TREVOR DUNCAN (1924 - 2005)
Trevor Duncan (real name Leonard Charles Trebilco) was born in Camberwell, London, England, on 27 February 1924. By the age of twelve he could play by ear, but two years later he wanted to learn to read music and study a technical analysis of what he was doing by instinct. He gained this knowledge at Streatham Library where he found books by academics, and full scores to examine. For a year he attended the Trinity College of Music for an external course on violin, harmony and counterpoint. Although the violin study helped him later in scoring for strings, he was very disappointed by the other aspects of the course. Like many of his contemporaries working in the same musical spheres, he was to discover that practical experience would ultimately prove to be the best tutor.
When he reached eighteen, Duncan joined the British Broadcasting Corporation assisting in radio plays by doing sound effects and playing discs of incidental music. This was to be short-lived, because he was conscripted into the Royal Air Force in 1943 where he became a wireless operator. He saw active service in Stirling aircraft with 38 Group (glider tugs and supply drops), and in his spare time he played in various RAF station dance-bands. His war service included eighteen months in India, before he was discharged from the RAF in 1947.
Duncan had the opportunity to go to Cambridge University, but decided to return to the BBC Radio where he was in his element as a sound and balance engineer working with many light orchestras. His passion for music not only embraces the technique of the composer, but also the means by which musical sounds are carried via radio or recordings to today’s listeners. It is Duncan’s belief that a good composer must have an awareness of the physics of music and the geometry of composition.
His post-war years at the BBC allowed him to experiment with microphone placings, often to the annoyance of producers, but the musicians appreciated that he was merely trying to ensure that their music was heard to the best advantage, and composer-conductors willingly answered his frequent questions on aspects of scoring. Together with studying the scores of Rimsky- Korsakov, Duncan learned at first hand what certain combinations of instruments could or could not successfully achieve; if a certain passage of music sounded particularly effective in the sound control room, he would dash into the studio to study the relevant manuscripts—perfect self tuition.
Trevor Duncan credits the late Ray Martin for giving him the necessary encouragement to explore his talent in orchestration. For some while he had been balancing Martin’s Melody-From-The-Sky programmes, and he eventually plucked up courage to show him the piano score of Vision in Velvet. Seeing a favourable reaction from the maestro, Duncan asked that Martin might consider orchestrating it for a subsequent broadcast performance with his orchestra. The refusal was instant: “No, you do it, it’s all there already in your piano part.” A few weeks later a complete score was duly delivered to Ray Martin, and for the first time Duncan heard one of his works performed by a large orchestra. Martin suggested the title Morning Star for the broadcast, and this was also to be the first occasion that ‘Trevor Duncan’ became a recognised composer.