Simon Templeton, composer & keyboardist

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I can recall very early memories (around the age of 5) listening to Holst’s ‘The Planets’ by way of my parents’ vinyl collection; it transported me to this wonderful universe all of my own, fuelling my imagination with visions of strange, dark, epic and exciting far-off worlds. Not long after that came John Williams, whose scores for ‘Star Wars’ and ‘ET’ filled me with awe and further drew me into those worlds. My first piano teacher at aged 7 was a definitive influence on me, teaching me to have fun and use my ear, filling every lesson with a sense of excitement. Music theory was completely ignored at this point and it was only when I attended music college in 1993, studying with composer Brian Irvine, that I learnt the theory behind the music, a process that I believe has served me well ever since. Brian’s method taught me to be as eclectic and open-minded as I could towards every genre of music. As a result, my musical influences range from Classical and Jazz to Rock, Hip-Hop, Electronica, Avant Garde and World Music. John Williams still holds a particular place in my heart, though. I grew up absorbing a lot of film music; Jerry Goldsmith’s score to ‘Poltergeist’ was one of my favourites (childlike innocence intertwined with the darkly sinister.) My earliest memory of a classical concert was going to see Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and The Wolf’ performed by the Ulster Orchestra.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Having lived with anxiety for a long period of my life, it led to a long-term lack of self-confidence in my own music. Working as a session musician and live performer in venues and festivals over the UK and Ireland (plus having a day job), I found that finding the time for my own work was very difficult. As a result, when I was writing, it was purely to help any feelings I was going through and I rarely let anyone else hear what I was doing. Although I am and have been very grateful for the work I do and what it’s given me, performing and recording other people’s music had gradually begun to overtake my own work. Having played in multiple bands of different genres and being different things for different people, I believe that learning to accept yourself as your own creative individual is very important.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

I had the opportunity to write for a Northern Ireland drama documentary about 15 years ago; we were recording a live string quartet over some sequenced music I’d written. Walking into a room with a group of people looking up expectantly at me was a bit daunting at first but ultimately hearing the music that I’d written come alive through the skills of other people was a wonderful feeling and something that I hope to do again in the near future.

Of which works are you most proud?

My album of piano pieces, ‘Alleviate’, purely for the time and effort I put into recording them. It was written between March and September this year in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown; I had some time on my hands, so I decided to record a series of short piano pieces that I had accumulated over time. Additionally, I’m quite proud of two of my albums distributed online; ‘Detach’ and ‘Pareidolia’. Completely sequenced and sampled without any live recording, they’re a bit dark, surreal, humorous and slightly bonkers; basically me indulging in my own imagination. I have a need to write things like that from time to time!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It tends to differ depending on the kind of music I write but the one constant that runs through most of what I do is melody. There’s always a specific emotional connection that I need to achieve between me and what I write; I love evolving melody but not staying too long on a particular thing, moving on to other sections then maybe going back. In terms of mood, I’m intrigued by the transition from dark to light and vice versa, so I often like to include that. I love having a few different things happening within a short space of time, as opposed to a repeated pattern of chords building over a long period of time. I like to add extra beats here and there to jolt myself out of any complacency and makes things rhythmically interesting for myself, too. Overall, there’s still a part of me that feels the same way as I did when I was 8 years old, experimenting with a “what If” attitude and a sense of wonder. I’d like to keep that as I get older.

How do you work?

I find that I need to be in the process of organising, listening to and editing music before my favourite ideas come to me. I like to build up a collection that I can work off over a period of time; putting some on the backburner and coming back to others that I maybe left for a while as they weren’t working. This process has meant I’ve always returned to ideas with a fresher perspective that I’d gained from working on something else. I’ve never had a “eureka” moment sitting on the sofa watching TV and I’ve learnt not to trust anything I come up with at 3am with a bottle of wine! I usually start with roughly recording any ideas I come up with on the piano. Over the years with live bands and studio work, I haven’t had to utilise many scoring techniques I had learned in College; mostly just chord charts, audio files or using my ear. I prefer the process of putting an initial idea down to be as simple as possible for me so I get it down quickly and unfiltered. For the pieces on the album, I roughly recorded them, then into Reason sequencing software as audio. What I hear in my head can be hard to put down fully as I’m not a classically trained pianist, so I perform the more intricate pieces in separate sections (usually in multiple takes) then I edit the audio sections together. Feel is very important for me, so it needs to be as natural sounding as possible, even if I wasn’t able to fully perform the whole piece. I’m hoping to score some of the ideas in the new album as larger arrangements so I’ve recently had to start to brush up on my music theory again.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Capturing what I hear in my head while being able to make at least one person feel better as a result of it.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be willing to accept as many different styles and genres of music as you can and to be open to alternative opinions and ideas.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I believe that evolving it, pushing it forward with new composers bringing different tastes and backgrounds into the mix and fusing it with other forms of music is the key. This doesn’t mean that the power of the music that’s gone before over the past few hundred years is in any way diminished by doing this. There’s still a lot to be learned from history.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Still around my loved ones, still having my health and composing full-time, having accumulated a large quantity of work that I’m happy with (or as happy as I can be with it)

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

Simon Templeton’s album Alleviate is available now on Bandcamp

Review of Alleviate on ArtMuseLondon


Simon Templeton is a multi-genre composer and keyboardist. Born in Calgary, Canada in 1976, he moved to Northern Ireland shortly after and is currently based in Holywood. With 25 years of live and studio experience throughout the UK and Ireland, Simon is now focussing on original material.

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