A Q&A with Composer and Collaborator Rebecca Nisco

  1. Rebecca, I love that you describe yourself as a composer, storyteller, and collaborator. All such important assets to art making! I’d love to hear more about each individual skill and how they work in your creative process.

    Before I was a composer, I grew up listening to my grandfathers tell beautiful and colorful stories. I would be glued to my seat listening to their childhood antics in their beloved Italy. They were wonderful storytellers, and while I am not as eloquent at recounting stories as they, it is to them I owe my love of storytelling; that, combined with my love of music, is what drew me to compose. I was interested in the power music held within a narrative and that’s what really attracted me to film music and musical theatre– because music not only aids the story, but it moves the audience as well. In my own work, I really enjoy delving into the story and understanding the themes, characters, and message – how can music aid this story? How can music move the audience?

    It is an immense honor to collaborate with other creatives in telling those stories. Working collaboratively is the nature of our roles as artists, but it is also one of my favorite parts of the job as well. Whether it’s instrumentalists, singers, producers, filmmakers, actors, artists, dancers (the list goes on!), each collaborator brings something so unique to the project. Each brings their skill, talent, and share in that same passion and vision for the piece. Collaboration elevates a project to great heights- I think there is something magical about that and so it is always my goal to make each endeavor as collaborative as possible. I make it my priority to listen to each perspective and vantage point and weave it into revisions. It is this process, along with telling stories, where I find much of my inspiration.

  2. What has your path been like in getting to where you are now? Would you mind sharing with us your background and how you arrived into composing?

    I started writing music around 11 years old. I had been playing piano since 5 so for a while, I was mostly composing at and for the piano. Around the time I fell in love with film music, I also fell in love with arranging music. I’d play themes from “Somewhere in Time” or “Cinema Paradiso” on the piano and attempt to orchestrate them as well. It was at that point I knew that one day I wanted to become a film composer, but I think I had a lot of doubts. During my senior year of high school, I brought my orchestra teacher my own arrangement of a cue from “The DaVinci Code.” I asked him if we could perform it and if he’d allow me to conduct it. Those months preparing and learning how to conduct, prep parts, practice with players, and make adjustments were some of the most eye opening months I’ve experienced at that point. It was life-changing for me. The support I received from my teachers and family along with the lessons I learned from this experience at that time gave me the confidence to pursue composition.

    I received my Bachelor’s of Music at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful musicians and I truly appreciate the music I was introduced to by my professors. They also encouraged me to write outside my comfort zone, which inspired me to further explore different styles and instrumentations. From there, I went on to pursue my Masters of Music in Composition for Screen at Royal College of Music in London. Despite COVID interfering with my time there, I look back at those two years with such fondness. The collaborations there opened doors for me to form lasting connections and to grow in ways I never expected- not to mention the incredible musicians and filmmakers I had the privilege of working with. While my academic career has now ended, I will always be a student for life, because I know each opportunity will bring new lessons, meaningful connections, and promising collaborations.

  3. You work in many musical mediums- film, concert music, theatre, and more. Can you tell us more about what you have worked on, and what you enjoy working on?

    I really enjoy working on projects that are collaborative and that share in the human experience. I am often inspired by the people around me, especially the artists I get to work with. My first musical, “Our Man Harry”, written with Lindsay Adams (book and lyrics) was a really wonderful experience. Many of our writing sessions were over FaceTime or Zoom when we could find time between classes, but they were always productive and collaborative. We then got the chance to workshop selections with a great group of actors and musicians and that was a really enlightening and incredible process- making changes in real time, tweaking the music or lyrics–making adjustments that would make our musical stronger and better off. I love projects that are multidisciplinary as well. I’m interested in telling stories not only through music but working with other artists to create an experience that immerses the audience and performers in the narrative. I’ve had many opportunities this year to delve into interdisciplinary works and each one is unique and rewarding. Ultimately, I love working in all mediums and am looking forward to casting a wider net and exploring other avenues of storytelling through music!

  4. Your podcast im(perfect) is fabulous, would you be able to tell us more about how your podcast came to be, and what goes into making it?

    Thank you! This has been such an amazing experience and I’ve been able to learn so much this past year from both the process of creating a podcast and the featured artists we’ve had on the show. My childhood best friend, filmmaker, and creative partner in many endeavors, Kara Bartek, approached me one day about the possibility of starting a podcast about the creative process- interviewing artists our age from all over the world about how they create and what inspires them. At the time we approached this project, it was also the height of COVID, so we were also interested in how artists tackled the pandemic and how they coped creatively. From there, it all happened really organically and it came together quite beautifully. From the beginning, we wanted our conversations to be super candid, to speak to as many artists as possible, and help demystify the creative process. With each conversation came many beautiful stories, sage advice, and so much learning. Artists from all around the world and of many artistic disciplines have been featured on our podcast. Most importantly, what surfaces is the many similarities we all share going through the creative process, regardless of discipline. It’s been a beautiful passion project and to be able to share it with my best friend and collaborate with her in this capacity means even more!

  5. I love your “Selected Works” collection on your website- a lot of variety there! Your range is simply awesome- I would love to hear about how you curated the playlist. What sort of projects do you get most excited about?

    Thank you so much for your kind words, that means so much! It was my goal to showcase as wide of a range as possible- no style or genre is off limits. While some of the tracks accompany a film, many of them were inspired by stories or briefs I created just to experiment and step outside of my comfort zone. It is my hope that whether you’re a potential collaborator or just taking a listen, that you feel immersed in some sort of a story- that the music takes you somewhere. I really gravitate towards projects that help me step outside the box. There is so much more for me to learn and explore and I appreciate those projects that allow me to experiment and create a soundworld unique to the story. I also really like melding different sounds, incorporating found sound and blending genres so any project that allows me to do that is really exciting! I’m currently working on a musical installation for a park that will musically guide visitors through the grounds. I’ve incorporated field recordings from the area and tuned them into instruments so that elements of the park are incorporated in the music.

  6. Have you got any composers you admire the most? Living or not? Ever had some great advice from a fellow composer that really stuck with you?

    Absolutely! To name a few: Rachel Portman, John Williams, Thomas Newman, Natalie Holt, Ennio Morricone, Kaija Saariaho, Kris Bowers, Alexandre Desplat, Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Alan Menken… There are so many more! During my time at Royal College of Music, I had the privilege of being mentored by Rachel Portman. It was incredible to learn from her and hear her stories and advice as a female composer- I have admired her work since childhood so this was really special to me. Each session, I left feeling inspired and empowered. Of all our conversations and advice received, I will always remember one piece of advice in particular, “Be true to yourself.” It was encouraging to not only receive advice about the ins and outs of the industry and how to navigate collaborations and projects, but also have our conversations always come back to this idea of trusting your instincts and valuing self-worth. I’ll always remember and appreciate our conversations because they truly impacted how I view my own work and process.

  7. What things are in the works for you currently, do you have any news or projects you’re working on that you’d like to share?

    At the moment, I’m working on a few short films and a feature-length documentary that I can’t wait to share when the time comes. Looking to expand my skill set, I’ve stepped into the role of Music Supervisor on an upcoming independent feature film which has been an amazing experience so far. I’m also very grateful to have recently received a grant supporting a passion project I conceptualized nearly four years ago that will come into fruition this fall. Like my fellow composers, each day is different and no two projects are the same- I relish in this excitement and look forward to new opportunities to grow, learn, and make new connections.

    Listen to Rebecca’s Podcast

    Check out her AWFC profile.

    Interview by Connor Cook

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