Kathryn, you have several interesting projects going on right now. The ABC series “Women of the Movement” is now available to stream on HULU, and you had a few films at TRIBECA this year, including “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” “After Selma: The Lowndes County Freedom Party” and “LIFT”. All important and meaningful projects that are timely. How do you go about choosing your projects?
I feel fortunate that many of the projects I create music for resonate with my own instincts of humanity and how we choose to walk in this world. What is the moral compass that guides a person’s life, their choices and how does this impact all of us. These films highlight how important and powerful collective consciousness can be and how important and impactful individual choice can be as well.
You often have projects that screen at festivals such as Sundance and Tribeca. We often get asked by young composers about going to a film festival. How important do you think it is for composers to attend such festivals, to support their filmmakers and with what attitude/ energy to you go to the festival?
I think it’s essential to find your community of creative people and inspiration, so a film festival is a great way to connect with a wide range of talent both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort so being able to support a production you’ve been a part of is important. I also think it’s very important to be open and meet people who may not typically be in the area of your expertise. I have had so many great experiences and opportunities where I least expected.
The historical drama “Women of the Movement” centers on Till-Mobley, who devoted her life to seeking justice for her murdered son. We heard you talk about you score being a “sonic conversation” for this series. Could you please elaborate what you mean with that?
For me music is my way of responding and interacting to an emotional charge, and emotional arc of a scene or particular character, so it’s a conversation I’m having with the footage as I’m watching it; or a sound/foley as I’m hearing it. How do I want the audience to feel? Is the music more of a “quiet” bystander in conversation or more demonstrative. The nuancing is really important because I want to leave enough space for the audience to react without telling them how to feel. A good conversation is one where there is a give and take, and for me this is an important aspect of film scoring. This is a sonic conversation.
What conversations did you have with show creator Marissa Jo Cerar on how to capture a mother’s love, loss and her fight to make sure her son would not be forgotten musically and how to find the right tone?
“MJ” had very clear ideas about when to nuance the music emotionally without being too heavy handed that it distracted from the performances. But there were also times where there needed to be a musical build and cadence to reflect the intensity of the scene. We used a wide range of music: orchestral, regional -both Chicago blues, southern /Delta, ambient electronic textures, vocals, whatever was appropriate for the scene.
You often score documentaries and have some at Tribeca this year. Could you talk a little bit about finding a balance between supporting the narrative but also giving space when scoring for docs?
Again, music for me is conversation so giving that space for silence and dialogue is really important so that the underscore doesn’t become overwhelming. A lot of it has to do with what the director wants, the ebb and flow of the score. The timing is crucial as there are moments when the stark silence of the environment or what’s being said is all that’s needed.
Beside working in film & television you also compose concert music. Could you talk a bit about the difference in your creative approach scoring for the concert hall vs. scoring for visual media?
The concert and symphonic pieces I’ve written lately are based on themes that I want to create a musical narrative. I have much more musical range because I am not putting dialogue or other elements in the foreground of this narrative (unless I want to have these elements there); so I have a lot more leeway and more range to let the music be the focal point of the way the story unfolds. The intention is more about the music itself, exclusively . It’s a huge canvas of opportunity musically.
Check out Kathryn’s AWFC profile.
Interview by Thomas Mikusz
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