Teaching students to compose music for film, digital media

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A. Sue Weisler

Shabab Siddiq, a fourth-year computer engineering student from San Jose, Calif., works in the music lab inside the Student Alumni Union.

In a unique collaboration between universities, plans are being discussed to allow students from the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music to take classes for credit at RIT, which offers courses in composing for film, animation and video games.

“One of RIT’s strengths is providing state-of-the-art, high-tech degrees while also encouraging non-traditional courses that can enhance those degrees, such as music composition for film and animation,” said Jonathan Kruger, chair of RIT’s Department of Performing Arts & Visual Culture.

Officials from Nazareth College have also expressed an interest in collaborating, having its students involved in joint concerts, film scoring projects and a possible summer camp, Kruger said.

Marc Laroussini, a graduate student from Eastman, is helping set up the collaboration with RIT, where music composition classes are filled with RIT students with varying interests, including game design, audio engineering and computer science.

“There has always been an unfair ratio of composers looking for projects, and RIT students who are in need of original music for their projects,” Laroussini said. “There have been some pairings made of composers and RIT projects in the past, but this need for original music has never been satisfyingly filled from outside schools.”

Laroussini said student composers from Eastman or Nazareth College have been unable to receive school credit for scoring an RIT film —they did so voluntarily for the experience and their enjoyment.

“It is nearly impossible for many to make the room in their already jam-packed schedules to successfully collaborate with RIT students, so having a structured course on-site at RIT to create original music and collaborate with other students will be so beneficial for the huge amount of RIT student projects that are in this need,” he said.

Tom Davis, who teaches a music composition course at RIT, knows first-hand that this collaboration will be beneficial for students.

“When I went to Eastman in the ’80s, people were very interested in composing for film and trying to collaborate with filmmakers,” Davis said. “They would post fliers and hope someone they could collaborate with would see them. That still continues today. So the goal is to help make these connections between composers and filmmakers. We see the value of having the composer work with the filmmaker. We know this is an important thing.”

Kruger said people often don’t think a technical university such as RIT has so many musical options for students: There are several orchestras, ensembles and vocal groups on campus, and RIT’s College of Liberal Arts offers minors in music and technology, and music performance and theater arts.

There’s also a growing interest among RIT students to compose music for film, animation and video games.

Kruger is solidifying ties with the film industry — he’s composed for episodes of the Star Trek Continues series, and earlier this year conducted an orchestra playing his music in San Jose, Calif., where RIT alumni met with administrators and corporations to promote the skills RIT students are being taught.