William Campbell

While a brief, unpretentious piece, Coyote Dances - by local composer William Campbell - is long on musical adventure, drama, and humor fashioned from a Native American moral yarn reminding us not to get too big for our britches.

In personal and e-mail interviews, Campbell - chair of the St. Ambrose University music department and an associate professor there - explained how he portrayed a story of the folkloric trickster hero Coyote in music and the March 31 and April 1 premiere of the composition with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.

"I wanted to write fun music with exuberant, joyful moments," the composer said. And the score indicates that Coyote Dances is full of them.

Ben Hopkins, Hanlon Smith-Dorsey, Daniel Rairdin-Hale, Yosh Hayashi, Andrew Harvey, and Jessica Denney in A Cadaver ChristmasLast month, the locally produced zombie comedy A Cadaver Christmas was named Best Professional Feature at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, and given its title, you'd rightly expect the movie to have its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek. Most likely, after being gnawed off and spit out by the groaning, lumbering undead.

William Campbell. Photo by Renee Meyer-Ernst.

William Campbell can't recall why he became a composer, but he does remember his piano lessons as a youth in Tucson, Arizona.

In an interview last week, Campbell recounted the questions he asked of his Julliard-trained teacher: "'Why didn't Beethoven do this?' And I'd play a little something. And he'd be like, 'Well, that's not what this piece is. Did you learn this passage?' And I'd play the passage, and I'd say, 'Yes, but why didn't he do this?' ... I'd ask about motives and things."

That instructor was good at many things, Campbell said - "He instilled in me a sense of how to emote on the instrument ... , technique, and also to try your best no matter what" - but he didn't do much to encourage his pupil's creativity. The student brought in a piece that he'd composed, and his mentor played a Rachmaninoff prelude as a response.

The 41-year-old Campbell said that he never presented another original composition to that teacher, but three decades later, he is certainly getting more affirmation. An associate professor of music theory and composition at St. Ambrose University, he's releasing his first solo-piano album, Piano Songs - an event that will be marked by a March 26 concert at the Galvin Fine Arts Center. On April 28, he'll debut his Piano Quintet with the Maia String Quartet at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport. And in its 2011-12 season, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra will perform Campbell's Coyote Dances in one of its Masterworks concerts.