Interviews of Eminence

Conducting the interview for eminent is one of the most enjoyable and interesting aspects of the eminent project for me. And since film composition and the music industry is incredibly interesting to me, I tried to get more out of it than last time. So I went off to find film composers and other people involved in the music world.

First, I went to the fan page of John Williams. As “unprofessional” as it may seem, I thought that they would have some more personal information about his life and his story in achieving his eminence. And who else knows more about a person than their biggest fans? I sent an email to them, and they got back to me within the day. Excitedly, I returned an email saying my thanks and asking my questions, but unfortunately to no reply.

Secondly, I went to email Evan Evans, the son of the legendary late jazz pianist, Bill Evans. I did Bill Evans for eminent last year, and I thought this would be a neat tie-together of my two projects. While completing this project last year, I discovered that Evan Evans is a film composer, and at the time thought that was pretty interesting. This year, doing a film composer, I thought to email him at his website. Believe it or not, he replied! I was now exchanging emails with Bill Evans’ son. He said he could do the interview, and sent me a link to this website that he runs for film composers, called Film Scoring Academy. This website holds a lot of answers to a lot of questions I had and proved to be a valuable resource. I still wanted to ask him some other questions but I have yet to get an email back. However, still pretty amazing I exchanged an email with the son of my last eminent person, Bill Evans.

Next, I sent out a flurry of emails. Dozens of emails to various people, knowing I have nothing to lose seeing if some people don’t respond to me and some might. I sent emails to some other film composers, musicians, and directors and only one got back to me, which in itself is pretty good. However, the person who got back to me was someone who would be very beneficial to my compositional studies; an even bigger bonus. A Montreal-based composer named Alan Belkin returned my email and said he would be able to do an interview about being a composer and what that entails. After exchanging a few emails, we set up a Skype call for a Sunday afternoon and we conducted the interview.

I had heard of Alan Belkin before, accidentally stumbling upon his website in a search for compositional information a couple months ago. I read his Letter to a Young Composer and agreed with a lot of what he said and saw it to be quite logical and sensible. So to be conducting an interview with a guy I only knew the musical ideas of was an exciting thing. But, he is not a film composer. In fact, he has never written for film before. However, I wanted to interview him to get an understanding of what it is like to just be a composer in general and all that entails. He also has a lot of students who are/striving to be film composers, so it’s not like he doesn’t know anything about it.

Our interview lasted 40 minutes, and went right down to 1% battery life on my computer. Overlooking the stress of a dying computer, it was an incredibly useful interview. Not only for this project, but also for my in-depth project (choral composition) and for myself as a recreational/aspiring composer. During the interview, the answers were not restricted to the questions I asked. They returned to past questions and answered some things that were’t explicitly stated in the question. Below is what I got out of the interview.

My questions were:
1. How should one learn to compose, as a young composer?
2. How has the music scene changed from when you were younger to today?
3. How do you compose?
4. What is your favourite part about being a composer?
5. Who are your influences and how have they affected your music?
In short (sort of),
I found out through the interview that 1. one should surround themselves with people who teach/believe in mastering musical fundamentals and theory, as opposed to style before fully understanding the fundamentals. By understanding this, you can compose more quickly, more musically, and simply better. And as a student, it’s good to learn with a teacher, but you also have to take initiative on your own and learn by yourself.
2. The internet has completely changed how one gets jobs and learns. We are no longer separated by geography and we can communicate with others from farther distances (just like I was able to interview Mr. Belkin). It can also make us more independent, meaning we don’t have to communicate in person with as many people anymore. As for film music, USC is the place to go. There is a huge difference living in the center of all your connections, and music is hugely about connections. You can make yourself known to others in person, which is invaluable. You’re a thousand times more likely to be called for a job if they know your face and name, and have talked with you at school and other places.
3. Some people compose with a story in mind, but he doesn’t. He just writes what comes to mind and develops it. After enough themes and ideas are developed, the music almost takes shape itself.
4. As a composer, we have our own little worlds, and it is our job to touch someone emotionally and take them on an emotional guided tour of our inner world. We have to be an excited tour guide.
5. A lot of very technical musical things that are super interesting but incredibly difficult to explain. His influences were mainly Shostakovich and Schreker.

Following this successful interview, I then interviewed my Uncle Robert who is an avid film fan and has adjudicated at a number of film festivals. We set up a time and I called him one Thursday evening to talk about how film music is used most effectively in a movie. Again, he is not a film composer or a musician. However, since he is very knowledgable in films, I thought it would be beneficial to know how film music affects the sensitive viewer and how he thinks it is used best. Our interview lasted a solid half hour and I got a lot of useful information from it, especially if I should ever want to compose film scores (which I might, who knows? I probably do).

1. How do you feel that music in film gets used most effectively? What about film music makes it “good” for you?
2. Do you feel that movie soundtracks have changed over time?
3. What are your general thoughts on John Williams’ music?
4. How do director-composer relationships affect the film?
5. What are some films you particularly enjoyed the music for?
In short
1. The music should be supportive and not the driving force, since film is primarily a visual medium. If the music becomes too important to the film, it becomes almost like a crutch, sort of like how visual effects can be a crutch (if you take it out, how good is it?). This is not a criticism of the composer, but of the filmmaker. The music and the movie should match in quality, they should be on the same level. You have to have a good balance.
2. With technological developments, it’s easier to do things regarding orchestration etc.
3. HIs music is best when it’s exciting and accompanying a scene. Sometimes he can be a bit too sweet and emotional, since you shouldn’t have the music tell you how to feel, it should just amply the emotion (but that was mostly directed at one scene in War Horse). Exaggerate what is going on onscreen.
4. It’s just easier to have good relationships, especially with someone in such high power (in this case, Steven Spielberg). A good director-composer relationship makes it easier to get work done, as they know each other well and it becomes one less problem in the production.
5. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and The Apartment are his two favourite film scores.

Finally, a huge surprise. As I am writing this post, I just received an email from one of the people I sent an email to. Their name was Matthew Fields and he was a composer of whom I have read many of his writings on composition, as well as the writer of some pieces that I quite like. However, the email was not from him, it was from his wife, notifying me he had sadly passed a few months ago. My deepest condolences go to his family and those he was close to. (The following are two of his works. The latter is for a choir)

All in all, my interviews were fun to do and I got a lot out of them. As it turns out, people are actually great sources of information (who knew?) and asking questions can help you out a lot in learning (weird how that works). Of course, I would have loved to do more interviews and I have a few people in mind I would like to do them with, but alas, this project is over. However, that shouldn’t stop me from asking them questions and learning from professionals and experts in the field.