On the Record with Donovan Seidle

Interview by Nathaniel Schmidt.

NS: Can you give a little bit of information about your background and current activities?

DS: My name is Donovan Seidle—I am a (busily) working violinist, composer and arranger. I grew up here in Calgary, Alberta, and make my home here. As I was growing up, I took violin lessons through the Conservatory's Academy Program over at (then) Mount Royal College. I was involved with the Calgary Youth Orchestra, the Calgary Fiddlers, taking my music exams for violin and theory, and competing in the annual Kiwanis Music Festival! I then attended the University of Calgary, starting studies in both Music and Computer Science, then moving my focus exclusively to music completing the requirements for both Performance and Composition.
Following this were a few years off freelancing, and then a Masters degree at Northwestern University in Chicago. During this time I played with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Upon graduating (and even before that), I starting on the audition circuit and promptly won a position as Assistant Concertmaster with my hometown orchestra, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. I have held that position for 10 years now. 
From the age of about 16, I have dabbled in composition; and so through all of that time I was working with several other composers on side projects in that vein; I've always been interested in incidental music for various media—from film to video games and more.

NS: Is there a particular craft you feel closest to? Do you feel like you're an even mix of all the different mediums you work in? Is there one you feel is stronger than the others?

DS: I have always felt very close to playing the violin, as I have done so since I was about 5 years of age. Amidst all the stresses of this career, I find the most peace when I am practicing or performing great repertoire—there's nothing quite like being surrounded by the music when playing in an orchestra, and working with your colleagues towards that common performance goal. That said (and perhaps related to that), I love to contribute to a larger work of art—contributing the musical voice to a film or play is really something special to me—and I've had several opportunities so far in my career to be involved with some great projects.

I don't think my skillset is 'evenly' split, but I do feel any particular skill gives me a richer context for using a different skill. For example, as a composer or arranger, my skill at writing string parts is quite informed. I've read many parts by other composers and arrangers, and know how strings work from a performers' perspective. Similarly, the experience I have as a composer/arranger may inform my tasks as a violinist (largely a monophonic instrument), for example, in the context of being one voice of many in an orchestra where those lines sit in the larger harmonic progressions may determine how I play them.
NS: Can you speak about a few career highlights or gigs you've particularly enjoyed? 

DS: I've had the pleasure of working closely with several other composers and arrangers. One that has been a long-time colleague is Dave Pierce, through whom I have worked on a few really big projects. In 2009 he named me as Associate Director of Music for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, for which I profoundly thank him. Through this opportunity, I was able to be a crucial part of a team to compose, arrange, edit, and perform the music for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics. It was truly a career highlight, and something I would dearly love to do again!
As a performer, I've gotten to play in orchestras that accompany great soloists, soloed myself, toured around the world, and directed my own groups—there are a lot of possibilities in this career. 

NS: Are there some more things you'd like to explore? 

DS: I'm still working on my 'voice' as both a performer and a composer. This is something that simultaneously frustrates and delights me—the work is never done. There is always another piece to explore, and there are always more notes that are possible to write. So, I'd like to actually 'establish' my writing voice and use it effectively; and there is always so much music that is available to learn and perform. Bottom line for wishes about my career and all the things that I'd like to explore is that I'm never short of opportunities! I'd really like to be writing more music for film and video games—I think those mediums are fascinating (and are also potentially lucrative!).

NS: Who are some influences? Is there a particular style or artist you feel closest to? 

DS: Many people won't know him, but I really like the classical music of Mark O' Connor. Mark is a talented American fiddler, but he's 'crossed over' a little bit into writing string quartets, symphonies, and concertos. He bills himself as sort of a Copland incarnate, that incorporates folk (or folk inspired/styled) melodies to his writing that is largely tonal. I very much enjoy his writing, and attention to detail—quite a talent, and worth a listen. I wrote my piece “Chinook” after listening to a lot of Copland and O'Connor.

I have many favourites when in comes to film music, ranging from Jerry Goldsmith to Danny Elfman. The usual suspects are all in there: Zimmer, Williams, Horner, Silvestri, etc.

NS: Are there any difficulties associated with choosing more than one medium to work in?

DS: The idea of being a “jack of all trades” is one that has troubled me for my whole career so far. The idea that dividing one's attention is detrimental to skill-building can push some people to try to become experts in a single field. That just doesn't work for me for a few reasons—[I'm] plainly just too interested in a range of things to only focus on one, and I've found, again, that a wide range of knowledge/skillsets can benefit those different skillsets in different ways. The largest difficulty I have in my career (especially at the present) is that I don't have the time or energy to focus on all the things I'd like to!
NS: Does location/geography effect the kind of work you do? Or has our age of connectivity made it possible to be a successful artist wherever you live?

DS: I still maintain that location affects the work I do. There are things that have become easier in the age of connectivity—speaking to somebody face-to-face can be accomplished from anywhere in the world now, however, a director from across the globe spending time in your studio cannot and sometimes this is crucial. Files and revisions can be sent in an instant, which is also very helpful.

I use a range of tools to help me in my writing and organization of my career—from team scheduling apps/sites to project management software, file transfer software, Skype and Facetime, websites, and more. These tools allow me to manage my career and be successful as a writer/arranger/editor from afar.

As for the performing angle—that is something that heretofore has been entirely location-based, and yet may come into question in the future. Take for example, the success of the Metropolitan Opera (based in New York) and their live satellite broadcasts around the globe, or Berlin Philharmonic's “Berlin Concert Hall” website through which you can watch concerts live (or archived). Will services like these eventually impinge on the careers of local performing artists? Perhaps, but perhaps the related, 'incidental' aspects of attending a concert experience are as important as the concert (or movie, or circus, or whatever) itself.

A business owner must find a public to whom he can sell his wares—an artist is no different; and this age of connectivity has allowed businesses and artists to reach further and broader than before.

Check out some of Donovan's work on his website: donovanseidle.com

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