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The Composer Roundtable

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Sunday November 25, 2018

From The Hollywood Reporter

“We’re All Trying to Service the Story”: The Composer Roundtable
By: Kevin Cassidy

Six score masters — Terence Blanchard, Kris Bowers, Ludwig Göransson, Justin Hurwitz, Marc Shaiman and Hans Zimmer — open up about long hours of trial and error, the fear of being pigeonholed, racing against deadlines and writing music to express “what words can’t.”

How do you write themes? Where does melody come from?

TERENCE BLANCHARD My composition teacher always used to tell me you have to learn how to listen. You gotta get your brain out of the way. For me, I have to allow my emotional state to connect to the story first of all. I’ll give you an example: When I was a kid I used to go to this jazz camp in New Orleans run by this guy from Detroit named Willie Metcalf. And we used to play out in the park. When we took a break they started playing one of these recordings of Malcolm X’s speeches when he was talking about the blue-eyed devil and there’s going to be a revolution and the revolution’s going to be bloody. I was a disciple of Martin Luther King and I had never heard anything that radical. But when I heard it and all these other people in the area were cheering for it, I was like, “Where am I?” And my heart was pounding and I just … there was a certain type of anxiety that came over me that was almost uncontrollable. Well, when I started thinking about the opening of [the 1992 film] Malcolm X, I started thinking about how maybe most people would have this similar reaction. So that’s why the thing opens up with a rush of sound, because when I heard it, it stunned me into this other realm of reality. So I don’t know, I think for me it’s like the melody comes out of a yearning to express something that words can’t do.

Is it hard to put so much effort into the music when you know that most moviegoers aren’t going to be aware of it?

BLANCHARD You know, people sometimes used to think it was kind of a jab if they went and saw a movie that I had done and they said, “Oh, I didn’t notice the music.” I’m like, “Actually, that’s probably a good thing.” Depending on the film, the music should be seamless, it should be like air. It should be like lighting, it should be part of the whole thing. For me, I love that moment where — especially where it’s just that rush of energy where it’s the acting combined with maybe the camera movement — where it all comes together. So I don’t really care about it either way, because I think at the end of the day it’s a collaborative thing that we do. We’re all trying to service the story. And the cool part about it is that us being composers, being musicians, the story is the thing that gives us the chance to be different characters ourselves. I think one of the [big] questions for me with composers is, “How do you see yourself?” Because I know [how] the industry will see us. They’ll see him a certain way and him a certain way (pointing), just based on a current project that you have.

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