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For most students in the Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games program, their field trip to AIR Studios in London, England, last month is something they will never forget. “The opportunity to conduct and record in one of the best studios in the world is part of their culminating experience, where they witnessed how their scores are performed by an orchestra formed by 51 fantastic musicians,” said Lucio Godoy, program director at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain.
One of AIR Studios’ most unique features is that it is located in an old church. “Music is like a religious act, and being able to perform it in such a sacred space, with such a high dome, and such a vibrant energy is the maximum we can achieve. I want to be able to come back here again as a professional,” said student Fernando Furones.
In addition to its grandiloquence, Godoy noted that the space offers a perfect “pedagogic experience” because its booth and shape accommodated all 31 graduate students, allowing them to closely follow their peers’ work.
The scores composed and conducted by the students represented the growth they have experienced throughout the academic year. As Furones explained, recording times gradually increased from seven to 35 minutes, as did the composition of the orchestras performing their pieces. “All of this gave us a solid base and the necessary confidence to be able to perform here today,” he said.
Fellow student Ricky Schweitzer added that before their trip to London, students had more experience composing for strings. Therefore, he composed his score to make the brass “shine.” Conducting at AIR Studios was “nerve-racking, powerful, and exciting,” he said, adding that time went very fast. “When I finished, the only thing I could do was hug one of my colleagues and friends.”
The students had freedom to compose whatever they wanted. Furones wrote a Hollywood-style action scene. Wai-Yi Wong wrote her score with an animation movie in mind, re-creating a scene involving an escape from a dangerous situation and a happy conclusion. “Acoustics here are amazing, and the long reverberation times feel like the notes are floating for a few extra seconds,” she said.
Godoy noted that faculty did not correct scores, but pointed out errors they expected students to modify beforehand. “Like it happens in the professional world, they are responsible for their own pieces,” Godoy said. “Any mistakes in the composition translate into a deficient management of the recording time, which has a repercussion in the allocated budget. We try to make them understand that it’s crucial to have a spotless score by the time they enter the studio.”
Jill Streater is head of music preparation at AIR Studios and has worked on blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings, Black Swan, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. She was one of the professionals who attended the students’ two-day recordings, offering valuable feedback about how to present scores and communicate with those in charge of performing them. “The main message is to approach the orchestration part looking at the players, because it’s very easy to concentrate on the score and not in leading the musicians,” she said.
Equally important, Streater said, is to write the expressions, tempo, and time changes “clearly, balanced, and in the right place” because musicians have “just a couple of minutes to go through the score before the recording begins.” She advised students to proof the parts, spot mistakes beforehand, and split complicated parts to make it easier for players to read.
Streater said students performed well, and she praised assistant professor Vanessa Garde for putting into practice recommendations she offered during last year’s student visit. “It’s fantastic that Berklee Valencia is able to offer them this experience, and it’s great to see students interact with the players,” she said.
Orchestra members and producers also stayed behind to provide comments on students’ writing and conducting. They praised their preparation and their contagious, positive attitude. The musicians stressed the importance of good communication with the director, and reminded students that they won’t always be able to work in such studios or with top-level producers.
Overall, it was a magic finish to the academic year. Godoy summarized the trip, saying that the purpose was to “make the students appreciate the difference it makes to record in a place like this, and awake in them the feeling of wanting to come back.”