By Ben Escobar
I remember walking down a hallway in the practice room Annex one day in late April of 2015, continuing my eternal quest to find a vacant piano. Since arriving at music school in the fall of my freshman year, I quickly learned that noise hides around every corner, and the walls are covered in paper of all sizes. Some pieces have vibrant colors and smiling faces, primped portraits of bright stars hoping to leave a mark. Others simply feature plain paper with the words “The Eastman School of Music Presents…” typed out over a list of jaded names. That spring day, one particular poster caught my eye, as a picture of Jeff Beal, the Emmy award-winning film and television composer, drew me into an advertisement for the Empire Film Music Ensemble’s biggest concert of the year. It promised an evening of stunning film music, most notably the premiere of Beal’s House of Cards Symphony, adapted from themes used in the smash hit Netflix original. Unfortunately, I had to miss the actual concert for a gig, but this prompted me to attend EFME’s dress rehearsal later that same day, and as I sat in the 2,400-seat hall, the sounds of the student orchestra boomed throughout Kodak in perfect sync with the sinister images of Frank and Claire Underwood on screen. Being able to see Jeff and the conducting legend Donald Hunsberger rehearse the orchestra and collaborate with the ensemble’s executive team was an enlightening experience, as well as a glimpse into the world of musical administration.
After witnessing EFME’s Executive Director Michael Staffeldt and his two-man team perform the Herculean task of organizing, administering, and conducting a breadth of musicians and technicians, I was astounded by both the caliber of musicianship, and the remarkably high production value of the event. Immediately following that dress rehearsal I pulled Michael aside, congratulated him, and expressed my desire to participate in EFME’s future. The final concert would go on to receive rave reviews and mark a triumphant moment in the ensemble’s three-year history.
Founded in 2013 by Michael and his friend Dylan Price, the Empire Film Music Ensemble emerged from the duo’s shared passion for performing the film music they know and love in a professional concert setting. By using the resources available to them as students at the Eastman School of Music, the pair recruited a team comprised of their peers and began staging public concerts throughout the school’s many recital halls. After two successful Kickstarter campaigns, the project developed and EFME began collaborating with budding artists and filmmakers from the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as the Berklee College of Music in Boston. These student collaborations included the recording and staging of original film content in conjunction with classic film music repertoire. In addition to their work with renowned Eastman alumnus Jeff Beal, the Empire Film Music Ensemble has also premiered an original arrangement for choir and orchestra of Eric Whitacre’s Lux Nova in their most recent concert titled “From Darkness Into Light.” The producers of the award-winning, crowd-funded show “Star Trek Continues” also chose EFME to record the music for episode 4, composed by Juilliard faculty member Andy Farber. Today, Michael remains the only original founding member on the executive team, but thanks to the efforts of students throughout EFME’s history, the ensemble has grown to include over 70 musicians, received fiscal sponsorship from the University of Rochester Optical Society of America, and expanded its executive board to a team of six people.
Since joining the EFME executive team in January 2016 as Personnel Manager and Social Media Director, I’ve become deeply enthralled in the madness of music administration. Between embarking on a major online re-branding, enlisting musicians for our upcoming “Star Trek Continues” recording, and booking future opportunities for the ensemble, my days have become a blur of emails and board meetings. Not to mention my academic responsibilities as a full-time dual degree college student. Yet, despite the countless late nights, the few months I’ve spent working with this team have been some of the most rewarding in my two years living in Rochester because I have been directly involved with major advancements in the development of EFME’s legacy.
In order to expand on EFME’s professional recording experience, the ensemble is moving towards functioning as a film and contemporary media production company, in addition to its current status as a performance ensemble. This is an effort to both expand the ensemble’s marketability and assist up and coming artists in creating an industry quality product at a fraction of the cost. As a student led NGO, the entirety of EFME’s music personnel is made up of volunteers, but the executive team has been working tirelessly to book production and recording jobs for the ensemble that will provide enough capital to fund future projects and pay our musicians. Aside from creating added incentive for students to participate in our projects, EFME strives to provide them with professional opportunities in the highly competitive industries of film music and contemporary media in a manner that does not inconvenience their pursuit of a college degree.
Thankfully, both local and national demand for low budget filmmakers and composers is keeping us busy with requests. It’s an exciting time to be in this group because it enables us to work with so many talented, passionate people. This very month the “Star Trek Continues” crew will be traveling from LA and NYC to record with us in Rochester for a second time. We are also composing and recording original scores for two student filmmakers at RIT, and working with a local writer in bringing a fictional narrative to life through animated film. Additionally, our team is working with RIT’s Film and Animation Department on producing an interactive show on the topic of augmented reality at the 2016 Rochester Fringe Festival.
If you’d like to stay updated on the Empire Film Music Ensemble’s other current projects, or if you would like to collaborate with us please visit our website at http://www.empirefilmmusicensemble.com and follow us on social media.
Ben Escobar is a multi-instrumentalist and producer currently attending the Eastman School of Music. He has been a member of the Empire Film Music Ensemble since January 2016, serving as Personnel Manager, Social Media Director, and a member of the Executive Committee.