Composer Laura Karpman talks about the process of writing music for tv and her new work inspired by Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Hear Laura’s work on NYFOS Next: Laura Karpman & Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum on March 25.
On your upcoming NYFOS Next program is a new work from you for mezzo-soprano and two pianos; can you give us a preview of what we can expect in this piece?
Of course! It’s a tour de force for one mezzo-soprano who plays both the roles of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two 19th century suffragists, who both, along with many other women, birthed American feminism. They had a remarkably intimate friendship and shared many thoughts, dreams and insecurities with each other. In some ways, they were two heads on one body…
You create music for an especially wide variety of contexts, from the concert hall and opera stage to television, movie, and even video games scores. How does your composition process change as you create music for these different media formats?
It really doesn’t change. I am the same composer, same musician, same thinker in every genre I work in. Obviously, the requirements of every project are different, some in technical and some in creative ways.
Can you walk us through a typical timeline for your work on a score for television or a movie? What do you have access to as you begin the project? How involved are you with adjusting the music to synch up to a final edit of the work?
Every project is different, but the craziest is episodic television, so let’s talk about that. Sometimes, you look at a script, but most often you spot the project, which means deciding where exactly the music should go. Then you have as much as a week, but sometimes only 3 days to write 30-45 minutes of music. The music then gets sent to the editor, and then to the executive producers, sometimes, the network, then changes must be made and the music must get recorded, mixed and delivered, sometimes in a matter of hours.
You studied with composer William Bolcom, a great friend of NYFOS, during your undergraduate program at University of Michigan. Is there anything that you particularly remember from your time with him?
I loved his spirit and I loved his music, especially his work with his wife Joan. We worked, believe it or not, mostly on Fux counterpoint.
You’ve performed as a singer, notably a jazz singer, at points in your career. Is this still a part of your life? Do you ever compose with yourself in mind as the performer?
Most unfortunately, I always do! And I have things that I do that are so easy for me that are hard for others, but mostly vice a versa…and then I send them demos of me singing that are completely wretched. I am so glad that I can sing a little – it comes in handy not only in my film work, but very much in my vocal writing.
Are there any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about and would like to share (other than NYFOS Next, of course)?
I’m working on two television series that I can’t announce just yet, but I am incredibly excited about them both. I have several opera and musical theater works that are in development that deal with big social issues.
What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?
I just landed from the Peabody Studio Orchestra performance of my work ASK YOUR MAMA. It was one of the most beautiful, spirited performances of any kind that I’ve ever been to. The students and young professionals gave everything they had to this piece, and it touched me to my core.
When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
There are so many things I do, from advocacy work for women in music, to skiing, to a walk on the beach. But the most important thing I do is spending time with my son, my wife, and our two mismatched dogs.
NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you?
There is no music-making that is more elemental than singing. I think ‘songs’ can be anything, from art-song to rap to great poetry.
What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)
I can’t answer this question. Fast responses include: “Happy Birthday” by Mildred Hill, “Early in the Morning” by Ned Rorem, “Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn, the quartet from Midsummer Nights Dream, “Blackbird” by The Beatles, everything that my friend Taura Stinson writes. I loved working with my friend Raphael Saadiq on his album and contributing strings to Sinners’ Prayer…And then there’s Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Kendrick Lamar…