Interview with Composer Robert Collister – Part 1

July 13, 2010 at 9:36 am Leave a comment


Soli Deo Gloria:
An Interview with Composer Robert Collister
Part 1

Composer Robert Collister was raised in Rochester, New York. He says, “I attended public school, and I was always playing baseball or riding my bike somewhere. In high school I played in the band and orchestra. I played baseball and tennis and also was in the drama club. I guess you could say I was just an average kid.”

Well, this “average kid” went on to become a versatile and prolific composer, musician, performer, and educator. Robert is a Watchfire Music composer with an extensive and beautiful catalog of Inspirational church solos. Very soon, WFM will be releasing a whole set of Robert’s choral songs on Read Part 2 of the Collister Interview.

On writing music, Robert says “I don’t like to take credit for what I write since I feel that I am just a vehicle from which music passes through. Bach would write on many of his compositions, “Soli Deo Gloria,” — “To God Alone the Glory.” I take the same position.”

Please join me as Robert shares with us with rich stories and inspiring thoughts on his lifelong experience with music.


JW: How did you become interested in music?

RC: The best way to answer this question is that I don’t remember not being interested in music. I grew up in a musical family. My mother was an accomplished pianist. Back in the old days she used to play for the silent movies.

I can remember my aunt, who was a piano teacher, coming over to our house almost every Sunday and playing piano duets with my mother. They were both outstanding musicians — but as a kid, what I remember most was how they used to laugh as they played. They just had the greatest time playing music.

JW: So music was a truly joyful experience early on in your life! I love that!

RC: My older brother and sister were both excellent musicians. My brother played the violin and my sister played the cello. Our school started students playing instruments in the 5th grade. I received one of the highest scores on the Sea Shore music aptitude test, so they said I could play any instrument I wanted. I chose the bassoon. The only problem was that in the 5th grade I was too small to get my hands around the bassoon. So they started me with the clarinet.

After one year I was able to start the bassoon. The next year the high school orchestra was asked to play a concert in Atlantic City. Although I was still in elementary school the conductor took me along since he knew that I could play the parts. My brother and sister were also in the orchestra and that trip had quite a positive effect on me.

JW: What kind of music influenced you early on?

RC: When I was a child, I used to listen to music all of the time. Handel’s Messiah was my favorite. It still is today. Many, many times I went to our public library and took out the score and followed along. I also had other favorites: Robert Shaw Chorale singing Negro spirituals, (very powerful),  Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart symphonies, big band music and rock and roll.

I can remember not feeling 100% and I would listen to sections of the Messiah and be lifted up and taken away. At the time I had no idea how such a change in me could take place, but I knew that music must be a powerful force.

JW: Well, that just confirms one more time my deep belief that music is absolutely an agent for healing in one’s life. The same has been true for me – great music has always lifted me up and out of negative thinking or feelings.

Was there a defining moment that made you choose music as a profession?

RC: I didn’t wake up on day and say, “I guess I’ll go into the music business.” But, by the time I was a senior in high school, I knew I wanted to be involved with music. I had countless musical experiences building up to that point, so I knew I was headed in the right direction. I knew I wanted to be a music teacher since I love music, kids and teaching. Being a music teacher allowed me the extra time needed to perform and compose. I have had these three jobs for as long as I can remember.

JW: Robert, you are a composer of musicals. How did you get interested in musical theatre?

RC: My path to musical theatre actually started when I played in a pit orchestra as a junior in high school. The show was “The Wizard of Oz.” I really didn’t know what to expect, but the bassoon part is one of the best to play in musical theatre. Sitting next to the stage, seeing the actors in costume with make-up, and all of the scenery and the acting going on, I just loved it.

But I didn’t realize the effect music from musical theatre had on me until my junior year at Eastman School of Music. It was after midnight and I was watching Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel on television. When they came to the end of the show singing the reprise “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” I was overwhelmed. I had tears in my eyes.

Such a simple melody and chord progression was creating this emotion, and it was an important event moving me towards music. After that I went to the public library and took out every recording of musicals and their vocal scores I could get my hands on. I would listen for hours and study the scores.

I played most of the touring musicals coming to town that needed a bassoon player. Some of the shows I played were: “Man of LaMancha”, “I Do, I Do”, “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver”.

JW: Would you talk about some of the musicals you have created?

RC: The first musical I wrote was “Vladimir: The Dracula Musical.” I had written an electronic piece called “Dracula.” When my writer, Leslie Collins heard it, she said “Let’s write a Dracula musical!” She had always been a Dracula fan and after hearing all of the sound effects and electronic sounds I used, she was motivated. She did research on Vald the Impaler, and used Bram Stoker’s Dracula book as her sources.

Vladimir is described as a “gothic romance thriller drawn from Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire story and extensive research on Vlad The Impaler, the 15th century Romanian warrior prince.”  Here are three songs from the musical:

I Am Vladimir Into The Night I Am Missing You Vladimir touches the heart and stimulates the senses the way a good musical should.  The music by Collister is both frightening and inspiring, adding the perfect touches of drama and emotion through the entire performance.” — The City Newspaper Vladimir in a word, ‘fantastic’.  The script and music evoke laughter, tears and chills.” — Wolfe Publications


RC:  We also wrote a show called “Captive.” This was based on the true life story of Mary Jemison, an Irish girl captured by the Shawnee Indians at the age of 12. She was later adopted by the Seneca Indians. This is just a fantastic story. We produced the show in New York City and received rave reviews.

The New York Amsterdam News writes,”Robert Collister’s music offers a spectrum of moods and tones that gives the production rich colors.” And of lyricist and book writer Leslie Collins, The New York Amsterdam News says, “Leslie Collins shows the deep appreciation that the Senecas had for family, the Divine, nature, and nation.”

Listen to some tracks from Collister’s “spectrum of moods and tones” from Captive: Take My Hand Wailing/Acceptance Protection Passing Over


RC:  Next, we wrote a musical based on the life of the Christian healer, Mary Baker Eddy in which we performed a musical reading of the show to a sold out audience in New York City. We continue to revise and rewrite the show.

JW: I don’t think most folks realize the years and depth of commitment that go into developing a music drama for the stage in which all the component parts – music, book (or libretto), songs, lyrics, character, plot, story structure, etc. all have to be worked and reworked to come into a unified whole. It’s such a huge undertaking!

RC: It is true, but once we start everything falls into place.

We also wrote a musical called “Journey,” about the Cherokee Indians for the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in eastern Tennessee. The show was written for an amphitheatre they have there. As you can tell I try to writes about real people and events.

JW: I just love that.  Someone once said that in writing for the musical theater, often the most compelling shows are about people who are caught up in the effects or action of a major world event, such as World War II.

RC: Yes, that’s very true.  “Journey”  deals with the very major issue of how Native Americans — in this case, the Cherokee — dealt with the white people as they came into their land. The government finally forced the Eastern Cherokee to move to Oklahoma. This forced march was called “The Trail of Tears.” Over 4,000 Cherokee died while on that journey. Many of the Eastern Cherokee went into the mountains to hide from the soldiers. Their relatives are still there in eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. Very brave people who had stayed true to their heritage.

Listen to excerpts from the Journey cast concept CD:

Seven Clans
‘Til I See You Again
Time For War

JW:  Robert, your writing these shows serves to bring an awareness of important events that tend to be forgotten in our country’s history. I love the power that art holds to open and widen our perceptions about historical events that have taken place.  It’s such an important aspect of the creative arts.

RC: On the lighter side, I also wrote the music for a show called “Temps.”  This show is about what performers have to do to keep going until they can get cast in a show. They of course usually do temp work.

JW: Ha!  So “Life imitates Art” — yes?

RC:  Yes!  This is a very cute show. We have done three reading in NYC, and now wait for things to happen.

Check out these oh-so-true songs about life as a performer/temp!
My Own Song
How You Love My Heart
Everything In Place


This concludes Part 1 of the Robert Collister Interview
Read Part 2!

Even though, Robert says he’s waiting for things to happen with his latest show,  you will see in Part 2 of my interview with Robert that he keeps busy with all kinds of projects.  In Part 2, we will explore a whole other side of his music — the sacred and inspirational church music he has written for choirs and soloists.

Find out more about Robert Collister.

To purchase Robert Collister’s CDs or find out more about his musicals
Vladimir, Captive, Journey and Temps,
click here to contact Whispering Chimes Music.

Also… Check Out These Sacred Song Titles by Robert Collister:
Gifts That Come From Above
Lead Me To The Rock
Praise Ye The Lord
Unto A Perfect Man


About Robert Collister

Robert Collister is a versatile composer, musician, performer, and educator. As a composer he has written 23 sacred solos and many SATB choral pieces for church services that are sold internationally. He has composed the music for the following musical theatre shows: “Vladimir: The Dracula Musical,” “Captive,” “The Calling” — a musical based on the life of Mary Baker Eddy, “Journey” — a show about the Cherokee Nation of Eastern Tennessee, and “Temps” – a musical comedy show soon to be produced off-Broadway.

Under the record label, Whispering Chimes Music, Robert released his CD, “World Reach Out For Him,” which has received air play on radio stations nationwide. His two musical cast CDs, “Vladimir,” and “Captive,” sell nationally.

As a teacher of music, Robert is a woodwind specialist, band and choral director. He has also served as music director, conductor, arranger and performer for numerous musical shows including “Man of La Mancha,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Music Man,” “I Do, I Do,” “Oliver,” “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Bells are Ringing,” “Camelot,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Robert Collister holds a BM and an MM from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY and has performed professionally for over 35 years.

Photo by Robert Collister — taken during one of his hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


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Songs For A Summer Sunday Interview with Composer Robert Collister – Part 2

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