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Wilson, ’75, returns from U.K. to settle a score

Allan Wilson, '75
Wilson has contributed to original film scores for some of the biggest motion pictures of the last 28 years.


His recent trip to Fredonia was one he needed to make, because it was the opportunity he's been waiting 35 years for – a chance to give something back to the place that gave him so much.

Dozens of alumni returned to take part in the 2010 Alumni Leadership Conference, hosted in July by the School of Music and the Division of University Advancement. While many traveled hundreds of miles, Allan Wilson, ’75, made the longest trip of all, coming all the way from Surrey, England.

However, for a man whose career has taken him all over the world – and sometimes to different worlds altogether – a jaunt across the Atlantic was relatively small potatoes. Moreover, it was a trip he needed to make, because it was the opportunity he says he’s been waiting 35 years for – a chance to give something back to the place that gave him so much.

“I figured, why not? You can keep saying, ‘Maybe next time, maybe next time.’ And then suddenly it’s too late,” Mr. Wilson advises.

Wilson has enjoyed a career as a conductor of symphony orchestras in a variety of settings and performance genres, most frequently with the Philharmonia Orchestra, one of five major symphony orchestras in London. However, he has most distinguished himself in the world of entertainment as a conductor, orchestrator and arranger of original film scores for some of the biggest motion pictures of the last 28 years.

From horror flicks to sappy love stories, animated cartoons to action thrillers, indie cult classics to blockbusters, he has run the gamut of the film industry. His work has been – well, instrumental – in the success of such silver screen smashes as “Sleepy Hollow,” starring Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken; Val Kilmer’s “The Saint;” and “Entrapment,” featuring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones. He helped ensure we slunk down in our chairs during terror classics like, “Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” and the deeply disturbing, “Hostel.” Yet, he has the versatility to bring whimsy and joy to such family favorites as, “The Rugrats Movie,” and “Beethoven’s Big Break” (not the hearing-impaired classical composer, but the saliva-infused Saint Bernard).

More recently, he has branched out into the video game industry, having been involved in some of the most intricate and popular releases the industry has ever seen. His credits include more than a half-dozen titles from the hugely popular “Harry Potter” series, as well as all of the equally fashionable “Fable” editions, including the highly anticipated next chapter, “Fable III,” set to release later this year.

“The gaming industry has been a real shot in the arm for orchestral music,” Wilson admits. “They’ve become so sophisticated – they’re almost feature films all by themselves. They’ve added love stories and tragic death themes. Depending on whether you’re winning or losing, you get a totally different mood. It’s so lifelike, it’s really quite frightening. I’ve found that I really like working with them.”

So how did someone from the other side of the pond find his way to Fredonia in 1974?

“It was a series of remarkable events,” Wilson explains. “I didn’t even know what a ‘Fredonia’ was.”

He found out while completing his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1973.

It was there that he met Mike Goldschlager, a Fredonia student who was studying abroad.

Mike started telling Allan all about his school back home, raving about its roughly 150 practice rooms designed especially for students. For Wilson, a trumpet player, this was a dream, as practice space was always at a premium at the Royal Academy.

Later that year Wilson took a vacation to Canada, and decided to swing down to New York City while he was relatively nearby. He went with the intention of visiting Goldschlager, who was spending the summer there, and thought that maybe he’d pick up a new trumpet while he was in the state.

Instead, he picked up a career.

“Mike encouraged me to come out to Fredonia to audition,” Wilson recalls. “I played a piccolo trumpet, and [trumpet professor] Herbie [Herbert] Harp made some crack about it, but then said they’d like to offer me an opportunity to earn a Master of Music degree.”

Thus, Allan spent the better part of the next two years studying at Fredonia. “I had a wonderful time here, and the whole thing completely changed my life,” Wilson insists. “The seeds of my career were really planted right there in Fredonia.”

One of those seeds grew roots that helped bring Wilson back this summer. In the 1970s, he built a strong bond with faculty member Howard Marsh, who was pivotal to Allan receiving a graduate assistantship.“Howard and his wife, Adelaide, had five adopted sons, and they used to call me their sixth,” says Wilson. “And I called them my American mom and dad. I painted their house for them and they paid me for that. They really looked out for me.”

Wilson kept in touch with them throughout the years, and although Howard passed on many years ago, Adelaide is still alive, albeit living with advanced illness.

“I saw this [conference] as a chance to visit Adelaide again, possibly for the last time. I can’t say for sure if she even knew I was there, but I was glad to have the opportunity, just the same,” he says.

And how did Allan go from holding a horn to a baton? He had always been a professional trumpet player, and at Fredonia he taught conducting and band training as a graduate assistant, but never really anything significant. Then he ran into a friend in 1982 who was in need of players for a film project, so Wilson helped him pull together a group. But when it came time to start rehearsals, his friend needed Allan’s help in a different way.

“He said to me, ‘I can’t conduct – but could you do it?’ And, I said, ‘Well, yes, I suppose I can,’” recalls Wilson. “It was sort of like jumping off a cliff without a parachute, but it worked and the pieces did well. Then word got around and I sort of got a reputation for it. It just took off from there.”

Today, Wilson does a lot of conducting, arranging and orchestrating, and some composing – “just living music,” as he puts it. However, it is his music life that he feels compelled to share with today’s students.

“I have some ideas for workshops, things like film scoring and media music. That’s the bread-and-butter of the music business, that’s where you make the money – not in composing symphonies,” he attests. “I’d love to see how I could help them grow that area [of their curriculum].”

Wilson’s experience did not disappoint, as he assured his friends and new acquaintances at the end of his visit. “I’ve had a great time…seen a lot of old friends. It’s just wonderful to be here again, to have the chance to give something back. Fredonia gave me an awful lot and in many, many ways…socially, spiritually and so on. I figure, this is the least I could do.”

If he can develop a way to share his industry expertise and connections with the hundreds of students and faculty on campus every year, he will have returned a very substantial gift, indeed… and perhaps one day, no one will ask what a “Fredonia” is ever again.

Those wishing to contact Allan are encouraged to do so via: 

posted @ Tuesday, August 24, 2010 1:54 PM by Christine Davis Mantai

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