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10 Questions: David Newman

Posted in MusicWorld on April 27, 2012 by

Composer/conductor David Newman has scored more than 100 major feature films, received an Oscar nomination for his Anastasia score, and is a 2009 recipient of BMI’s Richard Kirk Award. He’s a member of the legendary Newman family—and if the Hollywood composing world has a dynasty, the Newmans are it: David’s father, Alfred Newman, was a nine-time Oscar winner and is considered one of the godfathers of film music. David’s uncles, brother Thomas Newman and cousin Randy Newman are just a few more of the family members who have left their mark on the world of film and television music. Newman honors this legacy by mentoring the next generation of composers through his work with the American Youth Symphony. On May 6, AYS launches the Danny Elfman Project, a three-year exploration of Elfman’s music through performances and panel discussions, sponsored by BMI.

1. How did you get involved with the American Youth Symphony?
I grew up in Los Angeles and I played in the American Youth Symphony from when I was about 16 until maybe 23 or 24 years old. Later I got involved when my daughter, who is now a senior at USC, started playing about 5 or 6 years ago. Eventually I got on the board and now I’m the president of the board. I do this with my wife Krys; we just got sucked in that way.

2. How does the American Youth Symphony nurture young musicians?
It’s a place where talented kids from the ages of 14 to 27 come together every weekend and rehearse, with the idea of performing the standard classical music repertoire. So it’s a training orchestra, but it’s almost the same as a professional orchestra, the quality is so good.

We’re the only organization in the Los Angeles area that draws [100 musicians] from 33 high schools, junior high schools and colleges. Anyone can play in our group. You have to audition to get in but if you’re good, anyone can play and they get a little stipend. They get paid a little bit for the rehearsal and per performance, so they have some idea of what it’s like to play professionally and be paid. They learn to be prepared and to do all the things you would do in a professional situation.

3. Before the Elfman Project, AYS spent three years exploring the music of film composer Jerry Goldsmith. So is film music now considered part of the “standard classical repertoire”?
There’s an element of film music that is like concert music because it’s played generally by a classical music symphony orchestra. We want to explore and celebrate that and have our musicians learn how to play this stuff, because many of them will probably end up playing film and television music for a living.

But also, orchestras all over the world are desperate to play film music, and generally it’s very difficult to find the scores and have the parts that are actually in good enough shape to play. So this is also part of our mission, to play our part in making this music available.

4. I understand that film music preservation is a big passion of yours. Why is this such an issue?
Generally after the music is recorded it can be very hard to find where the scores went. The studios weren’t always really careful – particularly in the past – about holding on to them so that they can be played again. Frankly, they had no idea that this music ever would be played again! It was just recorded for a film, so you can see the inherent problem.

Almost every orchestra, we’re talking hundreds if not thousands around the world, at some point during the season will do a film music concert. It’s huge now. Not to use hyperbole, but I feel as a film composer myself and as a member of BMI that it’s kind of outrageous that this music is so hard to get.

5. As a composer, what’s your creative process like?
I don’t wait around for an idea or inspiration, I start working and inspiration comes. I get there by kind of knuckling down and doing the work. Things tend to coalesce for me by the actual act of beginning to compose. Composing is kind of like improvising.

6. What do you find most rewarding about composing?
When you get to that inspiration place. I love when that happens. It doesn’t happen all that often. Generally a couple times in a project some piece of music or some cue becomes really fun to write because you just start improvising. The most challenging part is actually starting. When you start a film, it’s just all blank, there’s nothing there. That’s the most difficult aspect for me, starting.

7. What advice do you have for composers trying to get started in film music?
If you really want to write film music or television music you can’t get discouraged. It’s a very difficult thing to get involved with and you have to endure or you generally won’t make it. You’re going to get a lot of rejection before you get something good that happens, so I would say to not give up.

8. Do you have a favorite live music venue?
Well, I haven’t been everywhere I’d like to go. I like Royce Hall at UCLA, and I love the Walt Disney Concert Hall at the Los Angeles Music Center, I think it’s great. I like Carnegie Hall in New York, too.

9. Why did you choose BMI?
It’s just the best performing rights organization! Most of my family has chosen BMI, except for my father, who started before BMI even existed.

10. Who were your biggest influences as a composer?
I’d say Jerry Goldsmith and my father. My father, obviously, is of a different era, but the work ethic and the training and the conducting were very inspirational to me. And Jerry Goldsmith, whom I became friends with, was the most inspirational film composer to me. There were others, I’m a big classical music fan, and I love opera, so I have lots of influences.

The American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles will launch the Danny Elfman Project on Sunday, May 6 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Sponsored by BMI, the three-year initiative will explore and celebrate the film music of iconic BMI composer Danny Elfman through panel discussions and performances, one of which will be conducted by David Newman.

To make a reservation and learn more, visit http://aysymphony.org