I’m excited to announce that out of over a 100+ applicants from over 16 nations, I was one of the select few to be given the opportunity to audit the Los Angeles Film Conducting Intensive this past January 2019!
- What is it? The LAFCI is a 5-day workshop designed to train working film composers to conduct the Hollywood Studio Symphony with LA’s finest musicians and prepare them for future recording sessions. It includes training with esteemed faculty Conrad Pope (Composer/Orchestrator for movies like Star Wars, E.T, The Matrix, and thousands more), Angel Velez, Carl Rydlund, William Ross, Jorge Meister, and the lovely Emilie Bernstein, culminating with the recording of a composition at the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage.
As someone who’s worked towards being on this stage for many years, I can only describe my experience as an absolute dream come true. From meeting like-minded, talented composers from all over the world to hearing the most incredible Ferrari of an orchestra fill up the entire room with its iconic Hollywood sound, this was THE most anxiety-inducing, captivating, and thrilling experience of my life thus far. The Los Angeles Film Conducting Intensive (or LAFCI for short) is not only a workshop – it’s a group of people from different cultures and backgrounds who are willing to work together towards their biggest dreams and goals; it’s a family.
Meeting all of the fellow students who hail from different parts of the world was one of the highlights of this workshop. From Argentina to Korea to Finland to Germany, I’ve met some of the most sincere and talented people in the world. What do we all have in common you ask? We’re hungry to learn and grow as composers, conductors, and musicians. These are people that flew in from different parts of the world just to come to Los Angeles for this workshop!
In 5 grueling 12 to 14-hour work days, we’ve moved, lived, and functioned as a cohesive team in the trenches of the fiery Eastwood Scoring Stage. Our days would start as early as 8am with a movement class and end sometime between 8pm to 10pm every night. We’ve eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner together; we’ve suffered through Pilates and have learned to breathe together; we’ve faced embarrassment and failure together; and thus at the end – we’ve succeeded together. At times you could even say that I’ve learned just as much from these composers as I have from the mentors and teachers of this workshop!
Meeting people from different walks of life that deal with the same challenges and peaks and valleys as you do, helps create an inseparable bond and most importantly – a community. I’m sure that I will meet these composers once more in the future, as we journey together closer and closer to music itself. I believe Henry Ford said it best, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; and working together is success” – and the students of the LAFCI Class of 2019, definitely worked together!
The Legendary Mentors
Having the opportunity to study with these titans in my industry was an opportunity of a lifetime. From learning streamers from William Ross who conducted the Harry Potter soundtracks to learning practical classical and studio conducting tips from Maestros Jorge Mester and Angel Velez, we’ve learned an insane amount of invaluable information in just a few days.
One of my biggest takeaways was both Maestro Mester and Velez’s idea of breathing into your conducting or being one with your breath and allowing that to influence your movement and thus – the sound of the orchestra. A large breath and quick release, for example, would warrant a loud (forte) and quick (staccato) sound, and conversely, a small breath and a slow release would get a small, beautiful entrance. Angel would often say throughout the sessions, “Manners maketh man“, reminding us to only conduct in a small appropriate manner and get bigger only when we need to. We were taught to exercise control and not let our emotions lead the orchestra but to use our precise movements to indicate just the right amount of information.
Tip #1: Focus on breathing and breath with every downbeat or pick up! Say for example you’re in 4/4 and have a pickup quarter note on beat 4. Then practice a 4/4 pattern and inhale on beat 3, exhale on beat 4 for the pickup, and prepare for the first downbeat. The key is the exhalation! You must visually and audibly exhale so that the musicians can feel the timing and the downbeat.
At one point when conducting a slow piece in Adagio, Maestro Jorge Mester signaled us to cup our hands near our chest as if we were holding a full bowl of olive oil, and simply lowering that bowl on to an imaginary flat table (or the horizontal plane of the conductor) and not flicking the wrist. Sometimes, new conductors flick their wrists and create a “bouncing” motion with their downbeats, even though the music does not need it or call for such movement. So, as both Maestros put it, “Conduct the melodic phrase, not the beat!” I’ve found it helpful to mark the melodic phrases on the score (where they start and end) and figure out how to shape that phrase.
Tip #2. Once you’re facing the monster that is the orchestra, first make sure that everyone is sync by conducting the motor (any rhythmic ostinatos or repeating figures). After achieving sync – conduct the melody and shape it!
On top of the all practical tips, Conrad Pope has instilled the value of teamwork and how it’s necessary to survive and thrive in the industry. “Composing is not a one-man sport“, he said. He also talked passionately about his previous experiences working with John Williams or even Hans Zimmer and gave us insight into leading a healthy, long career. He said, “Know where your priorities lie”, reminding us that at the end, movies are just movies, music is just music, and that family and relationships are more important.
What separates those who try and those who succeed? Often times it’s the incessant hunger to grow and evolve. It’s the necessity that an individual feels to move forward and to build their skills. After such an eye-opening experience of what it takes to succeed in the industry, I can confidently say that the entire LAFCI Class of 2019 was comprised of genuinely kind, passionate, and extremely dedicated individuals – all of which I am proud to call colleagues and friends! I’m excited to see what’s in store for all of us and look forward to another opportunity to learn. Despite the anxiety, the stress, and the sleepless nights, we’ve persevered and succeeded! Lastly, I’d like to close with Conrad Pope’s advice to one of the talented participants of the workshop, Michael Choi. He remarked, “Don’t let your insecurities shape your life, but let your dreams shape your life. Simply take an action, believe in yourself, and never give up“.