Emily, I’m curious how you got started with music, would you mind telling us a little bit about your story and how you got into film and concert music composing? Has your path been straight-forward, or more winding?
I’ve always been involved with music one way or another growing up. Whether that was playing the flute, singing in choir or just for fun! I always had a desire from a young age to have a career in music. Initially I used to want to be a singer in a pop group with my friends. However things shifted as I got older and I initially started community college at Lane Community College in Eugene,Oregon where I studied music and focused on vocal performance. When it came time to transfer, by that point I had made a sudden shift to focus on composing for film. At that time I could only find film composition courses that were Masters degrees so I transferred to Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego Oregon where I studied music composition. I also continued to sing as my ‘main instrument’ and then graduated with a BMUS in music composition. I then moved to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend The University of Edinburgh where I got my MSc Composition for Screen. My path I suppose could be considered straight forward in the sense I always knew what I wanted and continued to go for it even if things got in my way. However, I would consider it more winding because I initially thought I wanted to sing in a pop group, then I gravitated towards musical theatre when I attended community college and then realized my love was more for the creation of music as opposed to performing it and singing it.
You’ve worked on a wide variety of different films! I’d love to hear more about your individual process for your film music compositions. Do you have a tried and true approach, or does it differ from project to project?
I think my typical approach with film is to really try and get a feel for what the director wants, who the characters are, and what vibe is needed/wanted within a scene. Sometimes ideas will come to me quickly, other times not so much. I find that I tend to get the tune in my head and sing it through, then plunk it on the piano and then add on from there. I feel that I tend to go through a really intuitive process and really try to connect with the emotion and bring that forth through the music. As silly as it may sound, I find that when I meditate or do exercise where I can clear my mind, that helps me to really find the music. It allows me to feel it in my gut, which I feel is when I compose the best.
In addition to film scoring, I see you work on concert compositions as well, do you approach both similarly? Does one come more naturally than the other?
It’s been a little while since I have worked on concert compositions. The main difference is that with film music it can be little pieces of music that work for that cue. Sometimes it’s more of an atmosphere as opposed to melody. With concert music it may have more of a set structure. However, I did find that even before I started composing to film, I would tend to create a story in my mind like a film and compose to that. Or find a story to compose for, such as a piece I composed titled “Medjugorje: Queen of Peace”. It was my first live performed piece of music by musicians when I was working on my BMUS in music composition. It was based on a real story of visionaries from Medjugorje. I chose to compose what I thought those visionaries felt during their journey which was described in an article I read at the time.
I see you’re currently working on your first feature film “The Difference Between Us” directed by Etienne Kuwabo. First of all, congratulations! Is scoring your first feature different from the other projects you’ve worked on so far? Can you tell us anything about your score so far?
Thank you! There have been some delays in getting started on composing for this film, but I will be composing soon within the next few weeks or so! I am very excited about this! So far there is just music that I composed for it that was initially a way of the director seeing if I was the right fit for his film. He gave me specific emotions from a character’s perspective with an idea of specific instruments he wanted. After I composed that, he then asked from the opposite character’s perspective. Since I haven’t worked on it yet, I would not know if there is much difference from when I compose for film shorts. I’m sure it will be a great learning experience as well! Of course I feel that everything I work on has something I learn from the experience.
In addition to composing, you teach music lessons as well (I love your studio name, Inner Voice). Do you find teaching impacts or informs your compositions at all? As a singer, do you use vocals on your compositions often?
Thank you! Yes, I mainly teach singing lessons to students of all ages. When I was a student myself, I suffered massively from anxiety with singing. Even though I love it, I had so much anxiety with others hearing me and being self critical. Many of my singing teachers had a hard time understanding it. I am now grateful for that because I now know exactly how to help my students through it and to help them feel at ease. Weirdly enough, I think teaching and helping others has helped me to try to be less critical of my compositions at times. I see how important it is to continue to learn and grow, but to also be kind to ourselves in the process. That has helped me to accept that I may never compose the most complex piece. It may be very simple harmonies and chords, but I am confident that it works for the project. So in that sense it has impacted me somewhat. Weirdly enough I actually prefer to compose for instruments. I do like layering voices into instrumentals at times where it can subtly be heard or more prominent depending on what I’m going for. I’ve composed some choral pieces a long time ago for SATB and every now and then have this nagging thought of trying to write a musical, but overall only have a few vocal pieces I have composed.
Are you ever inspired by other composers? Have any role models in the industry?
I would say I’m inspired more by anyone’s music in a film, tv series, or game that really touches me. I am not really inspired by a specific person, but more by any music that I feel really helps to get an emotion across or a reaction from it. As a teenager I was and still am a big fan of Final Fantasy VIII’s soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu.
Check out the AWFC profile for Emily Frances Ippolito
Interview by Connor Cook
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