Alan Silvestri '70 Conducts Back to the Future Concert

Brenda Pike
March 13, 2011
Alan Silvestri '70

Film composer Alan Silvestri '70 comes to Boston April 1 to take part in a Berklee Film Scoring Department concert at Symphony Hall. The concert, featuring film/television music in the first half and video game music in the second, showcases the breadth of the work done in Berklee's Film Scoring Department. It includes music by Silvestri, Alf Clausen '66, and Howard Shore '69, and involves many students and young alumni.

Silvestri, who has scored more than 75 movies and received a Grammy for his work on The Polar Express and an Oscar nomination for Forrest Gump, took a break from scoring the upcoming Captain America movie to talk about the concert. Below is a condensed and edited version of the conversation.

What interested you about this concert?

It really is the first time that I'll be back visiting the school. When I was 15 years old, back in 1965, I went there for a summer program, and I met [guitar faculty] Bill Leavitt and fell in love with the place. I had my heart set on going there once I finished high school, which I did in 1968. When I started to work, I left Boston and headed out west, as they say, and I've really never been back. It's an opportunity for me to go home, in a sense, which I'm very excited about.

There are many alumni involved. Are you very connected to other Berklee alumni?

Some of the old alums are dearest friends, people like Abe Laboriel ['72]. We first met in a practice room on Boylston Street. It's wonderful to have some friends who you've stayed in touch with. Also, some of the people who are presently at Berklee: Larry Bethune, I believe, is now the dean of students. Larry was my first roommate when I got to Berklee. So it'll be fun for me to go back and reconnect with some of these people.

There wasn't a film scoring major when you were at Berklee. What did you study?

I was a guitar and composition major. When I finally wound up in L.A., I'd never even thought about film scoring and didn't know anything about it. And at that time I wasn't interested. I wanted to be a bebop guitar player. One thing led to another and here I am.

How did you get into film scoring?

It was all accidental. Somebody misread somebody's name in some credits, and that person was a lyricist, not a songwriter. That person got called to score a film, and they called me and said, "Do you want to score a movie?" I said, "Uh, sure." It was called The Doberman Gang. It was about five dogs trained to rob a bank. I literally went to Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard and asked them if they had any books on film scoring because I was about to score a film. They had one written by Earle Hagen. I read the book and did the job. Next thing I know I'm a film composer.

How did Berklee help you get there?

Back in the day Herb Pomeroy was teaching there, and John LaPorta. I got to spend some time with Mick Goodrick. I studied soprano sax with Charlie Mariano. That place was just filled with the greatest living talent in the jazz world at that time. You were living in that environment and receiving as much by osmosis as by direct teaching. It had a huge impact.

About half this concert is going to be dealing with video game music. How do you see its role in the music industry?

I know it's become a very prevalent part of the scoring world. I don't have much direct experience with it. There's a Back to the Future video game with my music all over it, but I have not been involved in it. I would say, though, that any time a composer gets a chance to write music to images, it's a chance to learn something about how film music works, and it's really the only way. So anytime there's a chance for somebody to write, I think it's fantastic.

The concert involves musicians from 90 different countries. Are you noticing the industry drawing musical sources from many different parts of the world?

I think more influences are being made available to all of us from all over the world, and I think that's a spectacular thing. I have to credit that in large part to the amazing advances in communication. We can be in contact directly with people anywhere on the globe. I'm working on a project with [songwriter and producer] Glen Ballard, and we're in different parts of the world, and we write very often sitting in front of our computers on Skype. We sit there usually for the first few minutes and still giggle that we're able to do this. So I think that is bringing all of these world influences closer and closer to each other. I think it's one of the greatest movements in the world, to start bringing this planet together in some kind of direct way. It's fantastic.