Interview with Composer Robert Collister – Part 2

July 15, 2010 at 10:57 pm 2 comments


Soli Deo Gloria:
An Interview with Composer Robert Collister
Part 2

In Part 1, Watchfire Music Composer Robert Collister shared with us his early influences that led him to writing for the musical theatre.  He has to date written 4 musicals and continues to be prolific in several genres of music. 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.”

Read Part 1 of the Collister Interview

In Part 2, Robert shares more about his process, inspiration and talks about his sacred and inspirational compositions.  Let’s continue the conversation:


JW: Robert, what’s it like having performers interpret your music?

RC:  I will admit that sometimes it is very hard for me to hear the music I have written performed by someone else.  Most of the time their interpretations are wonderful, but there will be times that they take too many liberties with what I have done.  And that at times, can make me somewhat uncomfortable.   But to be truthful, a performer, and I am one, has to interpret what the music means to them at that time.  Like I said before,  I write what I hear and feel.  Then I have to remove myself from the composition and let others express themselves through the music.

JW: How do you approach composition? Which comes first, the lyrics or the music?

RC: This is how I like to compose most of the time:  I sit and play chord progressions on a piano or my keyboards. I just play and play, letting the musical ideas come to me. I always have my recording equipment on when I play so I don’t miss any of the musical ideas.

If someone has approached me with words for a song, I will read them over very carefully, seeing the direction they are heading in. Then I put them aside and play. The words will determine key, tempo, meter, etc. When I write musical shows, my writer will have the libretto started and then suggest some lyrics for possible songs. Then she waits to hear the music.

My writer is an extremely spiritual person and will wait for the music which will guide her to the appropriate lyrics. Whenever I ask her to write lyrics for a song, she always says, “Music first, please.”

JW: Robert, you compose a lot of different kinds of music – sacred, contemporary classical, theatrical, etc. What is your favorite genre or style of music to compose?

Robert's MIDI Performance Setup

RC: My favorite genre of music to compose is electronic music, using MIDI (Musical Instrumental Digital Interface). The reason is that I am in complete control of what I hear and feel and therefore, can express that through the many sounds that I have created in my studio. I don’t have to depend on other people to perform the music so I can hear it.

I also have complete control of the musical interpretation. With that said, I also like to write vocal solos using verses from the Bible. I don’t think you can go wrong with those lyrics. They present a challenge since they lack meter and rhyme. It is a fun challenge. Of course I will always love writing for the theatre. I guess I really don’t have a favorite.

JW: So, it’s a bit like asking a painter, what her favorite color is, yes? Hard to choose!

RC: Very hard to choose. But, as long as I can write, I will be happy.

JW: Do you have a personal definition of creativity that you would share?

RC: I strongly believe that music comes from a divine source. 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. And I also like to live my life with that thought as my guide. Why should I take credit for music that comes to me? I just let the musical ideas flow and put them down and then step out of the way so the music can speak to the listener.

JW: So spirituality really does have a solid place within your creative process.

RC: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, the music I write comes from a divine source. In my mind there is no question about that. When I sit to compose I know there is an inexhaustible source of ideas waiting. To me there is no such thing as a writer’s block. How can there be? Infinite ideas abound, just listen and they will come to you. Some of the experiences I have had with music are unbelievable.

All of us are on our spiritual journeys. The paths we take are varied and can have many directions to follow. There is no one path for all. Find your path and start your journey. Most of the time music leads the way for me.

JW: Robert, you have a very complete catalog of Inspirational songs on What inspires you to write sacred songs?

RC: I grew up in a very religious family. Church every Sunday meant Sunday school for me. We were always studying the Bible and talking about the meaning of the passages. I think that if one of my sacred compositions has an effect on a listener so that they would like to become more spiritual, then that piece is a success.

JW: Do you have a favorite composition listed on WFM? If so, what is it, and why is it your favorite?

RC: Most composers say that their favorite piece is the one they are presently working on, but I like “Christ is Risen” the best. This was written for solo and piano or organ accompaniment. I thought there was a need for a new Easter composition. I loved writing the Alleluia part since I know that most singers love to sing melodic descant lines. I have had that solo arranged for SATB chorus as well and it is a very moving piece.

Listen to this sample of “Christ Is Risen” — both orchestra and melody were performed by Robert on his MIDI system!

Listen to the full accompaniment track of “Christ Is Risen.”  (This is minus the melody) Robert offers accompaniment tracks to all of his songs on Watchfire Music.

JW:  I also have to say that one of my favorite songs of yours is “Lead Me To The Rock.” I love the sweeping melody that cries out — just the way I feel — when I sing those words!  Thank you for your beautiful rendering of these plaintive verses in the Bible!

Here is a sample of  “Lead Me To The Rock”:

Listen to the full accompaniment track of “Lead Me To The Rock”:

JW: Watchfire Music will be launching your choral arrangements very soon — and we will let EVERYONE know when we do!!  We are so glad to be adding them, as more folks will get to experience your Inspirational music in a variety of ways.

I am going to close with my favorite questions that James Lipton always asks his guests on Inside The Actor’s Studio:

First, what profession would you choose to do if you weren’t in music?

Photo by Robert during a hike

RC: I have always liked the outdoors. While I lived in Tennessee, I was a volunteer for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I maintained hiking trails there. Being in the park was like being in God’s country. Many times I could feel God’s presence with me in the mountains. Now I hike and maintain trails at Letchworth State Park in NY, and maintain trails in various towns nearby. I hike 20-25 miles a week. So I guess I would have been a Park Ranger if I had not gone into music.

JW: Second, what profession would you NEVER do?

This is an easy one for me. I could never be a dentist. Looking into someone’s mouth with drill in one hand and file in the other is just not for me, although I am very grateful that we have dentists.

JW: I guess I would have to agree with you on that one!!  Any final comments?

RC: Two extra thoughts for performers and anyone who is creative regardless of the medium they work in:

1. Don’t ever let what someone else may say about your work effect what you do. I know negative comments are very difficult to handle sometimes. You wonder whether you should keep creating or just throw in the towel. Don’t ever give up! Negative comments usually come from envious or jealous people. Stand guard against that!

Constructive criticism should always be welcome. We need different thoughts and ideas to keep us progressing and moving ahead. This lesson I learned the hard way. There was a time when I first started writing that I could not handle the criticism. I stopped writing for 15 years. My wife finally said after hearing my rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer,” it was time for me to get back to work. I have never stopped since.

2. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. In my opinion too many accolades can be just as harmful as the negative comments.

We should never lose our creative identity because of what someone has said about our work, positive or negative. Each of us has a creative voice which should never be silenced. There is only one you and no one can create or perform like you. Everyone is a unique individual with infinite ideas to share. That’s what makes this life so wonderful. You never know what will be created next.

But one thing I will always know, “Soli Deo Gloria.”

Thanks Julia for the opportunity to be interviewed by you.

JW: The pleasure is mine, Robert! Thanks for sharing with all of us!

Read Part 1 of the Collister Interview

Read 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:
Christ Is Risen
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!


Inspiratus Interview by
Julia Wade
Director of Digital Sheet Music

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Interview with Composer Robert Collister – Part 1 Every Day

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary Allison VanDillen  |  July 18, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I have bought several of RC compositions for our church from Watchfire Music. We are singing “Truth” next Sunday, a beautiful music composition he has written for a Mary Baker Eddy poem. Thank U, Julia, for letting us learn more about this talented composer.

  • 2. juliawade  |  July 20, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Mary,

    So glad you enjoyed learning more about Robert Collister. I think the opportunity to find out a little more of what these creative folks think about and how they approach their art opens new doors of thought in interpreting and listening to their music.

    Also, when I think about it, every time we sing a song, we are in the company not only of the musicians we are singing with, but also the composer and lyricist. They live through the music we are singing. And how much richer the experience to know something about them!


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