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Composing a Musical Career


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An Edmonton beginning for one composer is now expanding onto film. More than 15 years ago, a young Albertan musician got an important opportunity. Darren Fung was a student at Edmonton's Stratchona Composite High School when he got picked to compose a piece for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra through the Young Composer Project. Darren says they basically walked him through "the steps of writing your first piece for orchestra."

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This experience opened Darren's eyes to what was possible for him. After graduating from high school, he studied Music Composition at McGill University in Montreal. From there he wanted to further his education, specifically in film composing. He says he "really loves the emotional aspects of it and the big soaring melodies."

When he started looking into getting a Masters, he realized he couldn't afford it.  He came up with another plan to build his experience. He explains that he "started scoring student short films and that's where I got my chops." He hasn't looked back since.

His music for the televised short film Little Claus & Big Claus, won the award for Best Score at the 2006 Atlantic Film Festival. In 2010, he received the Best Score award at the Los Angeles Reel Film Festival for his work on the feature film Father Vs. Son. Darren's music for a commercial was also voted as Canada's Top Commercial of 2010 at the Winter Olympics by the Globe and Mail.

Now his most recent work is nominated for another award. It's the score for the documentary film, LOST YEARS.

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The film follows Kenda Gee, a Chinese Canadian living in Edmonton, who travels with his father to China to retrace the steps of his great-grandfather. Exactly a century ago, Kenda's relative sailed to Canada from China in the summer of 1921. The film explores how the journey was supposed to be one of hope but it turned into a nightmare when the immigrants confronted with racism and the head tax.

Darren was handpicked to create the score for the film. It provided a unique opportunity for him as he "got to combine the western sensibilities with the beautiful instruments and beautiful musical language of the Chinese culture."

It took five weeks to create; part of which was a trip to China to record the music. He sat down with the two producers/directors of the film, Kenda Gee and Tom Radford, as well as the film's editor Brenda Terning, to discuss the musical needs of the film. Darren explains that they "went through the film, frame by frame. I'd ask, what do you want the music to say? Who's music is it? Is it the audiences' music?" For Darren, he needed to ask the filmmakers' their intentions because "the whole notion of writing music for yourself doesn't exist in film composing. You're always at the service of someone else."

Now the LOST YEARS music is nominated for the Best Score at the first-ever Canadian Screen Awards.They're the awards that honour outstanding achievements in Canadian cinema and television. The one award is replacing the Genies and the Geminis.

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The Genies had honoured feature films in both English Canada and Quebec, since 1949. Although for the first 30 years of the awards, they were named the Canadian Film Awards. They were also known as the "Etrog Awards," for sculptor Sorel Etrog, who designed the statuette. In 1980, they were renamed The Genie Awards. The Geminis - were separate awards for English-language TV only. They'd been around since 1986.

These separate awards programs have been merged. Now, the Canadian Screen Awards will recognize talented Canadians: in film, television and digital media productions. The inaugural Canadian Screen Awards will be handed out next week in Toronto. Despite having recently relocating to Los Angeles to further pursue his work as a film composer, Darren says he simply wouldn't miss the awards. "It's a big deal. It's the coming together of our industry. To be recognized the first time they've done this is, it's really such an honour."

By Sarah Hoyles
Featured on February 21, 2013

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