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From Columbia College to Juilliard, these institutions can take aspiring composers from the practice room to the scoring stage.
By Jeff Bond
The aftermath of COVID-19 continues to be felt in the world of academia, and its impact has extended to The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of the world’s best music schools. Some programs, like the Sundance Institute Film Scoring Program, have shut down, while others have managed to launch and survive during the pandemic. The Film Scoring Academy of Europe makes its debut on this list, and another new program, at Brooklyn College/CUNY’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, offers a master of fine arts degree in media scoring. The past year also has upended THR‘s top rankings a bit as ascendant Columbia College Chicago moves into the top spot, overtaking perennial leaders USC Los Angeles Thornton School of Music and The Juilliard School.
To achieve the rankings this year, THR reached out to insiders in the film and television music community and polled members of Hollywood’s Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Composers Diversity Collective, the Alliance of Women Film Composers and the music branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Television Academy.
Columbia has been trending steadily upward on THR‘s survey for the past few years and in 2022 finally hits the top of the list. The Illinois-based school offers a two-year master of fine arts program in music composition for the screen, headed by Kubilay Uner, focusing on film, television, advertising, video games and other interactive media. Students attend a five-week semester in Los Angeles, interning with professional composers and employing professional musicians and engineers in studio recording and mixing sessions. Says Uner: “The goal of this program is for everything that we do to enable and facilitate the direct employment of our graduates in media music.”
Some of the program’s graduates include DeAndre James Allen-Toole (God’s Country, starring Thandiwe Newton); Jesi Nelson, who wrote the music for Star Wars Biomes as the first female and first person of color to serve as a composer on a Star Wars property; and Batu Sener, who wrote the music for The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild.
One seasoned Hollywood composer impressed by Columbia College alumni and by Uner himself is Harry Gregson-Williams (House of Gucci, The Last Duel), who first met Uner at the Sundance composer lab. “He’s so passionate, and he’s a very accomplished composer himself,” Gregson-Williams says. “I was supposed to be mentoring him, and I could tell that he was hugely talented. I’ve noticed that, more so than any students I usually interact with, the Columbia students impress me with their razor-sharp attitude toward film music.”
NOTABLE ALUMNI Paul Broucek (Warner Bros. Pictures president of music, in charge of three Lord of the Rings films); Liz Mandeville (blues musician)
Berklee’s screen scoring program, chaired by Sean McMahon, offers bachelor’s degrees in film and media scoring and game and interactive media scoring as well as options to minor in screen scoring or take a specialization in the video game scoring course. Berklee alumni and Stranger Things music editor Lena Glikson helped create one of the year’s most talked-about visual music moments when she incorporated Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” into fourth-season episodes of the Netflix horror series and won an Emmy in the process. Composer Joe Kraemer (Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation) credits his time at Berklee in the ’90s with giving him the tools to excel as a composer. “I was a sort of self-trained wannabe Paul McCartney when I went in, [and] when I left, I felt like I could conduct an orchestra and write a score.”
International students can take advantage of Berklee’s scoring program and facilities at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Ramin Djawadi (House of the Dragon composer), Alan Silvestri (Ready Player One composer)
USC’s 20-student master’s degree program in screen scoring is now run by Jeanine Cowen, the previous Vice President for Curriculum and Program Innovation at Berklee College, succeeding interim director Patrick Kirst. Cowen and Kirst point out that USC’s faculty and student body has grown substantially more diverse this year, with Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Bleeding Fingers Music specifically sponsoring African American students each school year. “We are hoping to change the face of the industry, and I think we have the ability to do so,” Cowen says. “Not only did Sony/ATV continue their support for the scholarship, but they doubled it. So we now have two Bleeding Fingers Sony grants — full rides, including housing, living expenses and technology budgets so that they can make sure that they’re up and running when they start the program.”
NOTABLE ALUMNI Michael Abels (Nope composer), Jerry Goldsmith (Chinatown composer)
As one of the world’s most renowned conservatories, Juilliard has been known more for pure music education, with even some graduates acknowledging that the school hasn’t dipped its toes in media scoring until the past few years. Its Center for Innovation in the Arts originally promoted interdisciplinary work and experimental art projects that incorporated new technology, but under program director Edward Bilous, Juilliard has developed impressive media scoring classes, including composing for visual media, an independent study in emerging and collaborative arts and a scoring-to-picture workshop. “We kind of got into doing the traditional film scoring route through the back door,” Bilous says. “Juilliard doesn’t have filmmakers. So it’s not like USC or UCLA or NYU or any of these other big universities where they just walk across the hall and there’s a whole film department. So instead, we reached out and developed a partnership with film schools all around the country. And we pair our composers with filmmakers in Australia and London and, this year, Iceland, Hong Kong and Korea.”
NOTABLE ALUMNI Bill Conti (Rocky composer), John Williams (Star Wars composer)
While the Herb Alpert School is a more traditional conservatory, its master’s and Ph.D. programs offer a specialization in either composition or composition for visual media.
“[Students are] being fully trained as composers in the big picture,” says Peter Golub, who teaches film scoring at UCLA and USC. “I work with the ones who are interested in music for visual media, master’s and doctoral students, occasionally undergrads. The classes are fairly small, so it’s pretty in-depth work. There are typically about eight in the class, and then as they go on, they also do work with me privately. I connect them to filmmakers at UCLA, both live-action and animation. So I create mixers where composers and filmmakers get to meet and share each other’s work.”
The conservatory-style learning environment also features an abundance of state-of-the-art recording and performance facilities. “There is a full complement of all the orchestral instruments and singers, plus the jazz program,” says Golub. “So there are a lot of people around that they can tap into to record their stuff.”
TUITION $13,239 (in-state)
NOTABLE ALUMNI Randy Newman (songwriter, Toy Story composer), Nancy Sinatra (singer)
SFCM composition chair David Conte teaches a music for film class, and the school also partners with the San Francisco International Film Festival to allow students to work directly with filmmakers. A one-year professional studies diploma provides studies in workflow technologies, including composing at the keyboard; sound recording and sound design; production techniques in Apple Logic Pro X; and others. SFCM’s Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) program boasts a “mothership” recording studio so sophisticated that the Recording Academy hosted listening sessions for its annual Grammy Awards competition at the venue. But it’s the school’s location in Silicon Valley that fuels the TAC program with talent, technology and funding from the video game industry, and boasts a direct path for students into the world of scoring for games. TAC students get firsthand experience scoring in-development games and the opportunity to record their music at Skywalker Sound.
NOTABLE ALUMNI George Duke (composer and songwriter), John Adams (composer/conductor)
Rochester, New York
Founded by composer Jeff Beal (House of Cards) and directed for the past two years by composer Mark Watters, Eastman’s Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media offers a two-year master’s program that accepts no more than six students a year. The school boasts a strong working relationship with the Rochester Institute of Technology and its film, animation and video game schools and hosts a biannual “Artist Call,” in which composers are teamed with filmmakers to collaborate on projects.
Watters says the program’s number of applicants doubled this year. “I suspect the lessening of COVID-related issues contributed to this, but I’d like to think that word is getting out about the program,” he says.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Chuck Mangione (flugelhorn player), Laurence Rosenthal (Man of La Mancha composer)
Chaired by Tom Lopez, Oberlin’s bachelor of music: technology in music and related arts degree trains students for graduate study in electroacoustic music, interdisciplinary performance and digital media. The program combines music technology studies with conservatory classes in music theory, aural skills and musicology as well as extracurricular projects like dance and theater performance. The student-to-teacher ratio is a generous six-to-one, and the school offers financial aid through grants, loans and student employment intended to meet the financial needs of all its students. The school recently partnered with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and the Global Foundation for the Performing Arts to expand access to international students.
NOTABLE ALUMNI David Amram (composer of 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate), James McBride (novelist/musician)
NEC celebrates its 255th year as one of the nation’s most venerable and prestigious music schools. Located a block from Boston’s Symphony Hall, NEC boasts long-established working relationships with the Boston Symphony, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Emmanuel Music and the Boston Chamber Music Society. The school’s Robert Ceely Electronic Music Studio is an electronic music composition suite that includes mixing hardware and software and a collection of hardware synthesizers that range from the newest designs available back to fascinating and iconic relics of the 1960s.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Conrad Pope (My Week With Marilyn composer-arranger), Ralph Burns (All Dogs Go to Heaven composer)
Jacobs’ music scoring for visual media program director is associate professor Larry Groupé, who modified the program in 2019 to include a master’s degree, undergraduate and doctoral minors and two certificate degrees. Students engage in recording sessions at the Joshi Studio, work with the Media School and IU’s film program on film projects, attend special presentations with film industry guests and collaborate with the student body of trained instrumentalists who perform their music. “The scoring program here has yet again doubled its enrollment this fall, with 23 new master’s students here for their scoring degree,” Groupé says.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Joshua Bell (violinist/conductor), Leonard Slatkin (conductor)
The school, which was launched by former Disney music executive Andy Hill in fall 2019, managed to survive the pandemic that decimated others — particularly music programs — worldwide. Hill has made it his mission to grant students access to the kind of large-scale symphonic orchestras that only major film productions can afford. “Economically, Bulgaria’s still emerging from the Soviet shadow of three decades ago — their economy has never quite found its proper footing,” he says. “They’re part of the European Union, but they aren’t on the currency yet. And for the moment, at least, that makes the services of people like recording musicians, engineers in studios very, very economical.” That’s not all that’s economical — tuition and living expenses are also reasonable.
Steinhardt offers bachelor of music and master of music degrees in music theory and composition: screen scoring — co-directed by Dr. Ron Sadoff and Mark Suozzo — where students get the opportunity to work on 25 recording sessions per year involving orchestras in what Suozzo describes as “a laboratory for the professional world.” The school also brings in professionals like Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) and Sean Callery (Jessica Jones) to critique student compositions and recordings.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Gavin Brivik (How to Blow Up a Pipeline composer), Ariel Marx (Sanctuary composer)
The Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program offers a master of music in film composition run by Hummie Mann. Students work on 10 scoring projects, conduct live recording sessions, work on remote sessions, produce electronic and synth scores, learn to handle all the major industry-used software and collaborate with student directors. The program also offers instruction in mixing; songwriting; business and networking; and composition and sound design for interactive video games. Students can earn a master’s degree in 40 weeks and leave with a professional skill set and demo reel.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Brendon Williams (League of Legends video game composer); Bobby Brader (Trolls orchestral assistant)
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
UNCSA offers a two-year master of fine arts in film music composition degree as part of its School of Filmmaking. Alumnus Dr. Chris Heckman is chair of the film music composition program. His credits include Shifting Gears (composer), Red Dead Redemption (additional composer), Abundant Acreage Available (music editor) and The Arbors (contractor/engineer). Film music composition students collaborate with undergraduate directors, producers and editors and graduate producers and are provided opportunities to score more short films than any comparable program in the world. Students collectively score 30 or more visual media projects each year in a range of styles including live-action, animation, video games, virtual/augmented reality, documentaries and commercials and advertising. The small program (16 students) ensures one-on-one mentorship and training.
TUITION $9,196 (in-state); $23,899 (out-of-state)
NOTABLE ALUMNI Atli Örvarsson (Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard composer), Kim Planert (Skid Row Marathon composer)
New Haven, Connecticut
In an era when even Juilliard has begun to offer media scoring classes, Yale remains a stubborn conservatory holdout still dedicated to the study of pure (read: acoustic) music. But with its intimidating faculty that includes two Pulitzer Prize winners (David Lang and Aaron Jay Kernis, professors adjunct of composition), the school doesn’t need to worry about attracting students. The institution prides itself on its collegiate and collaborative atmosphere, with students choosing the teachers with whom they want to study.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Marco Beltrami (Ford v Ferrari composer), Quincy Porter (classical composer)
Columbia CNY’s sound arts MFA program offers a curriculum of individual or collaborative research projects that focus on integration of sound in media, but the program admits just a handful of students each year, so competition to enter is fierce. Students work in the studio with visiting artists and spend a full week engaging with a visiting artist each semester. Columbia CNY’s music performance program offers concentrations in composition, ethnomusicology, historical musicology and music theory.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Wendy Carlos (The Shining composer), Alicia Keys (singer)
While the school promotes its affordability with a tuition less than $30,000 for its music master’s degree, the cost for its composition degree, including a bachelor’s degree program in music composition for visual media, is substantially higher at a little less than $90,000. Its composition for visual media program provides instruction in arranging, scoring, orchestration, music theory, ear training and music history, with online classes as well as in-person teaching available. Students couldn’t ask for a more convenient location to break into the industry since the “campus” is located in a facility in the heart of Hollywood. And while plenty of students at the school may want to be rock stars, with so many rockers going into film scoring these days, that could be a major plus.
NOTABLE ALUMNI David Becker (jazz guitarist), Kevin Fowler (songwriter)
RCM’s two-year postgraduate level master of composition — composition for screen offers students face time with production pros from film and television as well as students from the distinguished film schools also located in London, such as London Film School and the Met Film School. The British capital is a pretty good place to network, boasting more than 113,000 creative media companies, including motion picture, television and advertising production hubs, while the venerable RCM conservatory teams composition students with student instrumentalists and professional ensembles visiting and in residence at the school. RCM’s Creative Careers Centre partners with consultants, arts organizations and communities to deliver networking and career-building opportunities and a direct line into the music industry, affording students working experience, teaching them how to work with music as a business and building a professional portfolio. Recent visiting artists include Michael Giacchino (Thor: Love and Thunder), Rachel Portman (Chocolat) and Hans Zimmer (Dune).
NOTABLE ALUMNI Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats composer), James Horner (Avatar composer)
Coral Gables, Florida
UMF’s media scoring and production major is a four-year, 121-credit program that allows students flexibility in focusing on their preferred areas of expertise to reach the career they want. Students must provide examples of “outstanding writing and production creativity” and music notation abilities to qualify for the program. By sophomore year, students can branch out into other areas of the music school or the university in general to broaden their education.
NOTABLE ALUMNI Ben Folds (pianist/performer), Joel McNeely (The Orville composer)
UNT’s College of Music boasts a strong composition program with about 70 students taught by nine faculty members, with regular guest composer residencies, including Bruce Broughton (Silverado). The Center for Experimental Music & Intermedia (CEMI) focuses on the integration of electroacoustic music, live performance, video and film, with students exploring projects in CEMI’s six production studios and the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater. Graduates of the school’s composition program are prepared for work as orchestrators, arrangers, music copyists (who prepare written music for musicians), audio engineers, conductors and teachers, with opportunities at advertising firms, recording companies, symphony orchestras and in academia. Tuition is extremely affordable, even for out-of-state students. (Texas residents pay $5,496).
TUITION $11,497 (out-of-state)
NOTABLE ALUMNI Christopher Young (Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities composer), Meat Loaf (singer)
This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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