Vanessa Garde: On Teaching, and Always Learning

Vanessa Garde poses in front of the campus. Photo by Histeria Producciones

Vanessa Garde is a multitalented, versatile, and prolific professional. She is a pianist, orchestrator, arranger, composer, self-learner, and—last but not least—a professor in the Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games; Berklee Study Abroad; and Summer Study Abroad programs at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain.

At age 3, Garde played musical games with her father. Using a Casiotone, she was challenged to recognize low and high pitches, adding a middle one, and then giving “names” to those notes. “It was a lot of fun, and without realizing, I was getting into music dictation and playing melodies by ear from the cartoons I was watching,” she recalls.

This precocity meant she had to wait until she was 7 to enroll in a piano course taught at the music school in her hometown of Villafranca, Spain. Much later, she graduated from the Madrid Royal Conservatory. As a pianist, she has performed as a soloist and orchestra member at venues such as the National Auditorium of Music, Monumental Theatre—both in Madrid—El Escorial Monastery, and San Sebastian’s town hall.

At one point, Garde felt it was time to diversify, so she enrolled in the Film Scoring program at Berklee’s campus in Boston after taking a course about music and media at Fundación SGAE (Sociedad General de Autores y Editores). “I got a bit tired of having to study eight hours a day in a closed room with only a piano. I like to explore creatively, to work in a team, and to feel challenged every day,” she says.

Watch the 2016 Commencement Concert's finale with arrangements by Garde:

She talks fondly about her time in Boston, which started with some hurdles. “During the first weeks, I had to record the classes in order to relisten to them in half speed because I was not getting it—musical terminology in English was new to me,” she says. Once the language barriers were down, she says she enjoyed plenty of “incredible experiences,” including arranging and performing in showcase concerts, late recording sessions, classes “that blew me away,” getting access to visiting artists (who became crucial connections in the industry), and making friends—many of whom went on to do great things. For example, Luísa Sobral, one of her classmates, composed the song that won the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest for Portugal. “There is not one day that I don’t think on how lucky I was to go to Berklee, and I always encourage my students to take full advantage of it,” Garde says.

After graduating, Garde worked with some of the best professionals in film scoring, including Alberto Iglesias, David Newman, Lucio Godoy, and Hans Zimmer. She says the main challenge of orchestrating, arranging, and composing is “to understand what’s in the mind of the main composer, the director, or the producer, and how can I make something that fulfills their needs as well as my creative desire?”

A Constant Learner Who Also Teaches

In addition to holding piano and film-scoring degrees, Garde studied pedagogy with a focus on teaching at music conservatories. So when Godoy offered her an assistant professor position in the Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games program, she didn’t think twice.

She is currently teaching in three programs with different aims. “The class I teach for the Study Abroad program is more focused on virtual productions with Pro Tools, so students learn to get demos done and to enhance their final productions with virtual elements. At the Summer Study Abroad program, I cover Introduction to Technology for Media Scoring, a condensed, three-week course,” she says.

In the graduate program, she teaches students to master the professional tools they will need when working in the industry, including sequencers, Vienna Ensemble Pro, programming orchestral mockups, sound design, synthesis, and creating sample libraries. “I always ask students if they have had enough coffee in the day, because the content we cover is very intense,” Garde says.

Her self-learning approach means that students are always current. “I like active learning, so classes become really practical, where students see my screen but at the same time do things in real time,” Garde explains.

“I still keep studying every day and learning new things, so bringing that into the classroom is amazing,” she says. Garde shares that one of the most gratifying experiences is when students absorb a concept that opens up a new path. “You see it on their faces … and that’s priceless!” she concludes.

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