Last July, a 5-day film composition course named “The Christopher Young Film Scoring Program” was held in Madrid, with Christopher Young himself as a professor (read news), organized by GEMS Global Entertainment Music, and headed by its director Nigel Ashely Lees
Gorka Oteiza (SoundTrackFest) was invited to participate in the course and to interact with the students, and here you have his article about the course, that includes interviews with Christopher Young, Nigel Ashley and several of the students.
On Friday, July 14th, I arrived to Madrid in the afternoon, just in time for the last day of the theoretical/practical day of the intensive course “The Christopher Young Film Scoring Program” that had been carried on tirelessly since Tuesday 11th from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and that would end tomorrow Saturday July 15th.
When I arrived I found in the classroom a total of 13 students, ranging in age from 18 years old the youngest to 38 years old the oldest, being a mixed and heterogeneous public, with one common desire: to learn and receive the experience from maestro Christopher Young. But I will not talk about their opinions on the course or their experiences, as you can read that later in the section with brief interviews that were conducted to more than half of the participants. Now I will focus on the course itself.
The dynamic of the course was very simple, during the first four days (11-14 July), from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Christopher Young explained in the classroom how to compose music for films, both through theoretical examples and practically through clips of scenes of films and situations of many of his works.
At the beginning of the course, the students also received an assignment; composing the music for a scene from one of the movies that Chris had scored, having to create something new with their own style. At the end of the course, the 5th day, a recording session would be held in the Red Led studios in Madrid, where using an ensemble of 12 musicians, and with professional equipment, students could record their works.
To help achieve this goal, every day from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. the students conducted one-on-one interviews with Chris, in turns, like in a mentoring program, where they could get personalized advice from both the work that they were composing and also about the personal doubts emerging from trying to be a professional composer.
The whole course was carried out in English, as expected, since in addition to Chris Young himself, who does not speak Spanish, the course had been so well accepted that it included Italian and Belgian students.
The atmosphere in the classroom, after 4 days of coworking and exchanging of experiences and ideas was very pleasant, full fellowship, where students with more knowledge (and in some cases with a professional career in the world of the composition), helped other classmates.
This atmosphere probably started at the beginning of the course, because when Chris Young landed at Madrid airport, he was received with an orchestra playing his music live in Barajas, to the surprise of the airport users and to the surprise of the composer himself, as you can see in this video:
But getting back to the course, let’s focus on the last day, the recording sessions. In pre-assigned half-hour shifts, each student would have the opportunity to live personally a recording session in a studio, with live musicians and a professional team of recording technicians. An experience that is not easy to acquire, and that the course had as one of its greatest added values: being able to experience firsthand the process of a composer, from beginning to end, since the moment the scene is received to get scored, through the process of composing the music, to taking it to the studio to record it.
One by one, all the students passed through the recording booth, where they controlled the development of the session with the technicians and the musicians, and where they were in charge of making the pertinent adjustments or corrections in their scores, under the careful supervision of Christopher Young, who did not leave the room for a single moment, giving to the course and to the work of his students the same importance as if he were recording the soundtrack of his next film.
Here you have some videos of these sessions:
In short, “The Christopher Young Film Scoring Program” has been a fabulous experience, in which for moments I wanted to know a little more music and be a composer, to get myself completely involved into the course as one more participant. The students left very happy and eager to continue composing, full of ideas and tools to advance in their careers. Does anyone give more in just 5 days?
GEMS Global Entertainment Music has organized a music composition course for videogames for September called “The Garry Schyman Video Games Scoring Program”, which will feature composer Garry Schyman and will be held in Valencia on September 25th and in Madrid on September 28th (read news). A highly recommended course, in which according to the information I have, there are still seats available.
It seems that we will have to follow closely the courses that GEMS Global Entertainment Music is organizing in Spain, that I’m sure will give us pleasant surprises in the very near future.
The course had a total of 13 students: Mara Jimenez Ruiz, Lora Chow, Joris Hermy, Fernando Ortega Rojo, Francesco Bortolussi, Christian Ramirez Parrilla, Fernando Cabrera Perez, Clare Martyn, Veronica Amaya Escrig, Carles Tur, Eva Fernandez, Riccardo Belletti and David Palacios Alvarez.
In this section we will read the impressions of some of them, in brief personal interviews made during the recording sessions (click on the ‘+’ to unfold each block).
I’m Mara Jimenez, I am 18 years old and I discovered this course because a colleague of mine worked with Rodrigo, who is an assistant in this course, and since she knew that I wanted to study composition, she put me in contact with him and there’s where it started. As for musical studies, I have something more than elementary grade. I also have a bachelor’s degree in arts, I play the piano and I start university next year. I love the course. Before coming I was a little disappointed to compose, with the feeling that I did not get things done, and Chris has given me a lot of encouragement to continue, and I feel like I can write some music every day.
I’m Christian Ramirez, I am 28 years old and I came here because a teacher of mine, Juanjo, recommended it to me. I’ve only been studying music for 2 years, I have some piano studies, and the truth is that being with Christopher motivates me a lot to continue. The only way to improve is to spend time composing every day. For me the experience has been fantastic and I leave the course wanting to compose more and more. If the course were to continue for another week, I would stay here! No problem!
Carles Tur Cardona
I’m Carles Tur Cardona, I come from Gandia – Valencia, 2 hours from here in Madrid. I am a percussionist, I have a medium degree of music and I knew about the course from a professor of the composition conservatory, where I started this year. As soon as I got the news I came straight away, as this is what I want to do. The course has been fantastic, as it gives you many ideas, theory, resources to continue, and we have had contact with Chris and Andy Hill, with whom we had a videoconference the other day. I’m more than delighted.
I’m Eva Fernandez, I am 18 years old, from Madrid and I learned about the course from a student of my mother, who knew Rodrigo. I enlisted at once, as the course promotes something I would like to do. I’ve been playing piano for 4-5 years. I always liked to compose, and I did it a bit like a game, but when I started with the piano I realized that I loved it and it was my dream. The course has helped me a lot, because it will boost many things that I need. Also, meeting Christopher in person is a luxury.
I’m Fernando Ortega, from Madrid and I am 36 years old, and I discovered the course through the Internet, and as soon as I saw who the teacher was, I signed up straight away. As an aspiring composer and great follower of film music, it seemed incredible that a legend came like this at the door of my house! It was almost a provocation and I felt compelled to come. I had done some things in the field of composition, but I wasn’t following it, and now with the course I’m going to pick it up again. The course has been very practical, giving useful material that also includes a recording. All the knowledge acquired in these 5 days is directly applicable to my career as a composer. I am also fortunate to be a finalist in the composition competition organized by the Transatlantyk festival this year, so this course is a fantastic way to start and give a boost to everything.
I’m Fernando Cabrera, from Madrid and I am 21 years old. I learned about the course by my teacher Juanjo, who is the assistant of this course, with whom I am finishing my studies of musical production. I have always had a profile of composer for audiovisuals, and I have been composing on my own since I was 12 years old. I really have not been able to dedicate myself to study music, until I finished high school and I started the studies of sound technician first and then I went to study music production. I’ve always been fan of movies and I knew the music of Chris Young before coming, so when I found out that he was going to be the teacher, I signed up. The course is a great incentive, since it is pushing me to go ahead, to continue learning, and has changed the way I see things. The tips, ideas, techniques Chris gives in the course are fantastic and very useful in the future. Now, in fact, I’m doing a video game with a couple of students, and I’m in charge of music and sound design. We participated in a contest, we won it, and the prize was a Stand in the Games World fair of Barcelona, so there we will be presenting the game with the music I compose, with the techniques I am learning here.
I’m Francesco Bortolussi, I come from Venice (Italy), I’m 24 and composition has been my interest for the past 2 or 3 years. After studying piano at the conservatory I wanted to compose music, and film music has always been very important to me in my musical education. I found the course on the Internet, by chance, and I wanted to be part of it and I was very eager to come here. It was at the right time, so I can say I was very lucky. Here in the course I have gained a lot of additional knowledge, because Chris is a very good teacher, besides being a very good composer. The way he explains how to develop melodies and themes, how to orchestrate, how to take action scenes and bring them to live, has been very good, interesting and useful. After the course I’m going to try to be a better composer. My focus is now mainly in orchestral music and that’s what 70-80% of what the soundtracks are about, but funnily for this course I had to compose a cue that was electronic music. It’s always fun to try things and experiment. Who knows where you will end!
I’m Clare Martyn, I’m from Ireland and I’m 23 years old and I found this course through Nigel. He emailed me and the dates worked perfectly. I’m so happy to come back, because I was in Varna last year and I couldn’t go again this year, so Nigel emailed me and said that this was on. I’m a classical percussionist and a drummer, I majored in that in college, and then I was doing classical percussion part time, so that’s my full time job, but I love composing and I hope I can do both. I think the course will help my career. Like with the recording today, here you learn so much. You have to think on the spot what you are going to do, take decisions. When you’re composing with your computer you’re in a safe environment and you don’t make as much mistakes as you do in the real world. And it’s good to make mistakes and learn from them. As soon as I go home I’m going to play in “Les Miserables” in Dublin, so that’s the short term plan, but I hope to move to LA, to compose and play percussion on my scores, that’s the long term plan. In fact, I’d love to compose, play and also act. I’d like to have it all!!
I’m Joris Hermy, I’m 38 years old and I’m a Belgian composer and I have a background composing for movies and TV series, so I have experience. For the past 4-5 years, in summer, when work is quieter, I like to find myself again and I kind of obligate myself to do something different than doing the job. Everything but doing the job. Of course we do writing, composing and conducting here, but it’s different. It’s more an experience than a job. Here I have more time to explore stuff. When you do the job you do the stuff they’re asking you to do, with schedules and deadlines. But being here to re-score a Chris Young movie scene, with him by your side, that’s pretty amazing. I think that what I do in this course brings different stuff to my music, than if I would stay at home. Never stop learning. That’s my goal! Keep the young spirit! Well, in fact Chris tells me I should tell everyone I’m 28! *laughs*
Here we’re learning to keep it simple. As composer you always try your very best, but it’s like with many things in life, you could try too hard to fail. I always have wondered why is Christopher Young doing this, and talking with him I realized why. He’s here to preserve the craftsmanship of film composing. An anecdote: I bumped into Conrad Pope 4 years ago after a course. I was talking to him and I asked why did he teach the course, why did he come all the way from LA to spend time with us, young composers. I told him “Having to look at my music after having seen the scores from John Williams… well…it has to be disappointing”. And he said, “I’ve spend my whole life learning things, but when I’m gone its gone, so I want to give it away to younger generation so that the knowledge is not lost.” And I’m sure Chris is the same.
Thank you very much Chris for coming back to Spain and being here with us, with a class full of young students that admire your work, same as I do. It’s been some years now since we last met in Spain.
Thank you very much for reminding me what a joy was all those years ago, when I first came to Madrid for the film music festivals, and how blessed I was that I had the chance to meet so many Spanish fans of film music and get so close to them. My first summer out here for the program of the film music festival was absolutely one of the best weeks of my life. Ecstasy!
Well, I’m very glad you felt that way! You make us feel the same way with your music many times, so it’s a match!
I like to get close, I love interacting with what I call fans, but in fact, I’m a fan of film music too. I started as a fan of film music, so I understand exactly where all the fans are coming from, the only difference is that I happen to write music as well. So I like to sit down and chat about film music just like everybody else.
Well it’s fantastic to have somebody with that attitude like you here in the course, to learn where does the music come from, how do you get to that point when composing, what is your process and all the details than only a source and a fan like you can explain to people that want to learn.
It’s my pleasure to share all that with you!
Let’s talk about education, how was it that you decided to come to this course?
It was entirely Nigel’s doing. He’d been talking to me about it time ago. We met in Varna which is in Bulgaria, by the black sea. I had been visiting an education program there like 2 or 3 years and he started talking about this course at that moment, so he planted the seed. I adore having the opportunity to meet young composers and getting involved in helping them, and make them feel good about their talent and their strong chances of achieving their goals and dreams. Everyone wants to be the next John Williams. Who knows? Anything is possible! So I just love having the opportunity to meet these people. Our lives intersect and I hope I stay in contact with them. They’ve entered my life and my heart, and I hopefully have entered theirs, and in the short time, we’re here together, but they’ll go off and continue with their lives and their journeys as new film composers. There’s an immense amount of talent in that room. They all show they can be very successful film composers.
It looks like you’re having a good time here. Maybe you’d like to repeat this workshop next year and come again?
If I get invited… (looks to Nigel and *laughs*)
I’m quite sure you will! I could see by the look on the faces in the students that they were really happy today, and they still haven’t been to the recording session. For many of them, it will be the first time they will have musicians play their music live and record it in a studio, with a Hollywood composer supervising all the process.
It’s good to get out of your computer and get in front of real musicians. Sometimes you write something that’s out of the range of an instrument. Understanding that transition from a synthesizer, a computer with a library, to a musician playing an instrument is really important, and is part of the process of being a successful composer. You have to make sure you understand how everything is done; the musician, the conductor, the sound engineer… to make things work. Most people don’t have the luxury of doing that, they can’t try things out like we’re going to do in tomorrow’s recording sessions.
You are a natural born teacher; all the students of this course have told me they love having you as their mentor. And on the other side, you love teaching. That’s a good combination, isn’t it?
Many of my composer friends don’t know what to do when they’re not working on a movie, they get so caught up in themselves, that can’t escape their own world, and I would suggest that they teach. Why don’t you go and talk in front of a group of people, like students? The one good thing about working with students is that when you’re in the room with them, they’re looking at you and they want you to fix their problems. There’s no time to think about your things, you have to think about them, and give them tools to fix their problems, and that’s the best thing, because sometimes, without you knowing, you end up solving your things too. What I pass into them with my experience and my knowledge is valuable, but I think what distinguishes me is that because I’m so concerned about them, I become a motivational speaker. In some way I keep telling them “come on, you can do this, work harder, you can do it”.
Chris, you’ve been teaching for a long time, at the University and also in several master classes across the world, so you have great experience in this field. Is it easy for you to be a teacher?
Well, every time I start up, I’m always afraid: “Can I do this again? Will I be able to go into that room and make them feel good about themselves?”. But then I go there, I start and all the fears leave. It’s not only about teaching techniques, is also about teaching confidence, and tools to handle situations. I have to be the leader of the class, because everybody is relying on me. It’s not easy at the beginning, but then, once you establish a connection, I feel like I could go on forever.
Every person that wants to get into writing music is because they have something to say, because there’s something to be said inside of them waiting to come out, and it is my job to help them. That something doesn’t have to be brilliant, it can be very simple, maybe a just a couple of chords, and that’s what I got to help them find.
Which quality or virtue you think is best to have for a student, or which one you think is more interesting to develop?
They have to be driven and that in general means they have to be in love with this “thing” called film music. Talent, as you know, is something relative, and you can work on it. The technique required to be a composer in the 40s or 50s has changed dramatically now. At that time if you wanted to work in Los Angeles you had to be classically trained. Now you don’t need so much; you also need a background, but you need to know how to put all your ideas into a computer. Anything goes these days. Students can come from a rock background, they can come from a jazz background, or from a classical background. When they come in my class they don’t have to be classically trained, for me it’s just about how committed are they, how much they want to do this, and the passion they put. It’s mostly, if not all, about attitude. And that’s what I like; I like to be in the company of someone who wants badly to create new things. I think the virtues they need are: I want to learn, I want to grow, and I want to communicate. Because communication is very important, especially when you’re working with a director.
That’s a good point because composing is not only about creating music, is about attitude, and it’s about relationships and collaboration.
That’s true. You need skills to communicate with the director and get to know what he wants, what he needs. You have to be able to be a team player. You have to be there for the director. He wants to believe in you, he wants to know that you’re with him. He already has so many things to worry about, and you have to be a helping hand. You have to get inside his head because he doesn’t speak music. Your task is to figure out what he really needs. Directors want to have someone by their side who would fight with them for the movie. Being able to communicate is imperative. And also be able to sell yourself. Some composers are really great at that, some like myself are good, and some are really good composers but they’re not good communicating with the director. Attitude and communication is a big part of being a composer.
Well Chris, it seems it’s time to get back to class. Your students are waiting for you!
Yes! I love being in that classroom! But promise me we will continue this conversation in another moment!
Of course we will! Thank you very much, Chris!
NOTE: And that happened the next day, with nearly one hour chat, that will be published in a few weeks in a separate article and that will be linked here when it’s available.
Ok, Nigel, so it’s your turn now, after Chris has gone back to his students!
He’s such a committed person! He loves teaching! And students love him. He has a connection with them.
That’s true! So Nigel, tell us, how was that you decided to start GEMS courses with Chris Young?
When I started this gig up, there was only one person I had in mind, which was Chris. He’s original, he’s passionate, and he’s a charm, and those things are exactly what you need both in life and in music. You can help people, and Chris is a good supporter of people, because he cares. Education is about sharing, caring, is about helping people, so when I set it up, there was only one person I wanted to start with and he was Chris. I had worked with him for three years on master’s programs on Varna and I know how he is received by the students; always kind, a joy, giving just enough push to what they’ve done, making them realize they can be a bit better. There are only a few people that can do that, or who want to do that, and he is one. So he’s the perfect combination.
Don’t young students feel a bit overwhelmed to have someone like Chris as a teacher?
At first they’re. They’re over the shock of meeting a celebrity, a guy whose films they have watched all over the years, but then they realize… “Now I can learn many things from him”. That’s when Chris really shines in the classroom. He delivers confidence and teaches confidence. Energy has to flow in both ways and he manages to do that.
Well Nigel, that’s all… for the moment. SoundTrackFest will keep track of future GEMS courses, and would love to be part of them.
You can bet on that! I’d love to have you on board!
Gorka Oteiza wants to thank:
Christopher Young for being such a wonderful person and a fantastic professional.
Nigel Ashley Lee for inviting SoundTrackFest to be part of the course.