Composer Interview: Pete Calandra

Pete CalandraTell us a bit about yourself – where do you come from and how would you describe the music you write?

I was born in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, grew up in Northport, NY, was educated at Queens College, CUNY and currently reside in Manhattan. I think the one thing that ties together all the different styles of music I write is that it all tells a story in sound.

What’s your favourite hardware and software right now?

I don’t really have a favourite piece of hardware or software although I recently got a Moog SubPhatty that i am enjoying. For software: Pro Tools 11, Native Instruments Kontakt, Vienna Ensemble, Synthogy Ivory and Altiverb are among my current favs.

You’ve scored over 40 films and have written over 2000 compositions for TV. Where did you originally get started? Film or TV?

I started out in this field by writing production music for Killer Tracks in the late 1990’s. I wrote a couple of hundred tracks for them over a few years. This led to opportunities for work on some regular TV shows for ABC, ESPN, Nat Geo, Sesame Workshop, Discovery Fox Sports, Big Ten Network, Comcast Sports Net ETC. Eventually i started getting some independent films and now I am mostly working on films.

Is the video game scoring industry something you’re interested in getting into?

I am interested in exploring any composing opportunities that come along. It’s something I enjoy greatly.

You’ve had a wide range of jobs so far in the span of your career including performing, composing, lecturing, studio engineer, artist and performer (phew). Do you think its important to have a multi-faceted career like this in order to survive or do you prefer to always be doing something different?

Actually my career has evolved based on my interests. For most of my younger life, I had the good fortune of being a successful professional pianist/keyboard player. It was something I really enjoyed until the mid 1990’s when the grind of playing a long running show (Miss Saigon on Broadway) had me looking for a new direction. At the same time, I played in a jazz band led by the artist/musician Larry Rivers and was exposed to his working lifestyle which influenced my thinking greatly. The idea of sitting in a studio and creating instead of sitting in an orchestra pit re-creating was the thought process that led me to my current path. While I still perform on a part time basis and try to keep up with my keyboard skills, I enjoy composing much more than playing shows.

It’s important to have a goal in mind when starting out but at the same time staying flexible and open to opportunities that might take you in a bit of a different direction. For example, I always saw myself as wanting to have a career as a studio pianist like Paul Griffin, Nicky Hopkins etc but by the time I was taking the plunge into the NYC music world, that scene was dying out. An opportunity to be involved with the original production of Little Shop Of Horrors came along. I had never played in a musical before but realized that this was an open door. Looking back, almost all of my career as both a keyboard player and composer can be traced to stepping thru that door and being in that show.

Tell us about your new solo piano album “Ashokan Memories”. What was your inspiration for writing the album?

A series of events happened in quick succession at the end of 2011 and 2012 that reminded me about how quickly life goes by. I decided that at this point to start producing my own albums on a regular basis. Ashokan Memories is the first effort and the music was inspired by the Hudson Valley and Catskills region of New York State where I own a summer/weekend home. The area has an inspiring beauty to it that you can really feel if you spend time there. The title track is inspired by the Ashokan Reservoir which is a huge body of water (part of the NYC water system) that is surrounded by mountains. It’s an incredible spot and every time you go there it has a different look and feel to it. Every track on the album tells the story of another place in the area.

The album has hints of impressionism and minimalism – are these unconscious influences or do draw influence from these styles?

I do draw influences from both styles. As a composer for films, I have had to work on expressing emotions, moods etc with an economy of notes. I find one way to add some sophistication to this kind of music is in how you voice chords. This is where the influence of Debussy as well as Copland and some jazz pianists like Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner come in. I spend time working out alternate spacing of chord tones with ‘drop voicings’ and with different bass notes under upper chordal structures. If you work methodically on these techniques the kinds of sonorities you can come up with are very emotive and fresh. I also enjoy some of the moods created by Eno’s Ambient Music.


Since beginning your career originally, how do you think the film and TV scoring industries have changed?

Upfront budgets have dropped dramatically and the advances in technology have required the composer to be a performer, engineer, and tech. Producers and directors are pretty much used to hearing great sounding tracks right from the beginning.

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently working on a feature length documentary that will be on a permanent exhibit in a major historical library. At the same time recording my next album scheduled for an April 2014 release. It’s going to have some solo piano on it but will have more ensemble tracks in both Ambient Jazz and Alt Classical styles.

Written by: admin

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

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