Alumni Profile: Sharon Farber ’97
“After hearing the sound of my music coming at me I was hooked,” says Sharon Farber ’97, recalling the first time she heard an orchestra play her music. It happened after she completed her studies at Berklee as a dual major in film scoring and composition. Farber was in the ASCAP film-scoring workshop in Los Angeles and was among the participants chosen to record an orchestral cue. Since then, she has made Los Angeles her home and seen her composing career unfold across genres and international boundaries.
To date, Farber has received four daytime Emmy Award nominations for her work on the TV drama series The Young and the Restless, and has won awards from the Society of Composers and Lyricists and the Women’s International Film & Television Showcase. She is at home writing everything from a grand orchestral score for a feature film or small ensemble and electronic scores for a documentary or TV show. Simultaneously, Farber has broadened her horizons by writing concert music for orchestra and chorus and has received commissions and performances for her music across America and in Europe and Israel.
Farber’s musical journey began with classical music in Bat Yam, Israel, a city south of Tel Aviv, where she began playing piano at seven years old. After graduating from the Thelma Yelin High School of the Arts and completing two years of service in the Israel Defense Forces, she came to Berklee as a scholarship student. Prior to the aforementioned ASCAP workshop, Farber completed an internship at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Los Angeles where TV composers Jonathan Wolff (best known for writing the Seinfeld theme) and Alf Clausen ’65 (composer for The Simpsons) mentored her. Doors started opening soon afterward.
“At the end of the internship, Jonathan asked me who I would most like to meet in the TV music field,” Farber recalls. “I told him Shirley Walker. I was a huge fan of the Batman and Superman animated show and Shirley was the show’s composer. Shirley took me under her wing. I learned from her how to make a small orchestra sound big.” Farber started out writing orchestrations and later cues for Walker. It was through music editor Virginia Ellsworth that she met director Robert Munic who hired her to score two Showtime movies. After adding two film scores to her résumé, projects began to flow in.
Farber has since worked steadily for American and Israeli directors on a range of projects. Highlights have included the feature films When Nietzche Wept, The Dove Flyer, and Jemaya Jones and the Kingdom of Nir (upcoming), documentaries Honor Diaries, The Parkland Doctors, and Unmasked Judeophobia; and the TV series The Young and the Restless and Pendragon (upcoming). Farber’s upbringing in the Middle East and burgeoning Hollywood experience offer her a range of musical expression.
A prime example is the Israeli film The Dove Flyer. Set in Iraq, it chronicles the expulsion of Jews from that country during the 1950s. “They were the most ancient Jewish community in the world and the story is told from the perspective of a young boy,” Farber says. “The score was electronic with ethnic instruments, a mix of Hollywood sounds and Middle Eastern sounds. It was all very natural for me—quarter tones and all.”
One of Farber’s early concert works was a 2002 choral piece written in memory of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. “His father, Judea Pearl, conducted a great Israeli choir, and I had been writing arrangements for him,” Farber says. “I wrote a piece called The Third Mother: Mother’s Lament for a cappella voices based on a Hebrew poem and sent it to Judea as a gift. He called to tell me that he’d listened to it 13 times.” Subsequently, Farber sent it to the famed Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the group’s artistic director Grant Gershon premiered in October 2002. “After that I decided that my career would be a fusion of everything I love doing: films, TV, orchestral, and choral music.”
Farber’s most celebrated concert work to date is Bestemming: Concerto for Cello, Orchestra, and Narrator (narration by Farber, Richard Stellar, and Beth Wernick). “It’s based on the story of a remarkable man, Curt Lowens,” she says. “He was a Holocaust survivor who later became an actor for [American] TV and movies. He fled Germany and at 14, joined the Dutch Resistance, and saved more than 100 Jewish children as well as two downed American pilots.” The 25-minute work has been performed several times, including an emotional June 2014 performance at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills for which Lowens narrated his own story. Farber remained close with Lowens until his passing in May. “I feel that with this piece we gave him a grand finale,” Farber states. “I promised him that his legacy would live on through this concerto.” It will be played in November in Washington by the Northwest Sinfonia and Whatcom Symphony, conducted by Yaniv Attar.
Farber believes that her concert writing makes her a stronger film and TV composer because it burnishes her orchestral technique. Conversely, she is a better composer of concert music because film work demands that she take many elements into consideration. “In concert music, it’s all my own imagination,” she says. “But in films you are collaborating with the director as are the cinematographer, costume designer, and lighting crew. I know I have to be a tool to bring the vision of the director to life. My ego has to take a step back. If he or she tells me something isn’t working, I need to get it to work.”
The pace for Farber is relentless. After a summer respite in Israel, Farber returned to Los Angeles to write scores for a short film and a documentary and to arrange music for the Jewish high holidays at the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts where she is the music director. On December 16th, she will premiere a new work for the National Children’s Chorus at New York’s Lincoln Center. It’s a bit like drinking from a fire hose, but Farber is accustomed to meeting deadlines. “I just go with the flow,” she says.