Grammy Award-winning Conductor Advises Budding Entertainers

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Grammy Award-winning conductor Richard Kaufman is no stranger to BJU. He conducted the 2018 Symphonic Hollywood concert and will be returning in October 2021 to conduct a concert featuring the music of Lee Holdridge. In addition, he frequently speaks in both cinema and music classes and master classes and coaches chamber music ensembles.

In the video below, Kaufman shares some of his personal experiences as well as advice to students who want to enter the entertainment industry.

This transcript has been edited for ease of reading.

Krystal Allweil (BJUtoday): Hi. Welcome to BJUtoday. I’m Krystal Allweil. Today, I’m talking with Richard Kaufman, conductor and Grammy Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee. He’s conducted the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and he’s also conducted here at BJU. He’s conducted the Symphonic Hollywood concert in 2018, and on Oct. 7 he will be conducting a concert featuring the music of Lee Holdridge.

Richard, your work has featured a wide spectrum of things, from music and film to TV to musical theatre. I also heard you enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities.

Richard Kaufman: Absolutely loved A Tale of Two Cities on every level. The directing by Darren Lawson, the brilliant conducting of Michael Moore. The playing of the orchestra was astounding considering all of the circumstances. The singing, the sets, the lighting — everything about it was so wonderful and so totally professional. My wife and I watched — we live in Los Angeles — and at the end, we knew that it had been really good because we were both in tears as he went up the stairs. So, it was just magnificent.

Allweil: I’m pretty sure I cried through at least half of the show if not more than that.

Kaufman: Yeah, absolutely.

Allweil: You’ve spoken here at Bob Jones many times as a guest speaker in classes or in master classes. What are some of the things you talk to students about?

Kaufman: You know, there are so many opportunities at BJU in the arts, and I’ve had the great blessing to be able to speak to the music students, to coach chamber music, conduct the orchestra, speak to the cinema students about the part of my career that was involved in film and television. I was head of music at MGM Television for a lot of years working in film.

So the experience of being able to share my experiences and help them to see a little bit of what’s on the other side of the fence is really gratifying. This is kind of an oasis where young people come to get experience, to make mistakes where the unions and professional people aren’t looking over their shoulders, and the time element and all of the cost. And it’s just been a great opportunity for me to say, Look, here’s what you might expect. Here are the things that hopefully you’ll focus on study-wise.

For a young film composer, it’s really important that they really learn about the films from the 1930s and ’40s, not just Star Wars and ET and those other wonderful scores, but all that led up to it. And understanding their craft, and where they’re going and maybe what to expect when they leave the University.

Allweil: One of the things that you do is you conduct a live orchestra, and you conduct through a film score while the motion picture is playing on a screen.

Kaufman: Right.

Allweil: How does that compare to a live musical? Tell us a little bit about that.

Kaufman: Really, a great question because it’s so interesting. When you’re conducting a live score with an orchestra and synchronizing it with the film, there are all sorts of kinds of films. If the film is underscored — for example, Vertigo is a very linear kind of score. It’s all mood. Or Psycho or so many of those films. It’s a lot different than conducting the score for Wizard of Oz or Singing in the Rain where people are tap dancing and singing and running around. The Tin Man’s feet are dancing at one tempo, and his body’s creaking at a different tempo, and he’s singing at a different tempo, and you’ve got to put the orchestra in the middle, wherever that is. And Singing in the Rain with Donald O’Connor, the great tap dancing. It’s really an exciting experience, and one that I love.

I will say that the first time I conducted Wizard of Oz, I didn’t sleep the night before because I really thought that they never would make it all the way to Oz because of my tempos.

So, it’s been really, really exciting, and I love talking about those experiences to students just to give them an idea of what they might expect, what they might encounter. Yeah, so it’s been great.

Allweil: Some of our students have had the opportunity to perform in a musical in the student orchestra. They did A Tale of Two Cities. Some have done Titanic and Little Women. But most of our students are primarily classical performers. So how do you explain the experience of getting that synchronicity or performing in a musical?

Kaufman: Sure.

Allweil: How do you explain that to someone who’s primarily a classical performer?

Kaufman: Yeah, which is really the case with most students at a university. They are classically trained. This is what they’re focusing on even though the university might do a musical every so often, or that sort of thing. If you’re going to go into the field of music, professionally playing, and end up in the symphony orchestra or in the studio, you’re going to have to not only technically know what to do, you’re going to have to embrace the whole idea of the passion and the drama and what goes along with making music that accompanies a story.

So when I talk to the students here, there really is no difference. The great film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold who wrote Robin Hood and so many of the Warner Bros. films, he once said, “Music is music whether it be for the concert hall or the motion picture theater.” Which is so true.

And so the approach is, it’s music. Throw yourself into it. Understand what it is. Technically be able to do it. But then really study it, and really find out, what’s the music saying? What kind of a story are you telling? Because so much of the time in a musical or in a film, the music becomes a character, literally a character in the film that the audience associates it with, and when everything comes together, it’s very exciting.

That’s the experience that the musicians here at BJU have playing A Tale of Two Cities or Titanic. They become a character in those projects.

Allweil: If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, say a student wanted to become a conductor for a film or a performer on Broadway, what advice would you have for that student?

Kaufman: Become technically proficient on your instrument or voice or conducting.

Really understand, not just the project you want to work on, the specific project, but understand where it all started. Go back, if you’re involved in film, go back and study the films in the ’30s and ’40s, the great films that were made. Really become a student of that and understand the technique. Look at what a cinematographer did with shadows, where they become painters, literally, not just standing behind a camera and turning it on. And I think that is really the beginning to understanding what it is.

And then just doing it. Use the experience at the University, especially here, to do all you can, as much as you can. Play, if it’s an instrument, play everything you possibly can. If it’s a musical, get involved. Whatever it is. In opera, the same thing. In the cinema department, if there’s a student film, get involved in it, no matter what it is. If they want you to sell popcorn when they show the film the first time, say, I’ll sell the popcorn.

But whatever it is, really become a student of what you’re doing because this is the place where you can do things where the professional world is not sort of looking over your shoulder and demanding things of you where if you don’t succeed, that means the end of a career or less opportunities.

Here, the sky’s the limit. This is where you make mistakes, and that’s the whole idea. I made a lot of mistakes in college, but I learned from them.

That would be my main advice is to really immerse yourself as a student in the college experience and everything that the University offers. And again, BJU offers a huge array of experience in the entertainment field and the arts, field of arts.

Allweil: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today and for giving advice to our students.

Kaufman: It has been my pleasure. It’s always so great to be on campus here. And thank you for having me.

Allweil: Of course.

Thanks for joining us today, everyone, and look for more information about the concert featuring the music of Lee Holdridge conducted by Richard Kaufman on Oct. 7 on BJUtoday.