1. Tell us about yourself.
William Crosby, 22, originally from Bedfordshire, now living and working in both Cambridge and London. I began learning the classical guitar when I was 8, taught myself electric guitar and music theory through my teens, and studied Art, Literature, Classical Music, and Music Technology throughout most of my school life. I graduated from Anglia Ruskin in October 2015 with upper First Class honours, having 'majoured' in Contemporary Composition, Musicology/Musical Philosophy, Classical Guitar studies, and cross-discipline/multi-media installation and performance; I was also awarded the Mark Devin Music Performance Prize.
Musically, I was (and still am, I suppose?) a late-bloomer (though, can one ever consider themselves 'bloomed'?) I never really had formal musical lessons, but rather took what I knew from playing guitar and just followed my ears and natural inquisition from there. I soon discovered I had somewhat of a natural proclivity towards slightly 'odd' things, and a precocious incredulity towards the things I had become to know as normal. Beyond resulting in most of my lunchtimes and after-school hours spent inside, alone, being fairly a-social, I did find that by the end of my teens I had amassed quite an impressive record collection, and a determination to question everything I was being told in my classrooms. This got me into a fair few arguments at school, but I think it proved my greatest ally when I arrived at University.
After my degree, I was appointed to an Associate Lecturer position at Anglia Ruskin, teaching classical guitar. In conjunction, I was given a second year-long research grant from the musicology department and am currently employed as a Research Assistant to the Head of Music and Performing Arts, Paul Jackson. Outside of this I was selected to be part of a year-long residency with the Brunel University-affiliated Institute of Composing, as part of their Academy Inégales programme in a 'trainee composer-in-residence' sort of role. Outside of this I am a freelance composer, performer, writer, and musicologist, and have research areas in musical semiotics, music and ecology/social politics, and music and architecture. I also teach music privately, work for Cambridge University Press part-time, DJ, and play keyboards/synths/guitar in a Psychedelic/Glam/Pop band, called Lupo.
I also do not sleep much, and drink a lot of coffee.
2. What is your fondest memory at Anglia Ruskin University?
I suppose I look back now fairly romantically at my time at University, although at the time I was so immersed in my work that I probably did not take enough time to just stop and look around. However, I do remember a time in my second year, when we had the first full orchestral rehearsal for Percy Grainger's In A Nutshell suite. It is very unusual for me to be moved by music such as that (very loud, grand, and melodic compared to my usual taste), but I remember welling up at one particularly climatic section, and just thinking how amazing it was that I was able to be a part of such a project and was doing what I was doing with my life.
It was far too eventful a three years for me to decide on, or even remember, specific memories! Writing a piece for, and working with, the Anglia Chamber Choir was very special (and I owe a huge debt to Dr Paul Rhys for his support during that project), and I will never forget the all-night essay writing sessions in the library with my friend, Will, and the 7am bleary-eyed breakfasts afterwards. Meeting Steve Reich at the Southbank Centre in my first year was certainly a highlight, as was getting a commission from Tate in my third, but I think overall it was getting to that point where it all 'clicked' for me, and I found my (albeit still developing) voice in amongst the tumult.
3. What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?
That they are correct to feel the apprehension I am sure the majority do; the world outside of the safety of an institution is scary, and no one really wants to help you... certainly not our government! Utilise your unique position of creativity and attainment for some kind of social good in amongst the rat race, and always show compassion from your position of privilege.
Apart from that I would say the same thing I once heard my Grandad say: "Whatever you do in life, make sure you have a comfy bed and a comfy pair of shoes, because no matter what you're doing you'll always be in one!"
4. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst you were studying?
That no matter how passionate and engaged with something you are, it should not be to the detriment of your engagement with friends, family, relationships, and the space which you occupy. I think I neglected some of these things at times, and I am still working to rebuild some of them now. It is also not a contest as to who knows the most or who has read what, and lecturers are twenty or thirty years older than you are for a reason: these things take time. The impetuousness of youth is too easily given in to, and soon becomes a burden.
5. How did your time at Anglia Ruskin help you?
I owe an awful lot to Anglia Ruskin. It unlatched the door to the nebulous web of possibilities within the world of music that I would have otherwise never engaged with, and moreover, it allowed me the time and resources to traverse my way through them at my own pace and in my own way. I suppose, in a broader, non-musical sense, it allowed me to gain a wider world-view, and a comprehension of the things that surround me everyday. You join University a naïve teenager, your mind focused on all the wrong things. You leave a naïve twenty-something, but at least you have a vague idea what it is you are into!
6. What did you love about your chosen course?
Beyond the many wonderful people I had the privilege to work and study alongside, I would certainly say the academic staff. I think a lot of students go through their degrees without ever trying or wanting to escape that teacher/student dynamic, which is a great shame. From lending you a book, to buying you coffee and having a chat when you are low on confidence, the relationship I was able to build with the vast majority of my lecturers is what, I think, provided the most valuable aspects of my course. If you care to break from the usual educational paradigm, ‘staff’ soon become friends, co-workers, and collaborators, and that is a much healthier environment for developing your character and practice.
7. What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Anglia?
Cambridge is a great city, with lots going on. Beware that universities can behave quite insularly, and departments often want to act autonomously, but if you have the right tenacity, ability, and engagement, there is a real university- and city-wide zest for collaboration and interaction to be found. It is also a good idea to keep abreast of what other universities are engaging with in your field. A bit of precociousness can easily get you some course notes or a free pass to some lectures.
Overall, I would say the same thing I would tell anyone applying to a place of higher education: if it seems right for your aims and interests, then do! Make sure the course content covers your wants and needs, but moreover thoroughly investigate the academic staff—their research areas and practice. It was the advice I got outside of lectures—the theoretical collaboration, and the tangential anecdotes—that were the most resonating facets of my degree. Although, do not by any means feel pressured into knowing what you want to do at such an early stage; I did most of my discovery while I was studying, and made the shoe fit as I went along.
8. In one word how would you describe Anglia?
9. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
I am sure most people will agree that influences change, and come and go throughout your life, but many will often look back at their original inspirations fondly, at least in as much as playing the role of a catalyst for their career. In my case, that would be my older brother, Jonathan.
He is also a musician, and with fifteen years between us, it meant that I grew up with his music all around me. I would often sit outside his door, unbeknownst to him, and listen to him play guitar, just in awe really. When I was eight and said, “I want to play guitar, like Jon!” he embraced my curiosity and helped fuel and fund a lot of my initial career, and continues to support me now, despite treading a radically different path to the one he set me out on.
Nowadays I suppose different things influence me, and as I have grown older I have learned to draw influence from many areas of my life and surroundings, and elicit inspiration take from less obvious, more oblique phenomena I encounter. I feel the problems I confront in my life (personal and political) produce much more of a creative impulse than other musics or art forms. I do however, distinctly remember it was upon hearing John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, and Charles Ives’ Central Park In The Dark when I was 16 or 17 that I knew contemporary music and composition was what I wanted to do, and to this day it is the issues of timbre, spatiality, ecology, and obscuration that both these pieces address that still resonate through all of my work. I also always hold David Bowie up as my idol, and still cry every time I listen to Jeff Buckley.
10. Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
Maybe it is obvious, or even trite, but I am proud to have got my degree, and to have achieved such a high grade. I worked hard, and made a lot of sacrifice. I think a lot of people questioned the emphasis I put on my studies, but in the end I ceased thinking of it as a course or qualification, and instead approached each piece of work in the way I wanted to and inline with my own philosophy. In this light, I am more proud of the portfolio my degree produced, rather than the piece of paper.
11. What advice would you give your younger self?
Look after your body, because it is that which is your real instrument. Do not listen to as much Shostakovich, because there is not as much there as you think. Continue learning French and German. Definitely do not shave half your head during your ‘punk phase’. Realise sooner how cool my parents really are, deep down. And to my very recent younger self: do not procrastinate in answering these interview questions. It’s 2am and you’ve got to be up at 5:45am.
12. What drives you?
I am sure, like every person involved in the creative arts, what drives you is one’s ideas, or perhaps (a more cynical or facetious assessment would be) the fear of running out of ideas: the process of getting every idea out of your head and into a physical manifestation before it is lost and gone forever, but also so that you have a ‘bank’ of ideas should the unthinkable happen and you wake up one day with none left. Seriously though, I feel I have began to build a nice momentum, which is ensuring I maintain a forward trajectory. The ambit of this trajectory should stay subject to change at any point though, so keeping an open and inquisitive (as opposed to naïve) mind is key, for me.
13. What's next?
More of the same I think. I am planning to continue on this current route for another year or so, and continue to develop my practice, conduct more research, and keep building a portfolio of work that begins to tackle some of the problems and issues I feel most closely. I am looking to enrol on a Composition by Research MAR at University of Huddersfield in 2017, with a concentration on researching the intersections between ecology, its inherent social politics, modes of listening and their study, and types of music which invoke specific arenas of listening/interaction/participation/perception, and draw together a musical cartography of these findings which I will follow as a stimulus for my compositional practice.
I am also looking forward to curating a series of socially-engaged research seminars in Musicology and Composition at Anglia Ruskin, which look to bridge the gap between staff and student practice within the local community, with the aim of affording a wider accessibility to the kinds of opportunities I was fortunate to receive while a student, and now a graduate; conducting some activist/art actions to re-socialise corporate spaces in Cambridge; having some new writings published and pieces performed; travelling in the summer with my partner, and seeing her newly curated art/ecology exhibition in Oslo; reading more; sleeping less; doing outreach work within the musical healthcare sector with the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine; going on tour in late-spring; getting better at cooking vegan pies; and going home to see my cat.
Click below to watch Will Crosby being interviewed: