Flip Flops in the Windy City: The Curriculum

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The Curriculum

This post is dedicated to the details of the curriculum for the Music Composition for the Screen program at Columbia College Chicago.  Since part of the target demographic of this blog is perspective and/or interested students, it’s about time I did this.

Scoring III: Genre Study

Genre study is taught by veteran film composer Gary Chang.  Click on his name, you’ll see what I’m talking about.  This composition class focuses on A) the subtleties behind the genres of film (drama, epic, romance etc) and the music that appropriately goes with them, and B) how to effectively present your music as an electronic mockup so it will sound “fucking amazing”.  That is a technical term.  Every other week, we choose specific film cues to emulate, depending on the genre.  Examples of genre work:

SciFi (emulating Halo 2)

Epic (emulating Transformers)

Romance (emulating Legends of the Fall)

Drama (emulating The Boondock Saints)

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Music Editing/Lab

The Music Editing class is taught by Chris Beckstrom.  Chris is one of the most valuable assets the MFA program has to offer, as he is both extremely knowledgeable in all areas ware (both hard and soft), and is in the lab EVERY DAY usually during regular hours.  The Music Editing class has been combined with lab class, meaning we meet 5 hours a week.  We cover several topics in lab, including software (Logic, ProTools, Ableton Live, Plogue Bidule), hardware (MIDI controllers, computers), and plug ins (compressors, EQ, reverb).  Examples of lab work:

Piano Distortion

Film Analysis

Film Analysis is taught by our program director and veteran composer David McHugh.  This class meets once a week, and a member from either of the two years presents a feature film that demonstrates all aspects of good film scoring in practice. This includes spotting (cue entrances and exits), orchestrating, melodic writing, and attention to emotion. This is our chance to see a film score function within the context of an entire feature, instead of studying them scene by scene. We also get David and Gary’s comments regarding attention to the before-mentioned items.

Topics in Scoring

David teaches the Topics in Scoring class; the semester is divided into three parts: Commercials, Television, and Theatrical Underscore.  During the commercial unit, we studied jingles and commercials, writing several 15- and 30-second spots ourselves. Currently in the television unit, we are studying how television scoring can differ from film scoring. Since David has worked in both mediums, and knows many people in the commercial and television world, we Skype every week with working professionals in LA. This is a useful tool as we get to hear first hand what their job is like, how they got there, and what they do to keep it.  The theatrical underscore unit will deal extensively with orchestration.  Examples of topics work:

Commercial Reel

“The Unit” Action cue


Seeing as how this is the Halloween edition of this blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some photos.  My roommate and I went out Saturday as Mad Men (I was Don Draper, he was Roger Sterling).

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The following three photos are the highlights of people we met that night.  Their costumes are varied, as was their enthusiasm.

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Happy Halloween!