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Peter Calandra is a NYC based Composer/Pianist/Guitarist/Educator. He has scored 40 films, written 2000 compositions for television and performed as a musician in the Broadway productions of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, The Phantom Of The Opera, The Lion King, and Little Shop Of Horrors. I recently had the opportunity to interview him about his long and successful career in composing for television and film.
Can you tell me a bit about your music education and background?
I studied music at the ACSM at Queens College, CUNY, and have both a BA and MA in music composition. In addition to being a composer, I have had a long and successful career playing piano in a wide variety of settings from Broadway to Jazz Clubs to Carnegie Hall over the past 25 years.
What was it like the first time you saw your music on television or in a film, and how did this come about?
Around 1999 I was working on a project to create a library of music for NBC Sports to use during the 2000 Olympic Games broadcast. One of the producers at NBC had a special piece featuring Bob Costas she was filming to promote the event, and needed a piece written specifically for it. I was also playing piano at the Broadway show Miss Saigon at the time, and remember watching the airing of the piece down in the green room with some other people in the company on a Saturday afternoon between shows. It was an enjoyable experience.
When given a new commission or project, what is the first thing you do?
The first thing I want to achieve is to make sure the creative aspect can be as smooth as possible.
This is unique for each project. That being said, some of the standard things are:
1) Establishing a method of communication with the other people on the team (director, producer, editor, sound mixer, etc)
2) Figuring out the chain of command in the project and just who you are working for.
3) Once the style of music is established, making sure all my technology is working properly and putting together templates of sounds. Detailed pre-production work like this can save many headaches and make it easier to concentrate on writing and not loading sounds.
What would you say is the biggest challenge as a composer writing for these industries?
Shrinking budgets and larger responsibilities. As technology becomes more sophisticated, it takes time to stay on top of it all. At the same time, even though budgets are smaller, people want to hear an almost finished product as you are working, so this means in addition to writing music, you become an engineer, software programmer, performer and many other things that were not associated with being a film composer 20 years ago.
Do you find with such a busy schedule and a large number of projects going on at once, that it can often be a struggle to find time to write music that isn’t for film or television, and how does the experience of writing this music differ in your opinion?
At times, yes, but a couple of years ago I built a small project studio at my upstate NY home and when I am up there it is very easy to shut out all distractions and write. In fact, my current album, Ashokan Memories, was written and recorded there in the summer of 2012. I composed all the music for my upcoming Album, Inner Circle, there in August of 2013. The biggest differences for me have to do with the function of the music. In film, you need to be very aware of how your music fits in with the dialog almost as if it were a vocal line in a song. Also how the music fits in with the narrative and supports the psychology behind the action. Everything is decided by the picture. In my own music, I get to decide the pacing and unfolding of the story the music is telling.
In your opinion do you feel that music for television is often overlooked and requested in such volume and speed in comparison to that of film music?
Not all the time. There are many TV shows that the music plays a vital part of. Also, some films have a very hard deadline. I scored my first feature film, 13th Child, in 5 weeks and that had almost 70 minutes of music in the film.
How achievable do you feel would it be as a modern day composer writing for media, without the assistance of such advance studio technology, that allows music to be written at speed and at a lower cost, while still maintaining sound quality?
I think the days of manuscript and piano demos of music are over. As I constantly tell my students, learning technology like it’s an instrument will greatly increase your odds of success in this field.
What to date has been your favourite project?
The 2011 feature film “Rise” produced and directed by Lookalike Productions for the USFSA. It was a very well done film with an extremely poignant and moving story line. The film was a tribute to the USA skating team that all perished in a tragic plane crash on the way to compete in the 1961 World Championships.
What advice would you give to any young composers looking to get there work exposed, and into films and on television?
Learn how to master the modern skills involved in creating music, but do not forget that this is an industry built on relationships and reputations. Master those skills as well.
For more information about Peter and his music visit his website www.petecalandramusic.com