by Ewan Clark

Expat Files: Ewan Clark

by Ewan Clark

Expat Files: Ewan Clark

Winner of the 1998 NZ Young Composers Award, Ewan Clark began his compositional study at the University of Otago before moving to Victoria University in 2001, where he completed a Bachelor of Music and Graduate Diploma in Arts. He’s a composer, teacher and conductor who was accepted last year into the Royal College of Music in London, in fact ranking among the top percentile of all applicants to the Composition for Screen course at RCM. He is currently studying there towards a Masters of Music, condensing the normally two year course into one.

In his first term at RCM Ewan was awarded distinction for his re-scoring of an 11 minute excerpt from the BBC series, The Passion, as part of an exam. This involved composing the music, booking the orchestra players, conducting and recording the six minutes of music, mixing the score and submitting it all within a week! Perhaps even more remarkably, he unhesitatingly agreed to make time to submit this Expat Files piece for NZ Musician.

Two generous scholarships made my study at the Royal College of Music possible. The first, making me the Janet Bolton O’Sullivan Scholar at the RCM, was offered by the college on Christmas Eve 2010, along with my offer of study. That was a great Christmas! The scholarship essentially halved my fees, from international to domestic rates, and boosted my credibility when applying for further funding. Five months later, Creative NZ offered me the Edwin Carr Foundation Scholarship, which finally made my study affordable. It was an amazing feeling, and I am hugely grateful for this much needed support.

During the application and fundraising process I was working in London as a composer and part-time music teacher. Ive been here since late 2009 with my wife, Joelle. Our initial reason for coming here was travel in the UK and Europe. It’s been a great OE, although our travel budget has significantly decreased since I decided to study!

Being in London meant I could have a consultation lesson at the RCM before applying, and get the inside word about the course, checking that it was right for me. Our UK visas meant that study in the UK was preferable to options in other countries such as the USA. There are a couple of other film scoring courses in the UK, but what appealed to me about the RCM course was the opportunity to collaborate with the world-class young instrumentalists who study there, and I havent been disappointed!

My full-time taught MMus in Composition for Screen at the RCM started in September 2011, and runs until I hand in a research project and portfolio of film music compositions in September this year. Normally the course is completed in two years, but for some daring (or crazy?) students it’s possible to do it on a 12 month fast-track. This has been a good option for me. 

For the academic parts of the course (writing essays about film music) I do both year 1 and year 2 modules, and for the practical parts of the course (composing and producing film music and learning the associated technical skills) I do only the year 2 modules. Of course, I sit in on all year 1 lectures to make sure I haven’t missed anything. The fast-track option is proving to be intense but achievable and much more affordable than two years of study.

Two big highlights since starting the course both happened very recently. Firstly, a short film I scored in December called The Outsider was accepted into the 2012 Festival de Cannes. It was filmed in Morocco and called for a subtly Arabic score, which is quite tricky for a Dunedin lad to achieve tastefully. Authenticity came through collaboration with London-based oud player Soufian Saihi. I’m excited to be heading for Cannes in May for some sunshine, screenings and networking.

The other highlight was when I composed, conducted and recorded my first feature film score, for a sci fi/psychological thriller called Hotspot. That has been great fun and also a baptism of fire, due to the amount of music required – about 50 minutes.

Hotspot is also the first film for which I’ve been directed to produce a fairly epic orchestral Hollywood sound, as opposed to the 20 or so relatively low-key short film and documentary scores I’ve done since 2008. I’m achieving this sound by recording a 16-piece orchestra and mixing in samples to make it sound much fuller. I feel well equipped for this big cinematic style, and the brass player and conductor in me can’t resist a bit of over-the-top, exciting orchestral music.

The standard of teaching at London’s Royal College of Music is impressive, with a great range of film composing expertise on offer from the various tutors. I’m learning a lot from my main professor Francis Shaw, composer for A Room With A View, whose past students include Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli (Atonement). Course leader Vasco Hexel is an expert on current trends in film music and on the techniques of contemporary film music production.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of the course has surprisingly little to do with music, but everything to do with succeeding in the industry once we graduate. It is Business Studies for Screen Composers. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn how to promote and manage ourselves, budget a score and earn to our potential.

Another highlight of the course was the opportunity to sit in the booth as the score was recorded for Wrath of the Titans, which has just come out in cinemas. The composer Javier Navarrete (of Pan’s Labyrinth fame) then came and spoke at the RCM. Other guest lecturers for this academic year include composer George Fenton (Frozen Planet) and orchestrator Patrick Russ (King Kong).

Since arriving in London in late 2009 after teaching music at Auckland Grammar School for three years, I’ve taught in two of London’s most exciting secondary school music departments. One of those schools, The London Oratory School, actually has a unique link to film music, in that it provides the boys choir for film scores including Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. So I got to watch my students recording at Abbey Road and also sat with them as they sang at a screening of LOTR: The Two Towers with the London Philharmonic accompanying live at Royal Albert Hall. That was a great moment for a music teacher! So the teaching strand of my career has also benefited greatly from being here in London.

While my goal is to make film composing my primary source of income in the near future, I also plan to keep up teaching, perhaps at a tertiary level eventually. The current plan is to return to Wellington in early 2013, where I’ll be setting up a studio and seeking composition opportunities in the film and television industries there. With the NZ film and film music industries growing as fast as they are, I can’t wait to get involved.

Twitter: @EwanClarkMusic