The Art of CompositionBy Danielle Hance
Some may call them savants. Others might dismiss them as "artistic types" with reclusive habits of spending long hours locked in a studio. But for some Concordia professors and alumni, the drive to compose music far outweighs the sacrifices they have made to get where they are today.
Two young alumni have made names for themselves behind the scenes of television shows and films. While the only acknowledgement they might receive is a rolling end credit, the excitement of creating picture-perfect music keeps them going.
The highlight of JoAnne Harris' career was a personal request from Diane Sawyer.
Harris, a 2006 alumna, is a composer of film and television in New York. She still remembers getting the call about a message from a music supervisor at ABC. Sawyer, who rarely uses music in her pieces, had asked for a couple of Harris' musical cues by name.
"That felt kind of surreal, because you think, 'I'm only doing background music,'" she says.
Harris' cues were used in a two-hour event titled "Jackie Kennedy: In Her Own Words." As a full-time freelancer, her music has been heard on shows such as "20/20," "Primetime," "Good Morning America," "What Would You Do?" and "The Nate Berkus Show." She also has written jingles for commercials and worked on independent films.
For Adam Hochstatter '09, everything starts and ends with the picture.
"Ultimately, my goal in writing is to support the picture and relay an emotional experience to the audience that the director wants," he says.
Hochstatter is a composer for media – film, television and video games – in Los Angeles. He considers his work to be a collaboration between himself and the film director.
Unlike traditional composition where the composer decides what they like and begins creating, both young composers look at the already-created picture and work with the director to determine music's role in each scene.
"You watch the scene, and you get to invent what's not necessarily there," Harris says.
She asks herself questions like: "What part do I play?" "Am I an omniscient narrator who knows something they don't know?" "Do I need to be serious?" "Do I need to be funny?"
It is a "selfless art," Hochstatter says – one where he doesn't write what he wants but what fits the story.
His process begins by "spotting" the film with the director – that is, watching the film with the director and deciding where there should be music.
Next, he creates "markers" for each moment that needs music in a computer program and starts developing themes and ideas for the story and characters.
Starting with one scene, he sketches on the piano. Then he starts thinking about the colors and textures he wants from specific instruments and orchestrates his sketches.
Once all this is completed, he mixes the music, invites the director over and plays his tracks under the dialogue. If the director approves a scene, he can move onto the next. If not, Hochstatter will continue to revise or rewrite until the director is happy.
At the end of the day, the composers are at the mercy of a host of directors, producers, investors and networks responsible for a show's production.
"The biggest challenge is working with the director," Harris says. "He might say, 'I really like that, but I want more flair.' It takes some detective work to translate that what he really wants in musical language is the sound of the muted trumpet."
Even though the picture dictates the music, film composition requires a spirit of lifelong learning.
"My next film might need Peruvian singers or classical Russian music, or maybe we really need a traditional Cuban folk song," Hochstatter says. "I don't know how to write one right now, so I might have to research and know the style by Monday. I love being forced into a learning situation."
Hochstatter began writing music in high school. When he was in 10th grade, his high school band director asked him to do a blues arrangement for the Halloween concert.
"I don't remember how it (the tune) went. It was probably only four notes," he says, "but it was a moment that I got to hear people perform something I had created."
A video game convinced him to compose for media. He was in his basement, ready to play "Medal of Honor: European Assault." He heard the main menu music and couldn't believe his ears.
"I thought, 'This sounds really real, not like Mario,'" he says. "It was a live orchestra and choir performing classically written music."
As a music theory/composition major at Concordia, he took composition lessons from Dr. Daniel Breedon and Dr. Steven Makela. His bassoon professor, Russell Peterson, introduced him to the technology he would need to record his music. He completed an independent study with Dr. René Clausen, having one of his arrangements performed by The Concordia Choir on its domestic tour.
After graduation, Hochstatter enrolled in a graduate certificate program in film scoring at the University of Southern California.
For Harris, the road to becoming a composer was less direct. It wasn't until her senior year at Concordia that she even realized that she loved writing music. She recalls performing a senior recital and not being enthused about her singing, but when a classmate performed a song cycle she had written, something clicked.
"I knew then that being creative in a compositional way was what I was called to do," she says.
The vocal music education major taught for a year, traveled and soul searched for another year and then enrolled in composition night classes at Julliard. An internship with prolific film and television composer Chris Hajian propelled her into the music business.
She spends quite a bit of her time every week emailing shows and trying to sell her musical cues. She used to be filled with trepidation to promote herself and face possible rejection until she realized that risk was necessary.
"(You have to) stay open to the possibility. You also have to be willing to fail," Harris says. "You have to be willing to take a risk. This person may not hire me. This may not happen for me. You fail more than you succeed, but failure is part of the game."
At the end of the day, Harris and Hochstatter aren't in the music industry for the spotlight but for the satisfaction they gain from their work.
"This is the one thing I love, more than chocolate, more than running and, I hate to say this, more than being with my friends," Harris says. "When I'm with it, I'm in a transcendent place, and I really want to stay there and write."
The audience is what seals the deal for Hochstatter.
"I don't care if they know about me. As long as they had an awesome experience at the movie, I'm satisfied," he says. "Having your name on the credits is not what it's about. It's about the experience."
On campus, Dr. René Clausen may be best known as the face of The Concordia Choir. His colleague Russell Peterson turns heads with his stellar saxophone playing. What some may not know is that both are also in demand as composers.
"I don't really have a choice," Clausen says. "It's like breathing the air. I just have to write. It's part of the expression of who I am."
Clausen played many instruments in high school – alto saxophone in the jazz band, trumpet in the marching band, French horn in the orchestra and tuba in the youth band. He even played the flute for a period of time so he could play duets with a flutist that he was dating.
It naturally followed that his first arrangement was instrumental. He was a high school senior. Three of his friends who played bassoon, bass clarinet and French horn needed a trio to bring to a music competition. Clausen stepped up to the challenge and composed three Baroque variations on "Light My Fire," a popular '60s rock tune by The Doors.
Dissatisfaction motivated Peterson to compose.
"When I dedicated my life to the (saxophone), I dedicated my life to repertoire," he says. "I was unsatisfied with the future prospect."
He started writing and performing music that he wanted to hear for his instrument, but since then he has written jazz charts, orchestral arrangements and almost everything in between.
What began as a need for better music is now a love language for Peterson.
"Writing a piece is about as much affection as I can share with someone," he says. "It is the greatest gift I can give."
Today, Clausen can't remember a composition of his that hasn't been performed. In addition to his compositions for The Concordia Choir and the annual Christmas Concert, Clausen has been commissioned to write pieces for video, solo voice, choir, orchestra and band.
"When I'm writing for commission, I have a certain deadline, a certain medium and a certain level," he says. "When I am commissioned I have to remember that the technical demands for a church choir are going to be different than a high school choir or a boys' choir."
Still, what Clausen enjoys most is writing music with complete freedom.
"When I'm just writing for myself, I write what I want to write," he says. "That's where I stretch myself, even if it may never get performed."
For Peterson, joy comes from regularly writing music for his friends. One of his favorite ensembles is the Excelsior Trio, with Peterson on saxophone and his colleagues Dr. Jay Hershberger and Debora Harris on piano and flute, respectively.
This summer they toured Scotland and Italy where they were the featured ensemble at the World Saxophone Congress and the Faenza International Sax Art Festival, performing many of Peterson's original compositions and arrangements.
Peterson loves to take risks in his compositions. He thinks he may have acquired the mentality from jazz improvisation.
"When I'm improvising, I think about what sounds good in the moment and what the audience wants to hear," he says. "I'm not afraid."
Even more importantly, Peterson never finds his work mundane.
"I haven't been bored in 15 years," he says.
Hear samples from the CD "Life and Breath: Choral Works by René Clausen" performed by the Kansas City Chorale. The CD is the first professional recording of solely his compositions.
Watch video performances of Peterson's compositions and arrangements.
The Right Score
Andrew Hauschild '95 makes the greats look great. He is a music copyist in Hollywood – a job he's had for nearly 12 years. When a big name film composer like John Williams brings in a score, Hauschild extracts individual parts for each instrument.
His colleagues at JoAnn Kane Music Service prepare all of Williams' music. He's also worked on some well-known films and television shows such as "The Simpsons," "The Hangover," "Ice Age," "Bourne Legacy," "The Avengers" and "Argo." He and his colleagues also recently prepared the music for Barbra Streisand's tour.
What Hauschild enjoys most is going to the recording sessions. He likes to see his work in action – hearing the orchestra while the picture is projected on screen behind the ensemble. Of course, he is always equipped with a laptop and printer in case any mistakes are found.
His job is a dream come true.
"Working in music is what I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember," he says.
See what projects Hauschild and his colleagues have worked on at JoAnn Kane Music Service.
Photos: Sheldon Green/Submitted