The Dallas Wind Symphony’s Kim Campbell revels in the unexpected.
Kim Campbell could have had a strange but interesting career raising circus tents, building the Stealth Bomber or even selling fertilizer (which he was very good at). But he traded it all for a life as a freelance musician, which led to his present title as Executive Director of the Dallas Wind Symphony.
When you meet Mr. Campbell, none of this is surprising at all. He is as colorful as the much-heralded music ensemble he heads. Even after 22 demanding years with the DWS, he is refreshingly easy-going and inventive. That sense of humor has seen him through good times and rougher patches.
“The Dallas Wind Symphony does not take itself too seriously, although we are extremely serious about the music we play,” explains Campbell. “We’ve tried to do things in a lighthearted fashion since the beginning.”
A splash of the unique.
Many fans of the DWS remember the time Campbell was towed onstage seated in a bathtub (as homage to principal sponsor and sometime bathtub-seller Elliott’s Hardware). He calmly gave the season’s inaugural “curtain speech” from his well-scrubbed position.
For the DWS’ Christmas concert, Campbell had himself wired from head to toe with lights when he made the curtain speech. Nothing ordinary here.
Under Kim Campbell, the band has never had to follow a precedent because he is also the group’s founder. Not that the DWS can be compared to any other band in the nation. “There’s nothing quite like it,” he is quick to point out. “Other cities have community bands but not a professional wind symphony. Our musicians are very passionate, and we are located in a state where people truly enjoy listening to bands.”
Kim Campbell caught the music bug as soon as he laid eyes, hands and mouth on a trombone in 7th grade. “I took to band like a duck to water, I guess,” he recalls. “The hardest thing I ever did was stop playing the trombone on a regular basis about 12 years ago…when I felt that running the Dallas Wind Symphony might leave a bigger legacy than continuing to play in it.”
After growing up around Texas—Kim’s dad was a traveling salesman—Kim attended SMU, then graduated with a degree in Music Performance from North Texas State University (now known as University of North Texas). Thrust into the freelance musician arena, he played some gigs and taught trombone, euphonium and tuba for seven years… while figuring out how to pay the rent. “If the phone didn’t ring, you didn’t eat. So I always made sure to impress people. I never wanted to be a salesman like my dad but here I was, always promoting myself.”
This led Campbell to some very interesting adventures. Often a local contractor would hire him to play for an international or national group that was in town or touring. Once he found himself touring with a 90-piece string orchestra in Mexico. “Many governors in Mexico sponsor an orchestra in their own state; I toured with the symphony of the state of Mexico. We were paid a stack of pesos THIS high and there was a party after every concert. I also learned how fortunate we are in the United States when it comes to working conditions.”
Campbell also toured throughout Canada and Europe with various ensembles and artists including Donna Summer and The O’Jays. The odd jobs kept coming between gigs. Bartender. Airline ticket courier. Building the original wing skins for the Stealth Bomber while living in Los Angeles. “We had no idea what we were making for a year,” he states. The aforementioned circus tent stint was courtesy of a temporary help service that sent him out. “I was pretty good at it, actually.”
One week or else.
Then one day, the biggest fluke of his life happened. “I was 32 and still freelancing,” remembers Campbell. “I was just practicing trombone at one of SMU’s music rooms and got a notion. I kind of sauntered into music Professor Howard Dunn’s office.” I asked him, “How would you like to get a group of musicians together for a wind symphony?” He looked at me half jokingly and exclaimed, “I’ve been looking for someone like you all my life!” But then he thought a few seconds and said, “We’d need 46 players. How soon can we do this?” I said, “Give me one week.”
Stunned, Professor Dunn bided his time while Campbell made 150 phone calls to some of the best clarinet, sax and other players in the Dallas area. Campbell already knew most of them. “When I asked Debra Truax—who I considered the premier sax player around—she immediately said, ‘If Howard’s involved,
That following Saturday, 46 musicians, the cream of the Metroplex, showed up and the Dallas Wind Symphony was born. “We played the First Suite in E Flat for Military Band by Holst,” recalls Campbell, “and I got teary-eyed. With players of this caliber, all the emotion of the piece came out in every note.”
It was clear that the DWS had something pretty special.
A clear favorite…and getting even better.
The Dallas Wind Symphony has gained in popularity since those first performances in 1985. In fact, many of its concertgoers have been loyal since the beginning, and the symphony has an 82% subscriber renewal rate, exceptional for any arts organization.
Though the DWS mainly plays at the Meyerson Symphony Center, the organization’s headquarters are at Fair Park, and the group also oversees the spring Starlight Band Series in the Fair Park Band Shell. These delightful performances under the stars (which start in April) give invited community bands from across the Metroplex outstanding exposure. States Campbell, “Our plan is to put together a committee to restore the shell, built in the 1930’s, to its original glory. Already folks love the shell because of the rainbow neon lighting during concerts.”
Kim Campbell looks ahead to expanding the Dallas Wind Symphony’s outreach to schools. It currently holds a DWS Summer Music Institute for Kids that serves inner city youth. And he is very proud of the symphony’s 14 CDs to date, including Grammy-nominated “Garden of Dreams.”
Mixing business with meows.
Beyond all the fascinatin’ rhythm of running the DWS, Kim finds time to enjoy arts and cats with wife LeAnn Binford, Program Operations Director for Big Thought, which puts on arts and education programs for the Dallas Independent School District. Yes, Kim does answer to 5 cats: four at the couple’s East Dallas home and the DWS’ very social Ms. Widget, who he describes as “nervous energy in a fur coat.”
Piloting his 40-year-old sail plane also fascinates Campbell, who can’t get enough of the motorless glide back to earth after being towed skyward.
Ever an optimist, Kim Campbell feels blessed with how far he and the Dallas Wind Symphony have come, bringing listening pleasure to all ages with pieces that range from swing and march standards to “Star Wars.”
“Our whole business is to make people’s lives a little better,” he says, a twinkle in his eye as he ponders the group’s next crowd-pleasing—and possibly even offbeat—move.
For more information on the Dallas Wind Symphony, visit their website.