Recalling the Night & Learning Center Composition

A CHRONOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON EMINENT, AND THE ANALYSIS OF MY LEARNING CENTER. 

After all that happened, all of the hard work, nervous cries, and invaluable moments, only one thing echoes in my mind. It haunts me to this day and shakes my very soul. The scarring melody that will never die and will live forever in my nightmares. An innocent thing to help me get through the hard day – a simple distraction. How could I guess it would end up like this? How could anyone know the irreversible effects of that one song – Careless Whisper.

Other than the constant horrible repetitions of George Michael’s classic, Night of the Notables (2k16) was something I could not have imagined. The sheer fear of being backstage, the satisfaction of assembling a learning center, and the absolute relief having completed this month-long project. A lot of time and preparing went into this and it was an indescribable feeling to know that it was done. But we aren’t talking about it being done yet. Before that, we have to reminisce and think back on not only the night, but the whole day.

I am not particularly good at understanding the significance of events as they happen to me. At the time, nothing had really sunk in for me. I was not really aware of the real magnitude of this event, nor was I aware of the fact that this event was in a few hours. I knew it was happening, it just didn’t seem real. So throughout the mess of an afternoon that it was, I tried to focus solely on my speech and how I would present it.

My hindsight is 20/20

My speech was written in a way that required a lot of emotion and commitment to character; two things I am not good at doing (the only two things I am not good at, mind you). There was a lot of mental psyching myself up to do the speech, knowing full well that the impact of the speech depended on my ability to commit to my character. But that was a problem for “7:30 me”. First we had to deal with the learning center.

THE LEARNING CENTER – Part 1

My learning center was something I was really happy with. I set it up so that every item at the center had a talking point and a reason for being there that complemented the rest of the learning center.
Below is a left-to-right series of photos of the learning center.

Above is my french horn and trumpet, along with a pair of drumsticks and brushes. There are two DVD sets beside them: Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. These two films’ scores have easily recognizable fanfares and marches, that rely heavily on the trumpet and the French horn. John Williams also employs the use of French horn a lot in his writing, as it is a strong, mellow brass instrument. It’s interesting to make that connection since I now play the french horn. The use of a snare drum is crucial to the composition of a good march, so I had to include a pair of drum sticks.

The violin is for the film Schindler’s List, where the main theme is played by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. As well, the strings are a critical aspect of John Williams’ compositions, as the strings are a vital part of any orchestra. (And also because I think that the violin is the coolest instrument and any chance I get to incorporate it into a project I will take.) The film  Schindler’s List won director Steven Spielberg a seven total Oscars. The film also won John Williams the Oscar for “Best Score”. It is one of the most significant films in history, and definitely one of the greatest films of all time, thanks to the masterful filmmaking of Spielberg, but also the pensive and emotional score delivered by John Williams.

Continuing on to the right, lies a flute, and the discs for the movies E.T., Harry Potter, Fiddler on the Roof, and Star Wars. John Williams won Oscars for all of these films except for the Harry Potter series (which he only composed the first three instalments). All of these films were incredibly successful and critically acclaimed.

It’s pretty incredible to visually see how many movies this man has done, and especially how many successful films he has been a part of. With 50 Academy Award Nominations and 110 film scoring credits to his name, it’s astounding to just see all the famous films he scored, let alone 110 films. Throughout his scoring career, John Williams worked with the Boston Pops a lot, recording with them from 1980-1993. At my learning center, I had a CD player plugged into headphones, playing some of his most famous scores that were recorded with the Boston Pops. Scores include: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

 

 

 

 

Above are several scores of John Williams compositions. The works are three of John Williams’ and three of Tchaikovsky’s. Richard Wagner and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky are two of John William’s biggest musical influences, so I included some scores of Tchaikovsky’s (Wagner was nowhere to be found, unfortunately).

Unbeknownst to most, Andreas is secretly a piano virtuoso

Finally, at the far right of the room, I had my keyboard which had some piano music, as well as my transcribed version of the theme from Schindler’s List.
All of the instruments I slugged to school that morning, except for the violin and the trumpet stand which were graciously given to me to borrow for the evening.

Also unbeknownst to most, I am secretly a violin virtuoso.

THE SPEECH

I generally don’t have a problem with public speaking. Of course it makes me nervous but I can usually deal with it. Now, doing the two things I cannot do (deliver an emotional speech and committing to a character) plus public speaking? Well.

I think that says it all.

There was nothing but nervous energy coursing through me as I waited backstage, feverishly going over my lines one last time and hoping “Gee, I wonder if the sound works out”. As a fallback, I thought I would just sing my one-man acapella rendition of Careless Whisper if I both lost the words completely and the sound failed. I got up on that stage and I began to speak. Oh good lord. As mentioned before, committing to character is not my strong suit (however, the suit I was wearing was very strong). I got to the line where the music was supposed to kick in, and it did. I continued the speech, unfortunately conducting out of time, but largely hitting all of my music-to-speech cues. It was just a blur, that’s all I can say. Getting offstage and getting backstage, I was totally emotionally drained. Again, as mentioned before, I still hadn’t really processed the fact that eminent was happening, so after doing the speech, the reality of it hit me like a bus. It seems to be that I am the bringer of my own destruction. I still don’t know how I feel about my speech. I don’t think it was bad, but to what degree of “not-bad” was it? I guess I’ll never know. All I know is how relieving it felt to be at my learning center. Away from that stage and done with that speech.

THE LEARNING CENTER – Part 2

I was lucky enough to have 3/4 TALONS teachers come to my learning center and have a conversation with me John Williams. For my location, I was surprised at how many people came and saw my station. At my center, I talked about how John Williams composes and the lasting legacy he has left on the world, and the quantity of films he has done (often to the people at my center’s surprise). I also talked about who his influences were and why I chose to do him. Often, I also played a bit of piano for whoever was at my station to let theme hear some of John Williams’ themes, usually Jaws and/or Schindler’s List. During the evening, I got to talk to some of the TALONS alumni and answered their very eminent-specific questions. Towards the end, as we were packing up, my dad began to fool around on the piano and pretty soon, I was playing the first known sounds of jazz french horn that Gleneagle has ever heard to the accompanying piano my dad played.

FINAL REFLECTIONS

All of my goals for this project were achieved, and then some. I learned so much more about film composition than I had ever fathomed I could know. By learning about one of the most influential film composers, I was able to get an insight to what exactly a film composer, how they do what they do, and why they do what they do. It was incredibly interesting and sucked me into learning more and more. Even to this moment I have tabs open on sites that have information about film composing. I’m even seriously considering buying a Masterclass that’s hosted by Hans Zimmer thus learning even more about film composition, and just composition in general. All this learning and information has also greatly benefitted my in-depth project (Choral composition) and I’m even more excited to continue working on that. All in all, I achieved my goals and am proud of what I learned throughout this project.

Of course, the completion of this project wouldn’t be possible without the help of many others. I would like to thank Andreas for the numerous times he edited my speech and listened to me practice. I would also like to thank Weijin for also helping my speech, and for lending me her amazing violin and turning me into the virtuoso I am today. As well, I would like to once again thank the people who I interviewed, and to Alicia for lending me her trumpet stand. As well, thanks to Anika, Alan, and Hira who all either looked over my speech or listened to me rehearse it, and to Kendra for those pictures of me on the violin. Finally I would like to publicly apologize for making a lot of people endure the sounds of a certain song.

As for what I will remember, the better question is what won’t I remember? This whole post has been a collection of things that still stick out in my mind like a skyscraper. Everything from hearing Careless Whisper all day, to delivering my monologue, to standing by my leaning center. How could I forget?

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.

Document of Learning: The End is (Bas)Soon

To begin my document of learning, here is the link to my slideshow recounting my solo adventure to the Coquitlam Public Library.


Writing a speech is not an easy task. It’s quite a large task to take on and accomplish, but breaking it down piece by piece helps the process. Slightly.
The speech I wrote is set in 1981, during the recording session for the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s film, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. The speech is from John William’s Point of view, as he stops and conducts the Boston Pops.


John Williams conducting the score from E.T.

(stop conducting)

Alright, let’s try that again at 248.

(music fade in, begin conducting again)

Now, cellos, more sweetly, and everyone a bit quieter; I want to hear that harp. Flutes, you and the oboes are going to be a golden beam of light shining out of this nebulous fog, and we need that. Violins, I need more heart, I need more feeling.

We have to emulate this emotion perfectly.

What is happening here? E.T. is finally going home. This is the part in which we understand that we sometimes have to let things that are most important to us go. A teary-eyed bittersweet. We have to put this heart-wrenching understanding into a melody – to put our hearts into this feeling.

We are musicians and we are artists. The makers of dreams, the builders our own reality. We are the ones who add colour to dreams. So let’s add a colour we cannot see, but one we can hear.

We do this so we can wonder, so we can dream, so we can believe. Let us breathe belief into this movie.

Yes! Strings, make my heart soar! Make me weep! Make me believe!

(music fade out)

(refer to 0:00 to 1:12 for the music I will use during the speech)


For me, the greatest challenge was (and will probably be throughout my speech-writing career) making the speech sound natural and real. To not have it sound forced or, dare I say, scripted. It was just the idea of making it natural, but also getting my point across. Another challenge was writing it so that I could get the emotional impact of the music and the movie, without showing the movie itself. Timing the speech to the sound is going to take some more practice, but I am definitely getting there. The purpose of the speech itself, is to show the significance of music in film, and how music can affect our lives and manipulate our emotions.


 

piano-1

piano-2 player-piano

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, to do a musician and to not learn/play some of his music would be absurd. John Williams is the composer of some of modern-day’s most beautiful music – part of which is why he has been so successful. Personal favourites of mine being the 11-minute bike chase scene at the end of E.T., the theme from Schindler’s List, and the march (specifically the love theme) from Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I spent a bit of time listening, studying, analyzing, and finally transcribing/arranging some of his music for my purposes.


Undoubtedly, I have learned a lot throughout the course of this project. I have learned a lot about John Williams the man, as well as learning about his music: why it works, how it works, etc. Needless to say, this knowledge has greatly helped me in composing music and has given me a lot to think about when listening to orchestral scores and the like. As for IEP goals, I was able to complete a lot of research and planning much earlier than expected, so I was able to manage my time and work more efficiently and effectively.

All in all, eminent has been very enjoyable for me to do, and I’m excited to see what night of the notables has in store for me.


PS. I would like it to be known I spent several hours devising a clever title that was funny and had a bit of zip to it. I apologize to everyone for my lack of creativity and a funny, zippy title.

A Sad Bassoon, just like me. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53bf2b1ce4b0369fa55d0caf/t/5646ab60e4b0ac3d5288fbba/1447472208643/Bassoon

 

John Williams

There are not many more frightening sounds than the two-tone tune that plays just before a death by vicious shark, nor more victorious themes than the theme we hear as an grave-robbing “archaeologist” rides off into the sunset, nor are there many more recognizable songs than that fanfare that plays in a galaxy far far away. Since the late ’60’s, one man has been revolutionizing the sounds of cinema and adding a fundamental, vibrant colour to the stories we see on screen.

Without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly… We do not wonder, we do not weep, we do not believe. – Steven Spielberg

John Towner Williams is perhaps the world’s most prolific film composer, and has scored the music to dozens upon dozens of landmark films of our lives. From creating the heart-wrenching string melody of E.T., to the trumpets of Jurassic Park, he has been in the background of many of the world’s greatest films. And one thing all of the directors of these films have said is that these films would not have been as successful if it weren’t for the musical storytelling of John Williams.

Born in 1932 to jazz percussionist Johnny Williams and mother Esther in Floral Park, New York. He was very close to his father and his grandparents, and was surrounded by music in his youth. In 1948, his family moved to LA where he attended North Hollywood High School in his sophomore year. In 1950, he graduated and attended UCLA where he studied privately with well-known Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a highly skilled guitarist, having written over 100 works for guitar, and was a composer for MGM. A perfect mentor for young John Williams. Afterwards, he attended Los Angeles City College for only one semester, for the sole reason that they had a jazz band.

In 1952, John Williams was drafted into the Air Force, where one of his duties was to conduct and arrange music for the band there. After his time with the Air Force, he returned to New York, and went to Juilliard to study piano, as his dream was to be a concert pianist.
During this time, he was also a performer in many of the city’s prestigious and famous jazz-clubs, as well as working a bit as a studio musician. Apparently, when wandering the halls of Juilliard, he overheard many of the other musicians and said to himself, “If that’s the competition, I’d better be a composer!”

Returning to LA in the 60’s, he began his work in film and television scores. During this time, he worked with musical greats, most notably Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, The Twilight Zone, Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still) and Henry Mancini (“Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther), as well as many other great musicians. Here, he developed the habit of writing something every day, whether it be good or bad. He began working as a studio musician and played piano in the films Some Like it Hot (starring Marylin Monroe) and To Kill a Mockingbird.

John Williams and Steven Spielberg

Soon after, he was first approached by long-time-collaborator, Steven Spielberg, to score Spielberg’s first feature film, The Sugarland Express. This was the beginning of dozens of projects the two would work on together. Williams was once again invited by Spielberg to score his next film, Jaws. The film was a huge hit, and rocketed both Spielberg and Williams careers. Soon after, up-and-coming filmmaker George Lucas was looking for somebody to score his new “Space Opera” film. Steven Spielberg, who was friends with Lucas, recommended John Williams to him. And as soon as Star Wars was released, John Williams secured himself a spot in the history books for writing the most iconic film soundtrack of all time.

Over the 64 years as a professional musician, John Williams has scored the soundtrack to over 50 Oscar nominated films and dozens more, was the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 13 years (1980-1993), and has written 46 symphonic/orchestral works (one of which was premiered by Yo-Yo Ma). His most notable films being Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), and Munich (2005). Along with this, he is also the man who composed the iconic Olympics fanfare we hear every two years that accompany the televised coverage of the olympics.

Like many of us, I have been surrounded by John Williams’ music my whole life, without really knowing it. From hearing it watching Superman with my grandparents, to screaming the Star Wars theme song while duelling with invisible lightsabers in the backyard, to whistling Jurassic Park walking down the halls. The most iconic films and the music have planted its roots in me, and I’m sure many others too.

Another connection I have to him is how we are both sons of Jazz musicians and that we are both pursuing jazz piano in our adolescence. However, the day, age, and location in which we grow/grew up in are drastically different, thus the music scenes and opportunities are different. As well, his musical influences and my musical influences would be different as well.

As a youngster, I never dreamed there could be a career actually earning a living writing music.

He is also the world’s most prominent and eminent film composer, which is a field I may want to go into in the future. His ideas and the way he wrote scores for films totally changed the way film scores are made now, and his works will stand the test of time for their significance. Not to mention, his scores are very enjoyable to listen to and one can almost see the scenes of the film in your mind when you listen to them.

Through this project, I hope to learn more about the world of composing and composing for film. These are both fields of study I am interested in, and understanding how an extremely successful composer gained his reputation and was able to solely compose for a living will be very interesting and insightful to what I might want to pursue as a career or just as a hobby. Evidence of this can be seen here at my first in-depth blog post for this year.

[on the musical scoring of films] In the future, I think serious composers will become ever more interested… More connections between the audio and visual world would also open possibilities that young composers find increasingly intriguing.

This whole project will assist in my In-depth studies, and will be an all-around interesting project. I am very excited to be doing it and I know that I will enjoy it just as much, if not more than last year’s.