Following a spirited sandlot football game, Richard Kaufman returned home to a stunning introduction for a 7-year-old. “This is your violin teacher, Mrs. Hewitt,” his mother announced.
Soon, Mrs. Hewitt incorporated violin practice into his daily routine and Kaufman embarked on a journey marked by passion and perseverance that has reaped fulfillment and rewards through four decades.
“When I look back and think of the opportunities I‘ve had, there’s no doubt that God was the inventor of this whole plan,” said Kaufman, who on Oct. 25 will be the guest conductor of the Bob Jones University Symphony Orchestra performing film scores featuring the music of John Williams.
“Symphonic Hollywood,” presented in Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium, will also highlight renowned horn soloist and recording artist James Thatcher. The appearance at BJU is another opportunity for the Grammy Award-winning Kaufman to share insights from a wide-ranging career in film, television and the stage.
“I am excited to work with the musicians at Bob Jones University and to hopefully help the students reach a level of performance that will give them great self-satisfaction,” he said. “I think the audience will recognize the high quality and high standard of musicianship that is present at BJU.”
Throughout the program, Kaufman noted, music from each film should stand out as a familiar character. Would the shark in Jaws be as menacing without the iconic musical notes?
“It’s one thing to go into a movie theater to watch a film—the dialogue, the music and sound effects. It’s even more exciting at times without the film … the music as a separate art form so that you find out that this film music that accompanies the visuals also can stand alone as a piece of concert music,” he said. “This is the opportunity for the audience to hear the music as the star of the movie.”
In their longtime work and personal relationship, Kaufman has performed as a studio musician on Williams’ scores for films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws and has shared the stage with Williams conducting pops concerts.
“I admire John as a person. One of the things is that the musicians have such respect for him—not only for his music but for the way he approaches the orchestra,” Kaufman said. “Musically, John is a fantastic writer of melody and his use of the colors of the orchestra is like a painter with the world’s largest palate of colors. His orchestration and, of course, his conducting is great. Then there is the side of John that is the writer of music for film. A lot of composers write really wonderful music but do not have the skill and gift of being a great dramatist.”
Opportunities for students and public
On Oct. 23, Kaufman and Thatcher will address challenges and opportunities facing performing artists seeking to live out their faith in vocation during a 9:30–10:45 a.m. session in Stratton Hall that is free and open to the public.
“Certainly (it’s important) in the arts where God inspires what is created and how people relate, and the challenge of being a Christian in a professional world where not everybody follows that mindset and road,” Kaufman said.
From 6-9 p.m. Oct. 23 in Stratton Hall, Thatcher will present an interactive workshop and masterclass focused on orchestral brass and ensemble technique. The session is free and open to the public. At 3 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Cinematic Arts Center, Kaufman and Thatcher will discuss the aesthetic nature and role of music in cinema art.
Additionally, both artists will “do some coaching” during rehearsals for the program.
“We are truly blessed to have Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Thatcher here as artists-in-residence this week,” said Dr. Michael Moore, Chair of the Division of Music, who will also conduct during the program. “They bring a wealth of experience in the film music and recording industry, and their time here is an invaluable experience for our students.”
Home-grown talent flourishes
Reared in Los Angeles, Kaufman’s development in the industry began at an early age. In Meredith Willson’s movie The Music Man, look closely for the redhead with the trombone when the River City boys’ band is assembled.
Kaufman wasn’t cast because he was a trombonist, but the junior high school student could “fake it”—much like Prof. Harold Hill as the conductor in the movie—he had red hair, and he knew how to march in formation.
The experience is one of many that led the young violinist with appreciable talent “to not study but learn” piano, percussion and brass instruments in addition to pursuing an overview to the art of conducting.
“My parents loved playing music in the house. They would play everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to the great film scores and that was always a part of my youth,” he said. “I was in youth orchestras growing up and was getting a well-rounded education in music, hearing everything from great film scores to great Broadway shows and playing memorable classical music. That really helped send me on my way with a love of all kinds of music, which has benefited me in my career.”
Chiefly through the mentorship of Sid Feller, who was Ray Charles’ arranger, opportunities arose for Kaufman to sit in as a studio musician on projects while an undergraduate at California State Northridge. Following graduation, he parlayed talent, experience and a dash of chutzpah into a career that has included serving as the Music Coordinator for 18 years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, conducting orchestras around the globe and performing as a soloist.
“I was so blessed to meet these people who gave me these opportunities to make mistakes on the job and learn,” Kaufman said. “I do give all of the glory to Him in terms of Him being very kind to put up with mistakes and when I’ve sort of wandered off the path. I’ve been very blessed in my life to do this and to be paid to make music.”
Mrs. Hewitt would be proud.