Campus Celeb: Dr. Campbell


Music changes lives and this is evident in the life of one of our very own professors on campus: Dr. Campbell.

When I came to Ambrose for my first college visit, I was pretty set on being an occupational therapy major, but was still contemplating the idea of double majoring in music. With this in mind, I had an amazing conversation with Dr. Campbell in his office making him one of the first professors I met here. He was a face of Ambrose for me and easily showed how welcoming, helpful and passionate all professors here are about what they do and how they can help their students to grow into the best they can bee!


A little bit about his life on campus…

What do you teach here at Ambrose?

I mostly teach the Music Theory courses here for Music Majors, but I also teach a world music course. This is my 14th year here, and I’ve been department chair for 8 years.

On average, how much time do you spend grading papers?

Oh, that’s tough. I’ve actually not ever really thought about that. During most of the semester I’d say I spend about 90 minutes a day grading, but that’s only part of it. I also spend about an hour preparing for each of my next classes. Of course during midterms and finals there’s a lot more time spent grading and preparing for all the special projects and large tests.

Looks like profs have it just about as bad as we do...

Do you like when students stop by to chat?

I love it, and I can get a bit chatty at times...

Oh, I know… lol

Do you have a favorite story from a class you have taught?

There are so many, but really I’d say I just love to teach about music, and regularly throw in a lot of pun-laced humor.

Uh-oh, sounds like his students are in for some treble.

Anything you would want to say or share with students (advice or thoughts)?


I better get on that!

What is your favorite part about teaching?

Communicating deep and/or difficult concepts in ways that people understand and can remember.

What is something weird that you have in your office?

What’s “weird?” I mean, I have a collection of gargoyles scattered about, instruments from around the world, a big piano, books, and a pretty big Yoda on a shelf. There’s also music and movie posters on the walls, CDs, and so much paper… I should probably tidy up in there.

Sounds like my room!

What is your favorite thing about Ambrose?

The people.

Do you have a favorite bee pun?

Oh… groan… I don’t do bee puns. They’re like the only puns I don’t do actually.

I can’t bee-lieve it!

Since my first meeting with Dr. Campbell, I have chatted with him on many occasions or seen him pop in to listen to Jazz Band rehearsals every once in a while. He is a hoot and a half, if you can’t already tell from his responses, and very understanding and helpful as well. Last semester I always looked forward to popping my head into his office after my bass lessons because he was always down for a quick chat about whatever was going on in our busy bee lives!


The musical side of our talented composer...

How did you get into music?

When I was 6 years old I started piano. My parents bought a new, upright piano and I started playing right away. I took lessons and would just sit down exploring sounds. I also sang in various choirs when I was growing up and learned to play guitar and a few other instruments (not well) along the way. I think the first time I wrote a piece of music was when I was 9 years old.

While he was writing music… I was learning how to do a cartwheel.

How would you explain composition in a nutshell?

Creating original music. Normally people think of composing as someone writing notes down on a page, but that’s only part of it and not really required today. One could write it, record it, or keep it as a self-performed piece, but if one is creating music then you’re composing.

Does singing in the shower count as self-performed?

What is your favorite piece you have composed and why?

My next piece of music is always my favorite. It’s not been composed yet, and I love the mystery and process of actually bringing the music into the world.

What is your favorite thing about music?

That’s tough because I think music may be my favorite thing. I guess the way it captivates all people and can be used on its own or in support of so many things. And the many different styles and sounds. The way one person’s relationship to it can be so different from another’s.

This couldn’t be more spot on.

What is your favorite music venue in the area to play and/or watch performances at?

Oh, off campus and locally I like the Adler Theatre for orchestra and large productions, the Redstone Room and the Raccoon Motel for more intimate and loud productions. We’re fortunate here on campus to have the Galvin building with both Allaert Auditorium and Madsen Hall, yet I sometimes wish we could have a slightly larger, flexible recital space. There’s also a great space in Iowa City called Englert Theatre that I adore.

I definitely have a soft spot for the Redstone Room, too.

When are your next few gigs?

Oh! I just completed a big string of gigs. But coming up on March 2 I’m playing at the Renwick Mansion in Davenport with a band called Winterland. We also have some gigs in other areas of Iowa, but they’re a bit of a drive. I haven’t booked any solo shows yet, but will be for next season… I need to get the next piano recording done first. Stay tuned I guess!

Let’s get a group together to go watch and support him!

What is your favorite event you have played for?

Wow. I’ve played as a piano soloist with orchestra in Tucson, done concerts in Ecuador, and heard my music sung by the SAU Chamber Singers in Europe. Those were amazing. But I also really love to play intimate house concerts for audiences because those smaller gigs have some amazing listeners in the audience.

Note: Friday’s from 5-6 in Galvin there is something called “Casual Classics” where you can experience some live music, including occasional performances by Dr. Campbell!

What is your favorite instrument to play?

A big, acoustic, concert, grand piano.

Recently you went to Hollywood, tell us more about that experience.

Yes, I went to Hollywood to celebrate a film’s inclusion as a nominee for Best Documentary Short within the International Documentary Association Awards. That was fun. It was all because last year I scored the music for a film titled “Lifeboat.” The movie bears witness to refugees desperate enough to risk their lives in rubber boats leaving Libya in the middle of the night, despite a high probability of drowning. It's a very moving film and has been shown at over 20 film festivals and received multiple awards. And now, even more exciting, it’s nominated for an Academy Award and is being shown in select U.S. theaters during the month of February as part of the Oscar Movie series.

You can view the website and trailer of the documentary here:

The New Yorker picked up the film earlier this month, and may be viewed here:

Finally, you can read an article about Dr. Campbell going to the IDA awards and a bit of his history with the director here:

Favorite music joke?

There’s so many...

Q: What do you get when you drop a piano down a mineshaft?

A: A Flat Minor

I wonder where he got that one from…


My personal favorite was when I asked him, “Do you follow baseball?”

He responded, “No, but I do follow the bass line.”

Classic dad joke material!


He’s just like us - In his own way...

When is your birthday?

April 27

Oh good, it’s during the semester!

Where did you go to college?

University of Arizona, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and University of Oregon

Favorite part about college?


What kind of college student were you?

Well, see, I was always a music guy and always in love with the wonder of learning. In college I was a mostly a student who questioned everything. That drove my professors nuts but it also led to some great discussions and experiences. I’m in touch with my most of my main professors even today. I studied music of course, but also took almost enough courses to get a Humanities/Classics degree. I practiced a lot, explored sounds and tried to be involved in a lot of things.

Family life?

I love my wife and family. My wife and I married almost 27 years ago and our two grown sons live in Washington and Arizona. My mom and dad still live in Tucson. I have a brother and sister and they also have kids, but they all live pretty far away.

What do you do outside of Ambrose and how do you like to spend your free time?

I’m also the Director of Contemporary Music at St. Paul Lutheran Church, where I’ve been for 11 years. Recently I joined Winterland, a Grateful Dead tribute band in which I play piano and sing. At home I have a small recording studio and a big living room with a big grand piano, so I’m there a lot. Really, though, I work a lot on music department things in my SAU office and at home. I like working around the house and have almost completely redone all the rooms in our house. For exercise I like to bicycle in the warm months, and I used to play tennis a lot but an injury has kept me away from the courts for a year. We don’t watch TV and I go to a lot of concerts…

I concur that concerts are one of the best uses of time and money; great memories to be made!

Side note: I have played with Dr. Campbell at his church and it is up there on my list of musically enriching experiences. He provides such positive and enthusiastic leadership that you can’t help but have a good time! I always left rehearsal with a bigger smile and a lighter soul than when I walked in :)

Speaking of concerts, what was your favorite one growing up?

Oh… I loved going to the pops concerts that a local orchestra would do in the summertime. I remember seeing concerts with my family, and then going to a lot of rock shows when I got older. But my favorite? The two most profound were in college when I saw a production of a Philip Glass event, and then saw the Kronos Quartet play Steve Reich’s “Different Trains.” They were amazing concerts at the highest level performed at local large venue.

Where have you traveled and where do you want to go?

I’ve been to Scotland, Italy, Austria, Ecuador, Mexico, and all over the US. I still really love the Pacific Northwest and the desert Southwest, and am looking forward to a short music tour into Colorado this summer. I guess a place I’d like to go again is Scotland, and stay for a bit to explore England.

What is something on your bucket list?

Hand gliding.

If you were an actor in a movie, who would you be and why?

Well, I think I have to say Jeff Goldblum because, well, he and I share a similar sensibility. But maybe I’d really like to be Yoda.

This has to be one of my favorite answers due to its accuracy. Personally, I would want to be Obi-Wan, just like I was for Halloween back in 2nd grade.

well there it is jeff goldblum GIF

What is your go to meal/snack foods?

Well, I love fish and chips, a good Thai stir fry, and carrot cake. (Not sure how well those would taste together though lol) I love to grill at home and make pretty good pulled pork. Chips and salsa are my go to snack although I used to be a cookie fiend.

I can vouch for the pulled pork, guys, it is pretty awesome.

Favorite star wars movie and why?

Easy. Empire Strikes Back. Best of the films hands down, with the best lines and acting, great scenes, plot twists, and the power of the Dark Side really comes through. It really helps define what the Rebels are up against. The music in that film is amazing, too.

A prof who knows his Star Wars movies, doesn’t get much better than that, folks!

Related image Fun fact :)

I built my own house… in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona out of straw bales covered in natural adobe plaster. We lived there as a young family for 5 years.

This is so cute, sounds like it is straight out of a movie.


Some concluding food for thought...

How does your faith most affect you?

It keeps me grounded and trusting in the now and future. In God anything is possible, and I so appreciate being in a community of people who are also searching to do good and be good in the world.

What would you say is your proudest moment?

I don’t know if I have one proudest moment. I mean, I’m 49 and have a lot of life experiences and know there’s still so much more yet. I guess my proudest moments are those I share with my family and my sons. They make me happy and proud of what they do and how they go through life.

What is something you will never forget?

That’s kind of funny. The family motto for the Campbell Clan in Scotland is “Never Forget.”  But I don’t remember what I’m not supposed to forget...

Sounds like you might need to invest in a remembrall…

harry potter film GIF

What is something most people wouldn’t know about you?

Hmmm.. well, just like almost everyone else I deal with self-doubt. Keeping that inner voice in check is tough for an artist. It doesn’t keep me from feeling motivated, though, but it is something that I have to watch out for. I am naturally positive, though, so that helps, along with my faith, friends and family. And good cups of tea.

Do you have a life motto?

Just keep swimming… oh wait, that’s Dory…

finding dory GIF

Favorite quote of any kind?

Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.


Photos courtesy of Dr. Campbell