Composer Sees Fulfillment of Childhood Dream

Jane Antonia Cornish became the first woman to ever win a BAFTA award for music when she scooped the gong for best British new composer for her soundtrack to Five Children and It. She explains how she found her vocation.

by Amber Wilkinson

"It is much tougher for women," says composer Jane Cornish. - Photo at the Breakthrough Brits in Hollywood Awards

"It is much tougher for women," says composer Jane Cornish. - Photo at the Breakthrough Brits in Hollywood Awards

AW Congratulations again on the BAFTA. You've said that in receiving it you were representing "every seven-year-old who has ever had a dream". At 30, you've already been a BBC Young Composer of the year finalist and now you're the first woman to be recognised by BAFTA for movie composition. Was it always your dream to write film music?

My dream was to be a solo violinist and composer. I spent most of my time from a very young age practicing the violin and piano, and composing. I loved it so much, and couldn't imagine doing anything else . My ambition switched from composing concert music to film music when I was around 19.

I was studying violin with the violin virtuoso Yossi Zivoni and composition with Dr. Anthony Gilbert, a highly respected composer and professor at the Royal Northern College of Music. One summer there, I attended the Dartington Summer School and studied film scoring. We would analyse great movie scores each day, one of them being Toru Takemitsu's score for Ran. I was so moved by his music, that I decided that film music was what I wanted to pursue. This inspired me to to gain my masters degree in composing at the Royal College of Music, London, where I also studied film composition.

AW What would you say to other seven-year-olds aspiring to be composers

JC I think it's wonderful to have a passion for music, particularly at such a young age. It's so important to follow your dream and put as much positive energy into it as possible. Any young person aspiring to compose professionally should write almost every day. Study scores by other composers, and listen to a wide variety of music. A teacher is invaluable for a young person with talents in music. I was fortunate to have a composition teacher from age 11, who guided me in my study of contemporary classical music, and made suggestions on my own compositions. I found that studying the violin and piano seriously, and playing in orchestras regularly as a kid complemented my composing, particularly writing for orchestra. Many film composers today have no formal training from a music conservatoire, but I certainly found my training at the RNCM and RCM valuable and inspiring.

AW Film composing seems to be quite a male dominated area. Do you think it was tougher for you as a woman to get to the top - and did you aspire to any role models?

JC Yes, it's much tougher for women, particularly young women. It's important to make sure your music is heard by the right individuals -once my music has been listened to, I'm taken seriously. I admire both male and female artists, regardless of gender. I don't think I have ever aspired to a particular role model, but I certainly admire many great film composers, such as James Newton Howard, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.

AW Why do you think there are so few female composers working in film?

JC I'm not sure I know the answer, but I can guess! We all know that it has nothing to do with a lack of talent. Directors tend to be the people who choose the composer, and most directors tend to be male. Perhaps this is a factor. However, when I studied composition I was the only girl in my year, and there were only two girls in the entire composition department. Maybe composition just isn't something young girls are encouraged to do at school and at home.

AW You're permanently based in Los Angeles now. Did you have to move to further your career and, if so, was it difficult to succeed in an unfamiliar country? And what do you miss most about living in the UK?

JC After finishing my studies in London, I worked on some indie films and commercials, but there didn't seem to be the opportunity to write the type of big orchestral music I love to write. I'd been tempted by LA for a while, so I decided to make the move when the time was right. First of all I visited LA for 10 days, to check the place out. I stayed in a hotel overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica, and fell in love with it! During this vacation, I set up meetings with agents and composers, and managed to secure work for my move. The enthusiasm and warmth in people in LA is wonderful, and I found it much easier to attain my goals here. The attitude towards success is positive and supportive, which I love. I miss my family and friends in the UK a lot, so I make sure I visit them at least once a year, and they come over to see me too.

AW The bulk of your credits are as an 'orchestrator' can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?

JC For various reasons a composer will hire an orchestrator, usually due to a tight deadline. Sometimes an orchestrator is hired to make the score sound a certain way-bigger, grander or magical. At the end of the composition process, the composer will send their midi files, or orchestral sketches to the orchestrator. It's the orchestrator's job to realise the composer's musical ideas and turn the sketches into scores. When I worked on The Girl Next Door, the composer asked me to make certain cues shimmer and sound ethereal, so I added various orchestral effects and high string harmonics. It's a fun, enjoyable job, but extremely pressurised as you have to deliver the scores in record speed!

AW You're next film is going to be The Island of Lost Souls, can you tell us a bit about the project?

JC Island of the Lost Souls is a feature film produced by Lars Von Trier's Zentropa, and directed by Nikolaj Arcel. It's a dark fantasy/thriller/adventure, and apparently the first Danish movie in this genre. It's a wonderful project to be involved in. I'll be writing a big orchestral score, with plenty of opportunity for creating magical orchestral textures and colors.

AW If you could score any movie in the world, what would it be?

JC I love many of the Disney movies which have wonderful scores, such as Atlantis by James Newton Howard, and Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, scored by Alan Menken. There are so many movies with amazing soundtracks which would have been rewarding and challenging to score! I don't think I can choose just one! The Lord of the Rings trilogy must have been a fantastic experience to score, particularly with such a large orchestra, and the big action movies such as Independence Day would have been great to compose for. And of course I can't leave out the original Bond movies. The theme is legendary!

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