Michael Pilley: Trombonist, Composer, Arranger

Interview by Peter Chester (courtesy of the British Trombone Society)

Michael Pilley is one of the British Trombone Society’s (BTS) non-British members, having arrived in Britain from Australia early in 2012. Based in South Wales, he found himself at the BTS two-day event in Cardiff in 2012, and then in Rotterdam for the Slide Factory 2013, where one of his compositions reached the final stages of the Composer’s Competition. Peter Chester caught up with him soon after that.

Michael PilleyPeter: How did you get started on the trombone?

Michael: I started trombone in high school, after my trumpet teacher heard me play in the first lesson and said: “How about we try you on trombone?” My teacher there was Shannon Pittaway, bass trombone of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, who had studied in Chicago with Charlie Vernon and Michael Mulcahy and emphasised the importance of air in trombone playing. My school was Blackburn High School, a public school in Melbourne with a rich history of excellent music education and winners of multiple competitions over decades. The advantage of this was constantly being in rehearsal sitting next to very talented musicians and learning from them as well as the teachers.

Peter: You obviously had some formal training?

Michael: Yes, after school I took a Bachelor of Music at Melbourne University, and there I had lessons with two trombonists from the Melbourne Symphony, Ian Perry and Ken McClimont. At that time I was also playing with the Melbourne Salvation Army Staff Band and contributing in many ways to the band, including music publishing and concert promotion. At University, I also had great fun playing with the Super Sax ensemble among others where I spent entire rehearsals just listening to the most amazing arrangements of Charlie Parker transcriptions for five saxes and rhythm. I was the token brass player who soloed when the saxes had played through 12 choruses of fast bebop. Although I didn’t make it into the Composition stream, the university course also gave me a good grounding in compositional techniques. It started with counterpoint and fugue and moved through pretty much any genre you may need to write for, from 20th century techniques to jazz harmony, so it served me well.

Peter: So what brought you to Britain?

Michael: Actually it was my wife, Vicky. She decided to study for her Master’s degree in Choral Conducting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2012, so we made the move to the UK and we ended up in South Wales. After University, I was lucky enough to get a job transcribing and typesetting with All Music Publishing, the biggest Australian print music publisher at the time. After a trial, I was with them for three years and gained lots of experience in that specialised field. Their catalogues were mainly pop, so after my first month of writing piano, vocal and guitar arrangements of ABBA songs, I continued to create over 1,000 arrangements of a varied range of pop, from rap and  R’n’B, to light rock and even some ukulele. It was all good experience, but after a few bad breaks, the company was bought by Hal Leonard and I was made redundant. I took two part-time jobs in 2011 – one job involved planning, marketing and coordinating a new Music Academy at the Camberwell Salvation Army for children in Melbourne (they have an excellent brass band there) and the other, teaching brass and conducting bands at Oxley College. All through this time I was playing in big bands, brass bands and wind bands whilst conducting some bands as well. Since arriving here, I have been building my networks and creating my own opportunities.

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