What an enjoyable interview with such an enterprising young man! I love the way composer Benjamin Dawson discovered early in life that he had a gift for music and has been using it ever since. Such an amazing amount of experience he has packed into his life. What musical instruments do you play? I play the violin and piano. My mom is a former college piano professor, so I started piano lessons around age five. I started learning violin a bit later at age ninw. My sister is a cello teacher, and my father, while not being a musician as his primary occupation, played viola in his high school orchestra, so stringed instruments seem to be rather popular at our house! What musical training have you had? I studied both violin and piano through high school. I studied piano for two years at college, and still today continue to study violin. I am in my fourth year of composition lessons, and have also studied theory, aural skills, and orchestration at the college level. When did you first develop an interest in creating original music? I wrote my first piece at age eight. It was a short piano work titled “Morning Mist”, in a very simple ABA format, but I was extremely proud of it. I have been tinkering with “composition” for about as long as I can remember, but it was not until this point that I was able to actually create something that didn’t turn into “Beethoven’s 5th” or “Fur Elise” or “Chopsticks.” As I began writing more and more little pieces for piano, my mom decided to buy a notation program so that I could play my compositions on a keyboard and transmit them to the computer. Thus “Sibelius 2” entered our house sometime in the early 2000s. The world of instrumental ensembles was suddenly opened to me, and this was definitely an factor that contributed to my interest. To this day I still use Sibelius, although I’m on the seventh version now! When did you discover film composition? I was introduced to “home movie making” when I was eight or nine years old by some teenage friends of mine who were interested in stop-motion. I was fascinated by this, and ever since have had an interest in filmmaking. When I myself became a teenager, I became good friends with some guys who shared a similar interest in “backyard films”, but were one or two steps ahead of me. I had been experimenting with orchestral writing for some time, using the midi instruments from “Sibelius”, and after we made a short parody together, I suggested I could try writing a theme song for it. I did, and they ended up using it over the film’s opening credits, along with another non-related piece I had written. The version of Sibelius I was using did not yet have the technology for following the video as you compose the music, so I wrote the theme as I thought it should go, without any footage, and they timed the edit of the film to the music after the fact. A little bit unconventional by typical standards, but not too bad a beginning – eventually I was able to transition to the proper software, and begin utilizing sound samples (EastWest and Vienna) instead of a synthesizer. What films have you scored? I have written music for lots of shorts and commercials, as well a handful of sixty minute features that were created with my friends: The Hound of the Baskervilles (2007), In the Claw’s Grasp (2011), and A Study in Scarlet (2013). Other projects include shorts Tentacle Reef (2010), Space Walk (2011) and Project Butterfly (2012) for Jacob Pennington, Excelsior: Ever Higher (2011) for Bartlett Productions, and both seasons (2011 and 2013) of web series Month of the Novel, for Jordan Smith. I have also produced five short films (2007-2012), and have been also involved as either composer or orchestrator on all of them. Perhaps my most interesting film project that wasn’t actually related to a film was Exaltation: A Cinematic Christmas Collection (2013). I was one of eight composers who did arrangements for an album that was released last November. As the title suggests, everything was written in a cinematic style, which was fun because it had the feel of a film score but none of the restrictions that a picture naturally brings. What do you think is your strength as a film composer? I would have to say that writing melodies and tunes is a strong point for me. I also enjoy orchestration, and as the manager of a local Youth Symphony, I try to study each piece that the orchestra plays, either by just listening or by following a score, to see how all the instruments work together in pieces created by master composers of the past. I still enjoy whipping out action cues or putting together a tense drama sequence, but creating melodic “themes” or “motifs” is definitely something that comes more naturally to me. What are your goals for the future? I am currently a professional musician and educator – this involves teaching violin and piano, scoring films and commercials, orchestrating for the local Symphony, teaching theatre workshops, running my wedding music business, playing for shows – as all artists know, the list could go on! My goal is to someday combine my love of teaching and composition by doing graduate studies in composition, with hopes of eventually landing a “main job” as a composition professor. Since God is creative, I believe one of my purposes is to be creative. So honestly, as long as I am able to use my creative faculties in a way that brings glory to Him, I’ll be happy with whatever I’m doing down the road!
Author: Sharon Wilharm
Sharon Wilharm is a female filmmaker, blogger, and speaker with over a decade of industry experience. She and her husband, Fred, just released SUMMER OF '67, their seventh feature film. Their movies have screened in theaters, festivals, and churches around the globe as well as multiple television networks. They've accumulated dozens of festival accolades including many Best of Fest awards and 4 ICVM Crown Awards. Sharon is passionate about visual storytelling, branding, and marketing and would love to speak at your upcoming event. View all posts by Sharon Wilharm