by Paul Blandford
notes, and recollections
HIS PARENTS MISGIVINGS, CHARLES CAMILLERI
FOLLOWED HIS INSTINCTS AND TOOK UP A MUSICAL CAREER THAT HAS BEEN
HUGELY SUCCESSFUL, BOTH HERE AND ABROAD. TODAY HE TELLS RAMONA
DEPARES ABOUT HIS DECISION TO GAMBLE ON A CAREER IN MUSIC
AND THE ROAD HE TOOK TO ACHIEVING HIS GOALS.
and composers are afraid of the word chaos and of
the lack of order and structure that the word, even when applied
to a music score, implies.
Camilleri. The maestro, lauded the world over for his gifted talents,
positively thrives on musical chaos and the opportunity for creativity
it offers. Indeed, in Thoughts and Observations on Music,
one of Prof. Camilleris books on the subject, he is quoted
as saying that "order really exists in chaos everything
is presented to us in chaos. The artist does not impose order
on chaos but rather discovers the order already present in that
seems to have worked. Prof. Camilleri is probably the most successful
and well-known composer in Malta: his original works have been
played in various countries, including London and the States.
His is one of the few names that anyone who has some Maltese blood
running in his veins invariably recognises, whether or not he
is interested in music.
always had music in my house," he said. "My mother used
to play the guitar, we were all quite musical. But from the very
beginning I remember that I wanted to create my own music and
not just play someone elses! This rebellious streak of creativity
often got me into trouble with my piano teacher. I would always
re-arrange the pieces she gave me to practise at home to suit
my own liking."
And so his
early childhood was spent practising the piano and being told
off for daring to "re-arrange" Mozart or Beethoven.
father used to say I had crooked ears!" The composer said,
laughing affectionately at this recollection.
the young pianists eleventh birthday and the creativity
which had till then been bubbling under the surface was allowed
a free reign. The result was a lively festa march
which was played at the village feast. This seemed to seal Prof.
Camilleris fate: even at such a young age he knew that his
future was with music.
got paid a pound note by the band for that composition,"
he said, the pride of recollection lighting up his eyes.
the Camilleri family were not too keen to have their son choose
that particular road, with both his mother and father scared that
the teenager would abandon his academic studies in favour of the
arts. It was a frequent occurrence for the composers father
to give away the boys piano, hoping, as it were, to dampen
Just as frequently,
the pianists mother would rent it back while her husband
was away on business.
mother was always the softer one!" he said, laughing. "More
often than not shed give in to my musical demands. Dad,
on the other hand, would caution me and re-iterate time and time
again that if I werent careful Id end up playing the
piano in Vallettas notorious Strait Street! Today I dont
blame him. If you look at what most musicians of the time did,
playing in Strait Street was exactly it. Åfter all, it was
the sole entertainment spot on the island."
his fathers fears never materialised: the worried parent,
in fact, managed to persuade his son to complete his academic
studies at the Lyceum before dedicating his life to music. Not
that Prof. Camilleris interest waned: at the Lyceum he would
spend most of his money on buying biographies of well-known composers.
these biographies was almost like seeing my life in print, or
rather the life I wanted to make for myself. Even back then I
used to tell myself that I wanted to do for Malta the same as
these composers had done for their countries. I wanted my brand
of music to be known," Prof. Camilleri continued.
I asked whether
he considered himself to have been lucky.
that if you believe in something strongly enough in life, if you
are really determined to succeed at what you set your mind to,
then youll make it. The important thing in life is the journey
and not the destination, the maestro replied.
By the time
he was at the Lyceum, his taste in music had taken a definite
orientation. The family business often took the Camilleri family
to Tunis and when it did, the young Charles accompanied them.
It was there that he first became acquainted with folk music and
the Eastern version of ghana. Back home, he would
use his fathers Filco radio to tune into Eastern folk music
to the ghana, I realised that what my music teacher
was teaching me did not tally with everybodys taste. The
folk people enjoyed different tunes and music. I knew something
was different and was determined to do something about it,"
in his youth that he still remembers with great pleasure, was
being taken to the Proms in London by the Lyceum. Listening to
the music at the Royal Albert Hall he suddenly made the firm decision
that his life would take a musical direction. Back home, his family
although suspecting it for quite a while was not
they wanted me to take on what they called a proper job, meaning
a nine-to-five one," he admitted. "They did not view
musicians as job-holders! But I dont believe in that kind
of thing. After all, the office job scenario is a con that we
ourselves have created. Who says that life has to revolve around
a traditional office job? Think of how limiting to creativity
these jobs are."
I asked the
musician what he meant by this statement.
many people are stuck in the same daily routine?" he asked.
"They wake up, go to the office, get back home, watch some
TV and go to sleep. And then they open their eyes the following
day and its the same old story over again. Can you imagine
anything more boring? No wonder I chose a life of music and creativity
over this kind of life!"
point came on Prof. Camilleris eighteenth birthday, when
the whole family emigrated to Australia, which at the time was
a cultural desert. The aspiring composer decided that
two years of this desert were more than enough and when he was
20 he upped and left for London on his own.
young, I had no job but I wasnt about to give up without
trying," he said. "In London I met Harold Fielding the
impresario and ended up spending some five years touring theatres
there. I wrote music, I conducted and I managed to integrate myself
in the musical circle and got to know the people who mattered.
London became my second home."
as it was, when opportunity beckoned Prof. Camilleri, now in his
mid-twenties, flew off to America, was asked to do some programmes
there and spent what he described as the most exciting 10 years
of his life.
be in New York in the 60s was electrifying," he said. "In
the States and Canada I did everything, everything related to
music, that is. I conducted, I wrote film scores, I was published
and then I was appointed conductor with CBC a wonderful
opportunity. Naturally I loved the money, however, around 1965
I decided to quit and dedicate the rest of my life to composition."
And so it
was back to London, where the maestro was musically interviewed
by Arthur Jacobs on the BBC.
It was then
that Prof. Camilleri was introduced to Basil Ramsey (head of publications
at Novellos, London) and Bernard Hermann (the composer who
wrote the scores for Hitchocks movies).
He was signed
up with them as a composer and from then on dedicated his career
to full-time composing, dividing his time between London, Malta
and other countries. To date, his compositions number over 300,
of which half are recorded on about 36 CDs which have been sold
all over the world.
Throughout the time he was abroad, Prof. Camilleri still kept
closely in touch with his island of birth. In his own words, he
"loved the Mediterranean atmosphere too much". Which
is why, 10 years ago, the composer returned to Malta to make it
"I could not survive without travelling," he admitted.
"But I like to know that my home in Malta is always here
to come back to."
of the Maltese artistic scene is by no means negative; indeed,
he believes that the talented musicians and artists are many
but few develop this talent into something lasting.
Maltese have become critics and not actors," he said. "We
criticise rather than take action and this has to change. But
its a joy to see that everywhere more and more young people
are turning to the arts. After all, creativity gives us a form
of fulfilment and spirituality."
that is extended to all his family: his wife Doris is an established
writer, his daughter Anya works in the film industry while his
son Charles chose to follow his fathers footsteps by becoming
And his future
plans? Many, it seems. After having last week premiered a new
work inspired by the Mnajdra Good Friday disaster, the coming
few months will see him featured in various festivals all over
Europe. As he himself says, these days, flying to Sweden or England
is pretty much the same as catching the bus to some Maltese village.