Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Old Dog...New Tricks

I’m closing in on three decades of composing music. It’s hard for me to even look at that sentence, after having written it, and believe that it’s true.  After so much time, it seems logical that my years of experience would have led me to many different types of projects. While it’s true that my catalog is ripe with orchestral, chamber, vocal and band music, there are still, nevertheless, many genres that have eluded me. Opera, ballet and film scoring immediately come to mind.

I can now scratch at least one of those genres off the list. I have recently completed my first movie sound track: the score to an independently produced comedy. I found the process extremely interesting and instructive in two major ways. The first has to do with my selection as the film’s composer. I was connected to the director of the film via Facebook. He and I were high school classmates who had, over the years, lost touch with one another. When I began plunging into social media in a big way a few years ago, he was one of the many old friends who “found” me and wanted to befriend me on the social media behemoth.

At first, I had a particularly “old school” notion about how I would acquire “friends” on Facebook. Namely, they would have to be people that I knew really well and with whom I was already interacting with on a relatively frequent basis. This was certainly not the case with every old high school friend who “befriended” me. However, it began to occur to me that social media could be used for much more than keeping up with close friends. Here were opportunities to reconnect with people from my past, strengthen ties with acquaintances and, most importantly, make new connections.

After accepting my old classmate’s friend request, he soon contacted me directly and explained that he was directing a new feature length motion picture and, having noticed my career path as a composer and given our past association, was interested in having me score the film. The power of the Internet within the context of social media was driven home to me immediately. Here was an opportunity that came my way simply due to my clicking a button on a social media site. From that point forward, the lesson has not been lost on me and I have embraced social media in a big way. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, you name it and I’ve probably got a profile page on it!

Having learned my lesson with respect to social media, the second fascinating aspect of this project was simply learning the ropes of film scoring itself. Having never attempted this before, everything seemed new to me. I suppose I was slightly prepared for the project having written several large-scale vocal works. In the writing of these vocal works, I learned to make the music subservient to the text. This skill came in handy as now my music would need to be subservient to the characters, their dialogue onscreen as well as to the tastes and preferences of the director. If you do not truly enjoy collaboration – film scoring is certainly not for you.

In my case, the process of writing film music was liberating in a strange way. Having so many constraints thrust upon me sharpened my compositional chops considerably. I enjoyed the challenge of fitting specific types of music to very specific time frames (ranging from segments of 18 seconds to ten minutes). Then there was the added complexity of writing music for a comedy. Coming up with ideas that were light enough for the comedic material without sounding trite posed a huge challenge. In the end, I felt that I was largely successful in my efforts. I composed 25 segments of music with a total duration of over 50 minutes, crafted music that satisfied the needs of the movie, the wishes of the director and still nourished me as an artist. I’m sure that the entire project has made me a better composer and a more sensitive collaborator. Yet, I still have a long way to go before I master this genre. If anything, I now know what I don’t know about writing music for film!

However, it’s a comfort to know that even after so much time composing, this old dog can still learn a few new tricks…

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