What would a film be without music? If you were to watch a film minus the music, scenes that you found really riveting and evocative would probably seem, well, really just normal. That’s the power that composers possess, to evoke emotions and bring images and words to life with music are rare talents that just cannot be learnt or taught; they either dwell within naturally or they don’t. That being said, what can be learnt is the language of music, to be able to better express emotions and ideas. A formal music education teaches us that music is a vast subject and that mastery in music, just like in any other field where people go out and accumulate a multitude of degrees, requires learning the fundamental science of music and how it works. Composers, especially, are required to be multi-instrumentalists who have to create entire pieces, inclusive of each section and every instrument within; it’s no cakewalk.
If a music education’s on our mind and is something you’ve been considering but haven’t yet got down to pursuing, here’s a reaffirmation of that choice; TSM presents the Top 5 composers who have been formally trained and have built phenomenal careers on the foundation of a solid music education.
The world’s most iconic film composer, John Williams, attended both UCLA and the Los Angeles City College, studying orchestration under MGM musical associate Robert Van Eps and being privately tutored by composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco after which he enrolled in the prestigious Julliard School, where renowned piano pedagogue Madame Rosina Lhevinne served as his mentor.
He is of the best known, awarded (47 Academy Award nominations), and financially successful composers in Hollywood history. So many pieces of his music are some of the most recognizable and his notable works include scores for Jaws, Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T The Extra-Terrestrial, Home Alone and Jurassic Park.
James Horner has a long history of music education, having started with the piano at five, he then trained at the Royal College of Music in London, England before receiving a bachelor’s degree in music at USC and later, a master’s degree at UCLA following which he completed his Ph.D. in Music Composition and Theory at UCLA.
He has worked with world-renowned directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard and more. His most notable work includes scoring music for films Braveheart, Aliens, The Mask Of Zorro, Jumanji, Apollo 13, Mighty Joe Young, Avatar, The Amazing Spiderman and of course, Titanic, the soundtrack of which became and still is the best selling orchestral film soundtrack of all time.
James Newton Howard
James Newton Howard has done it all, from attending the University of Southern California’s music school to touring with Elton John and eventually composing some memorable music for film and television.
Having been nominated for eight Academy Awards, he is a songwriter, record producer, conductor, keyboardist and film composer. He is especially known for his collaboration with director M. Night Shyamalan, having scored all his films since The Sixth Sense (1999). His other notable works include Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Batman Begins, King Kong, I Am Legend, The Hunger Games and has created memorable scores and soundtracks for many a Disney film.
A.R. Rahman, the most prolific composer to emerge from the Asian sub-continent, pursued music as a career at a very young age and after assisting leading musicians in India of the likes of Ustad Zakhir Hussain, obtained a degree in western classical music from the Trinity College of Music, London.
He is a two-time winner and five-times nominee of the Academy Award (Oscar), and is popularly known as the man who has redefined contemporary Indian music. His notable works include landmark scores for Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, Taal, Lagaan, Jodhaa Akbar, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Rockstar.
Jerry Goldsmith, possibly one of the most fearless and experimental composers of this century, studied piano with Jakob Gimpel and composition, theory, and counterpoint with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He also attended classes in film composition given by Miklós Rózsa at the Univeristy of Southern California.
His has left behind a rich legacy of music in the form of his work on the Star Trek franchise. Besides this, his other notable works include The Omen, Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone.
So there you have it, our list of the top 5 composers who opted for a formal music education. If you’ve got film-scoring ambitions too then embracing a formal music education might just be your first step to a successful career in it.