Tim Crooks

tim crooks

Our first musician leader, it was fascinating to talk with Tim Crooks, Conductor, Arranger, Orchestrator and Producer. Originally a violinist, with 20+ years’ experience of the music industry across genres and formats he has worked extensively in live and recorded music. His long-term partnerships include Manchester Camerata, orchestrating and conducting crossover shows and tours, from Haçienda Classical to Joy Division, AMC Gospel Choir and Aziz Ibrahim. His other clients include Philharmonia Orchestra, Cream Liverpool and Disco Classical and he arranges and produces recordings, including for the Manchester String Quartet and Sleepy Owls


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

I think Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is above any other book that I’ve read. It’s such a brilliant, concise history of humans and where we’ve come from. It makes you realise how insignificant you are but also how incredible and dangerous we are as a species. It’s just a fantastic book, it’s so well written and thought provoking and is one of the few books that I have re-read. 

When you read the book, It gives you such a  good perspective on how tiny the whole of advanced human civilization is in the grand scheme of it all, it’s very hard to worry about your immediate surroundings. It’s quite a common stress response for me to try and remember that it’s just a blink of an eye in a very long drawn out affair and it’s not to be worried about too much.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

The last thing I bought for myself which has definitely improved my quality of life is a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. I think I’m more sensitive than other people to ambient sounds, especially if there is music as I tend to tune in to the music, which can be a serious distraction.

I use the noise cancelling headphones when I’m travelling and shopping and it improves the experience. They’re an incredible invention, especially with bluetooth –  I’m still amazed to be able to walk down the street with them on my head and listen to pretty much any piece of music that has ever been written. 


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

Once I went to do an audition for an orchestra. I walked into the room and the entire violin section was sitting there, most of whom I knew. Normally, it’s one or two people behind a screen. It didn’t go well and I wasn’t prepared for that. The reflection on that was to be prepared for anything to be on the other side of the door and not to let it phase you. 

Similarly, I did an audition for a conducting course in London. I had been told to prepare one of the Mozart operas but I wasn’t prepared to be asked to sing in German at the same time as conducting a rehearsal pianist. It threw me completely but served as a useful lesson to prepare thoroughly, and to be more perceptive about situations. They were tough lessons to learn but they were useful. I’m still alive! 


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

The pinnacle of humanity is not just wealth. 

The greatest satisfaction can be found through creating things and helping other people.

My son is in secondary school and I was showing him Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (which I haven’t looked at for about  25 years). I had forgotten that right at the top of it is ‘Self fulfilment through creativity’ above the prestige and things that money can buy you. 

Now that I create things for myself I can sort of identify with that. I’ve never really been driven by money, it’s more that you’re doing something that’s very creative and that in itself is such a reward. 

A lot of the personalities that you get in orchestras are the ones that really enjoy making a very precise contribution to something that ends up as a bigger whole product. A lot of the people that write music are just interested in exploring new sounds and their greatest reward is that people will want to listen to what has come out of their mind. 


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) 

I think parenting, actually. I certainly only had half an understanding of the human condition – there’s no way you can possibly understand so many human behaviours without having been a parent.

I think out of everything, it’s the biggest investment but it is also the one that teaches you the most, more so than any education or material thing that I’ve bought in my life. 

Parenting brings you a wealth of experiences, it’s pretty enriching and a great leveller; you can be on stage at the Sydney Opera House but you’ve still got to come home and make a packed lunch. It’s an awesome responsibility because you’re looking after someone’s small world that gradually gets bigger. It’s a good process to go through!


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

This is a bit geeky really, it’s acoustics and the resonant frequencies of spaces and rooms. A large part of what I do is about how sound bounces off walls so I’m always quite interested by how sound works in different spaces and what efforts people have made (if any) to control that space to enhance peoples’ experience of, say,  going out for dinner or being in a station or anything like that. It’s this lovely thing, although it’s completely invisible and you can’t see it but it’s bouncing all over the place. A room has a dimension and when the wavelength of a sound is matching that dimension it doubles up and you get a frequency that is louder  than all the other frequencies. That forms the basis of all the acoustic work when you’re designing a concert hall.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

Walking the dog has helped me because you have an hour a day when you’re not doing anything else, and that is incredible time, mentally. Very often it’s creative and I will come back having decided how to approach the rest of the day, or with a solution to a problem. Despite the time commitment I’m now more productive.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?” 

Probably to ignore most of the advice that you’re getting thrown at you. 

Certainly, if I was advising my younger self it would be to stay inquisitive, stay humble, work hard, don’t rule anything out really because, certainly in a field like music, you end up going in directions that you didn’t even think were possible and it’s so important to allow that to happen and not be fixed on a particular path. 

Be braver, put your head above the parapet, because if you’re doing something interesting, somebody will notice and that’s usually going to be a good thing. 

I went to Manchester University and then did a couple of years at The Royal Northern College of Music and in those days there was never a conversation that was:

  • What would you like to do when you leave this place?
  • What do you think you’re good at or you’re going to be good at?
  • What is it that you’d really like to leave this place being able to do?

The advice to young people would be to try to figure those things out and to find people who can help you figure those things out but who are not going to impose a specific thing that years later you wonder why you did it.


Topic: Tribe Tuesday