Ready for Whatever Comes Next
By Adam Renn Olenn
|Associate Professor Claudio Ragazzi '84|
Since graduating from Berklee in 1984, Associate Professor Claudio Ragazzi has been busy scoring films such as Next Stop Wonderland, The Blue Diner, and Something's Gotta Give as well as television programs on Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Telemundo, PBS, and composing music for the Boston Ballet. He has played guitar with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Randy Brecker, and Joe Lovano in legendary venues like Carnegie Hall, and the Blue Note. Last fall, he returned to the college, this time on the other side of the desk to share his considerable experience with Berklee's film-scoring students.
Writing and playing have always gone hand in hand for Argentinean-born guitarist and composer Ragazzi. "I started playing guitar when I was nine, and every time I learned something new on the guitar, I would write a little piece using that."
His love of composition and his far-flung musical tastes made the eclectic environment he found at Berklee a natural fit. "In Argentina I'd been playing with [bandoneonist] Rodolfo Mederos, mixing tango with jazz and rock. And Gary Burton was coming from Berklee to collaborate with [Argentinian composer and bandoneonist] Astor Piazzolla."
Ragazzi's film-scoring career wasn't planned but grew serendipitously. "When I came to Berklee," he says, "I wasn't aware that film scoring was going to be my career." He was performing regularly around Boston when a friend asked him to write a theme song for a local television show. That gig led to another, and Ragazzi soon became known to Boston's community of television editors and producers. He began writing themes and scoring documentaries and public television programming.
"The great thing about composing for film and ballet is that it's so eclectic musically, and you're collaborating with other types of artists. As musicians, it's easy for us to only focus on 'how fast' or 'what scale' and lose sight of the story behind what we're writing. The first thing you have to ask yourself is 'What's the story? What am I trying to say here?'"
For years, Ragazzi has kept his writing and playing in balance, and he happily added teaching to this juggling act. "I've been lucky to combine things that I like. In [the Film Scoring Department], the combination of technology with business is very strong. One thing I really like about Berklee is that the college has always got one foot in academia and one foot on the street. The message is clear: we're teaching students how to do this in the real world."
One of the unique aspects of Berklee is that students from very different backgrounds mingle together in classes. "You can get a graduate from a Russian conservatory in the same class with someone just out of high school," Ragazzi says. "Without making students feel more or less than one another, I subtly encourage groups of mentors within the classroom."
Ragazzi says he got that idea from his daughter's early years in Montessori school. "Little children learn how to speak faster when they're talking to other kids than when they're trying to copy their parents. So while I create lesson plans, I know it's important to let other people shine and learn from each other. The best thing is when a student who is struggling comes up with a great idea that the whole class responds to. A teacher has to remember to leave space for surprises."
In addition to his teaching load, Ragazzi remains quite active with outside projects. He recently returned from a series of concerts in collaboration with Argentinean classical composer Osvaldo Golijov. "It was a really neat show," Ragazzi says. "My trio played some jazzy Argentinian folkloric music in the first half, then the orchestra played [Golijov's] Ayre in the second half with soprano Dawn Upshaw."
Ragazzi also recently scored The Last Mountain, a documentary selected for the Sundance and Full Frame Documentary film festivals (www.thelastmountainmovie.com/theatres), and composed the music for To Catch a Dollar, a documentary about Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus and his innovative microfinancing programs. When we spoke, he was wrapping up the last few episodes of Postcards from Buster, a recurring part of the award-winning PBS animated series Arthur (www.pbskids.org/buster/songs/index.html).
"Sometimes deadlines are your best friends," Ragazzi says. "There's something about the rush you get when someone says, 'We need it tomorrow.' It's like performing. If you don't have that nervous energy before a performance, you should probably be doing something else. That rush is what people respond to. I think that it's part of the natural sympathy we feel when we see another person who's in trouble."
The rush notwithstanding, Ragazzi is ready to handle whatever comes next. "There are no rules, but you have to be ready to do what the situation calls for. You don't necessarily need to be an expert on everything, but you need to at least be aware of the different techniques available to you." With a lifetime of eclectic experimentation, it's safe to assume that Ragazzi understands what's available.