Focusing on Music for Film

College of Music directing new course in composing for motion pictures.


Samuel Joshua came to music via business. Now he’s preparing to teach students in the MSU College of Music about the business of composing for film and TV.

Beginning Fall 2015, the MSU doctoral student and recipient of an academic achievement graduate assistantship will lead the College’s first-ever course on composing for motion pictures. Joshua says “Music for the Motion Picture” will emphasize collaboration and technique by teaching real world, technical abilities, and examining the business side of composing for film, television, and moving images. Students will also analyze notable film scores to gain additional perspectives on how film and music work together.

“Clearly the film industry is rapidly expanding, and technology is more readily available for independent directors and producers,” says Joshua. “Composing for film and TV is a growing, competitive field. It’s a way composers can get their name out there.”

Joshua knows from experience. After pursuing a bachelor’s in business from Eastern Michigan University, Joshua changed direction and entered EMU’s master’s program in music composition. He had collaborated with a friend to score an independent film, and became passionate about composing and composing technology. Since then, he’s written the score for four Michigan-based feature films and documentaries and was recruited by five collegiate music programs. He chose MSU and started his DMA in 2014 under the guidance of Associate Professor Ricardo Lorenz, chair of the composition department.

Joshua says MSU’s program matched his composing interests and provided an exceptional opportunity for him to develop and teach the new music for motion pictures course. His first-year at MSU also involved working on a film that will screen at the Traverse City Film Festival in July 2015. Joshua is among six student composers, six student directors, and countless students working on the film “313 Choices” –a cross-campus collaboration that evolved from the Theatre2Film project with the Department of Theatre, Department of Media and Information, Media Sandbox at MSU, College of Music, and Department of Art, Art History, and Design.

Lorenz says Joshua’s quick thinking and diligence in forging cross-campus networks was key to getting the new College of Music course ready to roll. Other initiatives helped set the stage, too, including a recent Running Start workshop on careers in film music by composer Larry Groupé, and the launch of a new course, “Film Music: Historical and Cultural Issues,” taught by Molly Crydermann-Weber, an instructor from the College’s musicology and ethno musicology area.  

“The timing has been great,” says Lorenz. “The stars are truly aligning for the program to move forward.”

Lorenz says composing for film is much different than creating an art composition. Art composers, he says, are concerned with technique and craft, and leave it to listeners to apply their own interpretations. Film composers, on the other hand, are concerned with directing the emotions of the viewer, and take their cues from the film director.

“Film music is all about the emotion it conveys, art music stays away from that,” says Lorenz. “This new course and initiative has room to bring the two worlds together, to bring knowledge of the dramatic world into art music that maybe we’ve forgotten, and to help us all find the middle ground.”

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