The Final Stretch

The Final Stretch

We are nearing the final stretch of the semester now, which makes things—for lack of a better word—complicated. Before I start, I want to state that I absolutely love the trials and challenges of this MFA program. Every time I am pushed to dig deeper, I come away with a new understanding of topics that I didn’t even know I was missing. To start this post, I figured it would be beneficial to convey what is expected of me and my peers as we are treated more and more like industry professionals, on our way to Los Angeles in half a year.

2nd Year MFA Composers in front of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Park

MFA Composers hiking up a dune with unofficial program mascot Jazzy

The second year students have begun our time with Emmy-winning composer Brandon Campbell. In each class we are challenged to write and, more importantly, produce full-sounding action music cues in our ongoing project of re-scoring the animated series Pacific Rim: The Black. Studying with Brandon so far has been invaluable. We’re learning to improve our productions, to pitch professional projects, and to develop suites early on in a collaborative process. I know my class’ production values have drastically increased with his feedback and tips, and I have already put his teachings on pitching music and writing suites to use in a student film project of my own. 

My main focus is currently centered on a cue from our video games class with Joel Corelitz. While re-scoring sections of a game he had scored, Unfinished Swan, we were tasked with recording a string quartet to incorporate into “electric harpsichord” pieces (think Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach) to evoke the character of a king. Writing the piece had its own challenges but did not stray too far from our normal scoring assignments. Adapting our pieces for the scoring session is an all-encompassing experience where we have to create the music, notate it for a conductor and players, and work the live recordings back into our original mock-ups. We studied modern film score notation conventions and took a deep dive into three different notation softwares. Now we are revising our scores and creating parts over the Thanksgiving break in preparation. 

This is where things get challenging and complicated (but not unwelcome). For the first time in my life, I have had to think critically about how I to spend my few days of break to maximize working time and hit all of my deadlines. It is very challenging for media composers to work remotely, especially if you are like me and your main computer is not a laptop. I was in constant communication with the director of my student film (whose film is due the same day as our recording session) to set up deadlines. I carefully planned out what type of work I would need to complete on the go and what gear that would require. I unfortunately had to say no to certain plans and leave a day in NY free to get some of this work done (including this blog post!) Even with the small sacrifices and  stress this brings to the holiday season, I am grateful to gain experience with setting priorities and working out logistics.

Lastly, I want to share my best advice about the application process, based on questions I’ve received when meeting with prospective students: put your absolute best foot forward and let who you are shine through. While it is of utmost importance to consider the specifics of what faculty ask for, don’t try to mold yourself into the composer you think they want. In my time in the program, my biggest takeaway about my peers is that we are all so incredibly different. Every composer-in-residence remarks on how insanely different our approaches are to the same 50-second scene. Approaches our professors were convinced would not fit a certain scene ended up being our favorites because of how inventive they were. Everyone comes into this program with strengths and weaknesses, and it is the goal of the program to round you out by the time you get to LA. Hope this was helpful!

MFA Composers at the Christmas Market

Happy Holidays and until next time—


PS: Enjoy some of these holiday-inspired string quartet pieces from our orchestration class last year!