Music composition major seeks inspiration from biblical stories

A small ensemble prepared and performed Gray Campbell's piece on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Johniel Nájera

By Ana Ruiz Brictson | Staff Writer

From kid to college student, Houston junior Gray Campbell has had a passion for expressing thoughts and emotions through constructing music compositions and pursuing a degree in the area. Now, he writes music for his peers to premiere based on the Bible.

In first grade, Campbell began to play the drum set, kicking off his passion for the art. In fifth grade, he took piano lessons, and later on, he moved on to practice several other instruments.

During his sophomore year of high school, Campbell took a music theory class in which one of the projects involved his group creating a composition. He said he remembers the experience being very fun, which is what influenced his decision in continuing with this path of music.

Currently, Campbell is studying and pursuing his degree in music composition at Baylor’s School of Music. He said he has continued to work on creating compositions on his own or alongside peers.

According to Campbell, he has written approximately 13 or 14 pieces overall since he first started experimenting with creating music. Most of his compositions are inspired by the Bible, each coming from a different book.

On Tuesday, Campbell got to premiere one of his compositions — which portrays Jesus’ crucifixion — in Calvary Baptist Church through a brass octet. He said this piece took him around three or four weeks to compose.

“What I hope that it achieves for the audience is a highly emotional experience like it does to me,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he tried to personify Jesus’ breathing when he was crucified through the music.

Although he has worked with music for a couple of years now, it wasn’t until recently that Campbell began to take inspiration for his pieces from his faith, making some of his other work touch on other topics besides religion.

“I got the idea to take inspiration from the Bible because I was thinking, ‘How could I use this gift that I’ve been given from God to share the gospel?’ — because I think that’s what He wants us to do,” Campbell said.

Scott McAllister, Ph.D., professor of composition and director of the Division of Academic Studies, said Campbell has worked well with him one-on-one and has made “a great connection from taking old scriptures to new scriptures we all know.”

Houston senior Esteban Ganem, a classmate and friend of Campbell, said he has enjoyed watching him through the process of working and creating composition pieces. They recently worked on a composition together, and Ganem said it was great to collaborate with him.

“Gray is one of my best friends for sure,” Ganem said. “He works hard and is very good at balancing things in his life. He is a great collaboration partner.”

Ganem also said he enjoys listening to Campbell’s pieces because they always have a great storytelling aspect to them.

Currently, Campbell is working along with other students on new projects. One of those projects is a quintet, while he is also trying to composing a new piece that utilizes a marimba and a piano.

Campbell said he plans to pursue a graduate degree after college and hopes to make a living out of selling his work.