UNCSA is a top school for film music composition

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is one of the world’s top schools training students to compose music for film and television, according to The Hollywood Reporter (THR). UNCSA ranked No. 18 on the list of 25 schools 23 in the United States and one each in London and Paris in a story recently published and posted online.

To compile the annual ranking of the world's elite music programs, THR weighed various factors — alumni, facilities, overall reputation — and relied on the results of a survey sent to more than 600 industry professionals, including members of the Society of Composers & Lyricists and the music branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the TV Academy.

Music elevates the art of storytelling. The music we hear in television programs, films, podcasts, video games, and even ads stirs our emotions and enhances the narrative.

Chancellor Lindsay Bierman

“Music elevates the art of storytelling,” said Chancellor Lindsay Bierman. “The music we hear in television programs, films, podcasts, video games, and even ads stirs our emotions and enhances the narrative.  We’re honored, and especially proud, of the continued recognition by The Hollywood Reporter.”

Chris Heckman, who received an M.F.A. in Film Music Composition from the UNCSA School of Filmmaking and now directs the program, said that the strength of the two-year program is the opportunity for collaboration with undergraduate directors, producers, and editors.

“In the first year of the program, film music composition students write music for undergraduate media projects while honing their technical and compositional skills and learning the movie post-production process,” Heckman said. “In the second year they score the fourth-year thesis film and animation projects, create main title themes in various genres, and run scoring sessions in collaboration with musicians from the UNCSA School of Music.”

“They leave here with a wealth of experience that prepares them for many possible career paths in the film industry,” Heckman added.

A graduate student in Film Music Composition conducts musicians performing her score for a student film

A graduate student in Film Music Composition conducts musicians performing the score she wrote for a student film. / Photo: Jeremy Cowart

Film Dean Susan Ruskin said despite constantly emerging technological developments like augmented and virtual reality, the importance of music will never diminish. “Whether you are telling a story through traditional film and television platforms or the latest immersive media, music is an essential element,” she said. “The students in our Film Music Composition program are mastering the skills and developing their own unique voices so they can contribute to projects across the entertainment spectrum.” 

Alumni of the Film Music Composition program have served as composers, additional composers, and orchestrators on television series such as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” “Nashville,” “Castle,” and “Survivor”; video games such as “Red Dead Redemption” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”; and major motion pictures such as “Man of Steel,” “Iron Man,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” and most recently “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “Venom,” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

Three composers from UNCSA have won College Television Awards, commonly called Student Emmys, for scores they wrote for student films: Benjamin Hoff in 2017 for “Parchment Wings”; Nathan Fenwick Smith in 2015 for “The Collection”; and Leo Hurley in 2012 for “Zomromcom: The Musical.”

In addition to the Film Music Composition program housed in the School of Filmmaking, UNCSA’s School of Music offers composition programs resulting in a high school diploma, Bachelor of Music or Master of Music. Brian Cole, Dean of the School of Music, said that sets UNCSA apart from other schools on THR’s list. “We are the only institution on the list that offers composition training at every level of study,” he said.

“Whether composing music for live performance by chamber ensembles or orchestras, or for entertainment media like film and television, our graduates are finding success in a very competitive industry,” Cole said.

UNCSA is ranked among the top schools training composers for film and television

UNCSA is ranked among the top schools training composers for film and television.

Music alumni who are composing for media include:

Derek Baird, who has composed music for PBS’s “Wide Angle” and Emmy-winning series, “Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports” and several other PBS shows;

Mel Lewis, who has composed music for 50 films including “P.S. I Love You,” “The Intruders,” “Pirates of Treasure Island,” and “The Da Vinci Treasure,” for the Sci-Fi channel and for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”; and

Elizabeth “Liz” Meyers, who along with her husband and creative partner John Trivers, has composed iconic TV themes and award-winning scores for films and commercials, with clients that include American Express, Hyundai, Michelob, Nissan, Tropicana, the CBS Evening News and the Paramount/Showtime feature film, “The Day Reagan was Shot” (produced by Oliver Stone).

THR, a leading publication of the film and television industry, previously recognized UNCSA’s music composition programs in 2016 and 2017. It has recently recognized UNCSA’s Production Design program among the top 10 in the U.S., England and France; Costume Design among the nation’s top 10; the School of Drama among the top five in the country; and the School of Filmmaking at No. 14 in the country. 

by Lauren Whitaker

December 05, 2018