The melodious tones of Andrew Ford are loved by ABC Radio National listeners Australia wide who know him as the longtime host of The Music Show on Saturday mornings. The Robertson local, who is also a writer and an acclaimed composer, has had his works commissioned and performed by some of the most esteemed singers, orchestras, ensembles and quartets around the globe. Recently he shared his thoughts with Escape on piano practice, inspiration and his next big piece.
What do you like about living here? Anything not to like?
I like the weather, especially in winter. But I wish the trains were faster.
How did a boy from Liverpool end up in Robertson via Wollongong?
Actually it wasn’t just via Wollongong, it was via South-East London and Lancaster and Bradford and Wollongong and Sydney. We moved here in 2000.
You grew up in the UK during the time of The Beatles and other Sixties’ pop groups. Did you ever imagine music would become your career?
I expected to be a primary school teacher (which, by the way, I consider the most important job in the world). I stumbled into music. I still think ‘career’ is an odd word for what I do.
What was it about formal composition that attracted you?
I was seduced by the orchestra. It’s a world of sound. I like writing orchestral music more than anything else. If 80 plus people are going to play together, they can’t just make it up. Someone needs to plan the thing. That’s the composer’s job.
Are people surprised to learn you never really learnt to play the piano?
I tinker at the piano, but I imagine music in my head and then work it out on paper (I still use a pencil and paper). It’s hard to explain. You’d have to watch me at work, and even then you’d probably just think I was a bit odd.
Composing, writing, broadcasting. Do you love all three parts of your life equally?
Composing is the hardest and so the most fulfilling. But I do enjoy both the other things.
How do you become a composer?
You have to work very hard and write and write. Then you need luck. Of course you can’t teach that! But you must have both thin skin (for the creative bit) and thick skin (for the disappointments). And it’s not about self promotion and great websites. You might talk your way into a first performance, but if your music’s no good, there won’t be any more.
How many pieces have you written. Do you have a favourite?
More than a hundred, I expect. Favourites? My next piece is going to be brilliant!
You’ve interviewed hundreds of musicians. Who are you still to meet?
Keith Jarrett, though he can be very grumpy. Joni Mitchell, ditto. Kate Bush.
The highpoint of your career?
Did I mention my next piece?
When you are working on a piece, does it take on a life of its own?
If it’s going well, yes. It’s a wonderful feeling being bossed around by a piece of music.
Do your compositions have a common thread running through them?
I suppose I’m their common thread.
Who or what inspires your music?
It’s quite hard to say. I mentioned that music is my job, so that’s a kind of inspiration. A lot of people feel that music is about other things, like birth, death, falling in love, landscapes. But really it’s about itself.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Do your piano practice. Pity I didn’t take it.
What or who are the loves of your life?
My wife and eight-year-old daughter. I don’t really like leaving them, so it’s good that I work at home as much as I do.
What’s your favourite place to go in the Highlands and why?
The Robertson graveyard. It has a beautiful view and a very special atmosphere.
Where do you always take friends who come to visit the Highlands?
See above. I always take visitors there.
The Sea and the Mirror has its world premiere in Canberra on September 22. Do you ever premiere works in the Highlands?
The biggest piece I’ve composed for a local premiere was A Singing Quilt in 2008. That was for seven local choirs (formed up into one big choir) in Bundanoon Soldiers’ Memorial Hall.
You and your friend and neighbour artist Ben Quilty are collaborating together on a project. What is it?
It’s fluid. But I’ll keep you posted!
And, finally, please finish this sentence: Old composers never die, they just … repeat themselves