Student Profile: Lucas Vidal

By 
Nick Balkin
March 8, 2006

Lucas Vidal majored in composition and film scoring because he wanted to write music for movies. But after a sudden plot twist in 2005, his life turned into an inspirational overcoming-the-odds story worthy of its own Hollywood treatment. Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Vidal started taking classical piano lessons at age 4. His mother and father were not musical in the traditional sense but were overwhelmingly supportive of the arts. "My parents are not musicians. They're music people," says Vidal. "They're constantly pushing me to stay focused on my goals."

Armed with an active imagination and a tireless work ethic, Vidal was already churning out original music at age 9. "I was improvising on Bach counterpoint, so everything I came up with wound up sounding a lot like, well, Bach," says Vidal. "But if you're going to steal someone else's ideas, you might as well start with the greatest composer in the history of Western music." Originality, Vidal realized, would come with time. "Learning to compose music is a lot like learning to speak," says Vidal. "You start to experiment with the few phrases that you know. Eventually, you find your own voice."

Hoping to expand his vocabulary, Vidal took up the flute and joined a youth orchestra, which gave him a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a large ensemble. But he was the lone musician among his closest peers despite the fact that his best friend, Curro, is the son of flamenco guitar legend Paco de Lucia. So, rather than forming a garage band, the boys made home movies. Vidal, who had no interest in acting, appointed himself director. "We thought we were making serious horror movies," says Vidal. "But they almost always wound up comedies."

Though the videos were amateur, the creative process sparked something in Vidal, who became more and more interested in the nuts and bolts of how movies were put together. This fascination led him to enroll at film school at Francisco de Vitoria University.

Vidal loved sitting in the director's chair, but his passion for film never replaced his passion for music. He composed prolifically throughout film school before one day realizing that his two passions could coexist. Many of his cousins were dancers and they asked him to compose a score to select parts of a ballet. "At that moment, everything clicked. By writing for dancers I started to understand how music works with physical movement. The relationship between body and sound is very important for film." Vidal's music had always naturally taken on a cinematic feel, and the score for ballet was a success, providing a bridge into the world of film scoring.

Vidal first heard about Berklee at age 15 through his uncle, who, while in his mid-forties, attended Summer Saxophone Weekend, and returned to Spain endorsing the college. The following year, Vidal signed up for Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program to sharpen his flute skills. He was hooked. "I realized that there was an entire spectrum of music beyond classical that you could study." He spent a second summer at Berklee, auditioned on the college's World Scholarship Tour, and received a scholarship.

With 12 academic majors and over 460 faculty members and 4,000 students representing more than 70 countries, Berklee is the ideal environment for Vidal, who has a knack for surrounding himself with the right people to get the job done. He frequently collaborates with Music Production and Engineering majors, taking advantage of the college's 10 professional-level recording studios, and this has yielded over 20 recordings of his original compositions in three years. "I found my manager, music editor, recording engineers, assistants, and musicians at Berklee," says Vidal.

Vidal would need all the help he could get for his next project. He'd just put the finishing touches on his most ambitious composition to date, a mini-epic entitled "Film Suite," which he decided would be recorded by a full symphony orchestra in a live simulation of a professional recording session. It was a feat never before accomplished or even attempted by a Berklee student.

But just as the project began to take shape, Vidal became very ill. He sensed right away that something was seriously wrong and visited a doctor. "It was cancer. I was very disoriented because I'd always taken my health for granted." Devastated by the news, Vidal flew home to Spain to receive treatment. "He was very emotional and didn't know what to do," said Greg Fritze, chair of the Composition Department. "I told him that this was just a bump in the road, and tried to help him put things into perspective."

That "bump" towered over Vidal like Mount Everest. All the momentum he'd gained pursuing his dreams came to screeching halt. For the first time in his life, his health, not his music, became his number one priority. "I was in denial. In the beginning, all I could think about was returning to Berklee to complete my recording."

"There were two cycles of chemotherapy. My vision was impaired, I constantly had a headache, and couldn't eat," says Vidal. "But I knew I was going to come out of it OK."

Vidal made a swift recovery, and was released from the hospital in time for his fall 2005 semester. Revitalized, he went immediately back to work on "Film Suite," enlisting the help of students Steve Dzialowski and Daniel Diaz as project managers. The duo served as an extension to Vidal's already-formidable networking skills. Together, they pitched the project to various Berklee departments, and eventually secured funding. By the week the recording took place, it had grown into a collaboration of epic proportions, involving the Office of the President, External Affairs, and Scholarships and Student Employment, as well as nearly all of the college's academic divisions. When they realized their orchestra was short on classical brass players, Vidal and Co. ventured outside of Berklee to recruit musicians from New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, and the Longy School of Music.

Finally, after all the right people were in place, they rented out the cavernous St. Cecilia's church, one of the only local spaces large enough to accompany 60-plus musicians, a team of recording engineers, and a live studio audience. The church was filled with people who wanted to experience a full-scale live recording. "Film Suite" was recorded in one take. Berklee would later recognize Vidal's achievement, presenting him the Richard Levy Award, the highest honor a student can receive from the Composition Department.

Vidal has plans to move to New York or Los Angeles to pursue a professional film scoring career after he graduates, but for now he's focused on the present. He's lined up a scoring gig for a high-profile (and top secret) film, which is expected to see commercial release, and is leading an ambitious new project that will pair Berklee film composers with Emerson College filmmakers. Is this a lot to take on for a full-time student?  Definitely, but Vidal isn't likely to be shaken by a busy schedule after surviving cancer and masterminding the largest recording coup in Berklee history.