn’t really what she said, it was just how she played”, he says. The family attends St Mary’s Church in West Croydon where, aged two, William would stand at the front, acting as though he was playing violin with Kimberley’s flute cleaner. Anna found a second-hand violin and William would play in Jonathan Myall’s shop, “totally mesmerised”. Jonathan introduced the family to a Suzuki teacher, but William was considered too young so eventually Kimberley found a teacher at West Wickham Music School who would listen to a three year old. An hour later he completed his first violin lesson.

“Music is magic, it’s beautiful,” says Anna, as she reflects on the story of the harpsichord standing next to the piano, bought as a gift by a complete stranger who heard William playing it in an antique shop. She has a strong appreciation of music and took the children to concerts at Fairfield Halls. William describes this “astonishing music” as life changing – “I remember hearing a really amazing rendition of The Four Seasons” – after that, at age three, “it was just one way forward – classical music”.

By age thirteen William had passed grade eight with distinction in both piano and violin. He also plays organ, trumpet, sings and is a self-taught viola player. He studies for a Diploma of Musical Performance at Wellington College where he was the first student to win the music competition in their first year.

“It’s something very special, we received a huge standing ovation”

“We’ve never had to tell him to practice”, Anna says – William plays violin from 8:00-8:45am daily before school. “Wednesday is my most interesting day”, he says – it includes string quartet, orchestra, string orchestra, chapel choir and jazz band. He has special permission to study violin with the RCM and plays organ at church at the weekends. Balancing his passion for music with academic work can be challenging, but he enjoys languages, maths, physics and chemistry.

William produces an extraordinary list of accomplishments including singing at the Royal Opera House and playing several times at the Royal Festival Hall. His achievements whilst at Cumnor House School include solo violin performances at the Royal Albert Hall and Salzberg Cathedral, singing in Austrian salt mines and Slovenian caves and tours of Italy, Barcelona and Croatia. More recently he toured China with his college, performing on the China Open tennis courts. A seasoned traveller, he had to insist that the case containing his viola and violin was not stored in the hold – a space was found for it in the business class wardrobe.

William has performed across the UK with his ‘second family’, the National Children’s Orchestra, since joining at age seven and also represented them on The Alan Titchmarsh Show. Their concert at Fairfield Halls on 20th December will be his last with them – “it is literally like half of my life and it’s very emotional”.

William has also performed with Pro Corda, Crystal Palace Brass Band, and the Barbican Youth Orchestra and leads the first orchestra for the South London Youth Orchestra. He was recently the youngest player to perform at the premiere of Chineke!, the first BME orchestra; “It’s something very special, we received a huge standing ovation”.

Of a vast range of works, William particularly enjoys the music of the Romantic period –”It gets to you, it stays with you for a long time, it doesn’t leave you”. His favourite symphony is Shostakovich’s ‘Symphony No. 5′ as it has “lots of passion, lots of contrast” and he would love to play ‘Symphony No. 7′, which “as long as it is, is amazing”. He admires jazz musicians Herbie Hancock and Miles Davies.

“It was a lot of pressure but it was an amazing experience. You had people with a lot of power listening to you”

Local composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is an inspiration and William has performed his works at many local events. Of the tragedy of Coleridge-Taylor’s life he says that “you normally expect that composers earn loads of money for writing pieces, but it turns out that that is not always the case”.

William has composed “a few piano pieces and a few violin pieces and three symphonies. Most of the time I write pieces that I just can’t play, either not by myself or because they are just too hard”. Two of his pieces have already been performed – more will surely follow.

William volunteers at Kuumba, inspiring musicians young and old, and fundraises for the Leukaemia Trust. He recently recorded grade one pieces for the ABRSM which will be used by teachers worldwide. When asked what makes a good music teacher he says that “they have to be always forward-thinking, they need to be very encouraging rather than trying to hold you back, and they need to have the same passion for music that you have or aspire to have”. His advice to other young musicians is: “Don’t get disheartened if things don’t go your way, just strive and learn from your mistakes”.

His performance at the House of Lords (aged ten) was his most significant – “It was a lot of pressure but it was an amazing experience. You had people with a lot of power listening to you”. He was told that his piano playing skills could “go a long way”, which was a “turning point, as I started to focus more on the piano, as before it had been second to violin”. He feels that performing at such high levels has helped him gain confidence.

Of course, there have been challenges, as funding a musical career is not easy. William would like to thank the following supporters: Jonathan Myall Award for Young MusiciansThe Dorothy Grinstead Memorial Fund, Hilary Stert, The National Children’s Orchestra, The Leverhulme Trust, Ian Lewington and The Enid Linder Foundation.

For the future, William says that he has two paths – either full time musicianship or pursuing Biomedical Engineering with music as a hobby. It is clear, however, that music would be his first choice – he would love to be a world-class violinist, pianist and jazz musician. With so many strings and accomplishments to his bow, he is absolutely set for greatness.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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  • Anne Giles

    Amazing!!

  • Sean Creighton

    William is very talented. He has played at both the Coleridge-Taylor talks I gave at in the South Norwood Festival over the past couple of years.