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Bill Elliott has been teaching arranging and orchestration in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department at Berklee since 2004. His original songs and arrangements have appeared in many TV shows and films including Dick Tracy, Northern Exposure, Nixon, Gilmore Girls, and Wedding Crashers, among others. Elliott has worked as a song arranger for Disney's Home Video productions, such as Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Kronk's New Groove, and Bambi II, in addition to composing scores for several Disney Channel films, independent films, and the ABC TV movie Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story. He arranged and produced Michael Feinstein's Grammy-nominated album The Sinatra Project and Australian singer David Campbell's album On Broadway.
Elliott began his career as a pop piano player, working with a number of local Boston artists and spending two years in Bonnie Raitt's band in the late '70s. He then became involved in studio work, first as a player and then as an arranger, working with such diverse artists as Stevie Nicks, Donna Summer, America, Robbie Dupree, and Smokey Robinson, among others. Since 1993 he has led the 19-member Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra, which has performed widely and recorded four CDs. Elliott has also recorded two CDs of orchestral music for children with actor John Lithgow. As Lithgow's music director, Elliott has conducted the Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, and San Diego symphonies and the Orchestra of St. Luke's in Carnegie Hall. Most recently, he has been widely praised in reviews for his orchestrations in the new musical Robin and the Seven Hoods at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California.
"After high school I went to L.A. as a piano player. I was successful for a time as a session player and was in Bonnie Raitt's band for a couple of years. But that dried up within a very short time after 1980 when the music business completely changed. Suddenly there wasn't much for a keyboard player to do. That's what led me into film and TV music. My particular strength was writing vintage styles of music. In the '90s, I did a lot of work for Disney. When I show my students the scores I wrote for videos they watched when they were little, that intrigues them."
"I tell my students that if they're committed to one style of pop music, it's likely going to vanish by the time they're 30. So I encourage them to be prepared to work in different kinds of music than what they originally imagined they were going to be doing."
"I have a very practical approach. I teach what works with players, how players like to work together, and how instruments work together. I share my own scores with students. I teach them things I didn't know until I was 35 or 40—things that took me 20 years to learn through rare opportunities to study professional scores. Really good interpersonal skills are absolutely number one so you can make a positive impression on the people around you and be noticed. I encourage students to practice on me and think of me as their first client: I want them to let me know who they are and what they have to offer."
"In the real world, particularly in film scoring, you're always struggling to get many minutes of music recorded in a short amount of time, so it's essential to use the time efficiently. You have to make your intentions clear, to answer players' questions before they have to ask them and take away from your precious time. You also have to write for the situation; so much professional work involves writing music that is easy to rehearse, easy to sight-read, easy to play, and easy to record. You can write something brilliant, but you might need three hours to rehearse it."
"There's a fine line between being adventurous and being safe as a writer. You want to do a lot of things that are 'safe' in the sense that you know they're going to work, but you always want to be a little adventurous and try something new."